From Shake­speare to Sherlock Mas­ter Man­u­script and Bri­tish Leg­end

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Su Yi­long, pol­ished by Roger Brad­shaw, pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin

Some clas­sic works from English his­tory have trav­elled to China in yet an­other way, with the Na­tional Li­brary of China join­ing the Bri­tish Li­brary in hold­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion which opened on April 21, 2017.

Among the trea­sures of world lit­er­a­ture, the Bri­tish con­tri­bu­tions con­tinue to daz­zle, hav­ing evolved over the cen­turies, from the Re­nais­sance to the ro­man­tic to re­al­ist eras, from the ele­gant to the sub­tle to the pop­u­lar. The themes are rich and var­ied, with pro­found con­no­ta­tions and ex­pres­sions with their own unique mean­ing and artis­tic charm.

Among the gi­ants are William Shake­speare (1564–1616), Lord By­ron (1788–1824) the poet, Char­lotte Brontë (1816–1855) the nov­el­ist, Charles Dick­ens (1812–1870) and Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle (1859–1930), all of whom en­joy a pop­u­lar rep­u­ta­tion among Chi­nese read­ers, and whose clas­sic works have been passed down for gen­er­a­tions. Romeo and Juliet is known for its love story, Jane Eyre has come to rep­re­sent women's pur­suit of in­de­pen­dence and self-aware­ness, David Cop­per­field has made read­ers aware of the tragedy, happiness and fate of Bri­tain's com­mon peo­ple, while Sherlock Holmes has even made it to the big screen, where he keeps re­veal­ing mys­ter­ies.

Now, these clas­sic English works have trav­elled to China in yet an­other way, with the Na­tional Li­brary of China join­ing the Bri­tish Li­brary host­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion— Shake­speare to Sherlock: Trea­sures of the Bri­tish Li­brary— which opened on April 21, 2017, with orig­i­nal manuscripts and early prints, some of the most daz­zling trea­sures of Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture, now on hand for avid Chi­nese read­ers to view for the first time.

The Bri­tish Li­brary has a more than 250-year his­tory col­lect­ing as many as 150

mil­lion works that pro­vide a long record of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion. In ex­plain­ing the trans­ac­tion, one of­fi­cial from the Bri­tish Li­brary noted, “It was the staff of China's Na­tional Li­brary who sug­gested we have this ex­change,” then went on to ex­plain that they se­lected nine manuscripts from these iconic Bri­tish writ­ers and two early prints to bring to Chi­nese view­ers. The items in the Shake­speare to Sherlock: Trea­sures of the Bri­tish Li­brary ex­hi­bi­tion are arranged in three cat­e­gories—po­etry, drama and the novel.

Imag­ine the ex­cite­ment of see­ing the real manuscripts of these English lit­er­ary mas­ters, see­ing the words, and imag­in­ing the writer! To help the vis­i­tors un­der­stand the in­cred­i­ble in­flu­ence these works have had in China, some fa­mous Chi­nese trans­la­tions, adap­ta­tions and com­men­taries have been ex­hib­ited at the same time. The peo­ple can see how the mod­ern Chi­nese mas­ters, such as Cao Yu (1910–1996), Guo Moruo (1892–1978) and Lao She (1899–1966) were af­fected by Shake­speare. There are also Chi­nese trans­la­tions of Shake­speare's works by the fa­mous trans­la­tor Zhu Sheng­hao (1912–1944), to bal­ance out and com­ple­ment the col­lec­tion. These rep­re­sent a peak in clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture in both China and Bri­tain and pro­vide sat­is­fac­tion for Chi­nese read­ers.

This ex­hi­bi­tion is part of a three-year­long, large cul­tural ex­change pro­gramme called “The Bri­tish Li­brary in China: Shar­ing Knowl­edge and Cul­ture” to show the long his­tory of con­tacts be­tween Chi­nese and English lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture.

A Life in Drama

Bri­tish drama de­vel­oped along­side its own lit­er­a­ture, with the two in­ter­min­gling and Shake­speare, the coun­try's great­est play­wright had writ­ten many tragi­come­dies. In the 17th cen­tury, these were per­formed at the Globe The­atre, a cen­tre of Bri­tish drama, which gave ex­pres­sion to Shake­speare's thoughts on life. The King’s Col­lec­tion and Shake­speare’s Mas­ter­piece Romeo and Juliet tells the story of two lovers caught be­tween two feud­ing fam­i­lies who ul­ti­mately choose to end their lives, tak­ing with them their for­bid­den love. To­day, many young peo­ple think of Juliet pray­ing for eter­nal love. The ver­sion of this tragic mas­ter­piece that has trav­elled to China, the sec­ond quarto edi­tion of Romeo and Juliet, from 1599, was once ob­tained by King Ge­orge III (1738–1820). The first quarto edi­tion of Romeo and Juliet, pub­lished as early as 1597, is dif­fer­ent from other ver­sions, so, the ti­tle page of this sec­ond edi­tion ex­plains that this ver­sion is cor­rected and up­dated. The quarto edi­tion, not es­pe­cially large, lies open in the warm light of the show­case, dis­tant but com­fort­ing, demon­strat­ing the long his­tory of Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture and its en­dur­ing charm.

Re­sid­ing in the same room as Shake­speare's work is Mu­dan Ting (Pe­ony Pav­il­ion), writ­ten by Tang Xianzu (1550– 1616) of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), for a dis­play of two con­tem­po­raries of dra­matic ge­nius span­ning east and west and tran­scend­ing time and space, and to praise free­dom and lib­er­ate hu­man­ity. Tang is, by the way, known as the “Ori­en­tal Shake­speare.”

Shake­speare's works have been trans­lated into many lan­guages and span the globe, and his plays are staged in many coun­tries. He was first in­tro­duced to China in the late Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911).

At the cen­tre of the ex­hi­bi­tion hall, there is a unique “bird­cage” that at­tracts a lot of peo­ple to stop and gaze at it, rep­re­sent­ing how Ham­let is a drama within a drama, and the bird­cage goes well with the im­age of the vin­dic­tive Fort­in­bras,” who ap­pears briefly in the tragedy as a sort of foil for the prince.

A Song in Po­etry

Ro­man­ti­cism in Bri­tain flour­ished from the end of the 18th cen­tury to the be­gin­ning of the 19th when po­ets be­gan to draw in­spi­ra­tion from na­ture and travel and added Gothic el­e­ments to their work to ex­cite the reader's imag­i­na­tion. Those most closely linked with Ro­man­ti­cism from this pe­riod were Lord By­ron, Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge (1772–1834) and William Wordsworth (1770–1850) whose po­ems are full of ex­plo­ration.

A Smudge of Ro­mance on the Note­book

The Man­u­script of Don Juan by Ge­orge Gor­don By­ron (1788–1824), is a tale of a good and just Span­ish war­rior of­ten tricked by women, an aris­to­cratic child who in­tends to travel, love and en­joy ad­ven­ture in Europe, but en­coun­ters a dark, ugly so­ci­ety full of hypocrisy. This typ­i­cal “By­ronic hero” stands up and fights for free­dom. By­ron's po­etic work is full of irony, half se­ri­ous and half funny, and is just as con­tro­ver­sial as its au­thor. Don Juan was seen by Goethe to be “a work of ab­so­lute ge­nius” be­cause of its broad de­scrip­tion of life, pro­found ideas and unique style. By­ron had fin­ished 16 chap­ters but had not com­pleted the work when he went off to join the Greek lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

The man­u­script on dis­play here is wrapped in brown pa­per, in dif­fer­ent sizes. It is said that By­ron car­ried these pieces of pa­per around with him, so he could write down what­ever came to his mind when in­spi­ra­tion struck. This col­lec­tion of thin pa­per re­sem­bles a note­book and is one of the great­est ro­man­tic mas­ter­pieces.

At the be­gin­ning of Chap­ter Seven, Don Juan gets in­volved in Tsarist Rus­sia's at­tempt to sur­round an Ot­toman fortress in Iz­mail, in 1790, and the man­u­script it­self is cov­ered with var­i­ous writ­ings, and ink smudges, so per­haps By­ron was al­ter­ing the story to con­vey his own am­bi­tions and revolutionary ideas via Don Juan, chang­ing the tragic fate of this well-known char­ac­ter.

A Mes­sage to the Pub­lisher

The Man­u­script of I Wan­dered Lonely as a Cloud is per­haps William Wordsworth's most fa­mous. He was a mem­ber of the Lake School, liv­ing in the coun­try­side far from city life, along­side a rus­tic lake in na­ture, the land­scape, and the scenery which give his work strong vi­tal­ity. He praised the nat­u­ral, true joy and wisdom of the po­etic life, with a style that has fresh­ness and depth, along with mo­ments of self-re­flec­tion and phi­los­o­phy of life.

Part of the in­spi­ra­tion for this work comes from 1802, when the “Poet Lau­re­ate” and his sis­ter, Dorothy, were strolling be­side the lake, and he saw daf­fodils blos­som­ing golden in the spring light and could not help ad­mir­ing the beauty of na­ture. Two years later, re­flect­ing on this and the “emo­tion in his calm mem­o­ries,” he com­pared him­self to a cloud in writ­ing some verse called Daf­fodils. This mas­ter­piece shows a rich­ness of imag­i­na­tion and a heart long­ing for free­dom. He fi­nally handed the man­u­script over to the pub­lisher in 1807.

If tak­ing a slightly closer look at

I Wan­dered Lonely as a Cloud you may no­tice that Wordsworth left a mes­sage at the top of the man­u­script ask­ing the pub­lisher to put the poem in the sec­tion ti­tled “My Mind.” God is in the de­tails. This ro­man­tic poet, who ad­vo­cated “plain liv­ing and no­ble think­ing” with his own unique ex­pres­sions and ideas, was be­hind in­no­va­tions in Bri­tish po­etry and even had a far-reach­ing in­flu­ence on Chi­nese po­etry in the 20th cen­tury.

The World in Nov­els

The English novel, char­ac­terised by its re­al­ism and char­ac­ters, had ma­tured by the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury and Char­lotte

Brontë's Jane Eyre marks the rise of Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture, so that, by the late 19th cen­tury, its writ­ers had cre­ated more ex­cit­ing sto­ries with vivid char­ac­ters in a mod­ernist vein.

Pub­lish­ing un­der an Alias

It's an old theme: a lonely fe­male teacher falls in love with some­one else's hus­band. Noth­ing new to Chi­nese read­ers, of course, be­cause it's Jane Eyre. Not many read­ers may know that much of this story was based on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Char­lotte Brontë was the daugh­ter of a vil­lage pas­tor, in York­shire, in the north of Eng­land, felt hu­mil­i­ated in her early years and went to be a tu­tor for a wealthy fam­ily. Later, she trav­elled to Brus­sels, Bel­gium to study French, where she was at­tracted by the knowl­edge, in­tel­lect, and mas­culin­ity of French teach­ers, but, alas, the re­la­tion­ship was doomed. Brontë's heart was bro­ken but it took her less than a year's time to write a semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel. In the book, Jane Eyre is a fam­ily tu­tor who fights for her free­dom and equal­ity and falls in love with her em­ployer, Rochester. The gloomy, hid­den love affair is full of twists and turns, but ul­ti­mately es­capes prej­u­dice and comes to a happy end­ing. So, the strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence ul­ti­mately over­comes lone­li­ness and hu­mil­ity.

Un­for­tu­nately, in real life, Brontë was not so lucky. In this ver­sion of Jane Eyre on dis­play, if you look at the name that ap­pears on top of the ti­tle page, it is not Char­lotte Brontë, but Cur­rer Bell, a man's name. At the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, women were sub­or­di­nate to men, so, to in­crease the cred­i­bil­ity and pop­u­lar­ity of the novel, and to avoid arous­ing sus­pi­cion among certain par­ties about her be­ing the writer, Brontë had to use a pseu­do­nym. If you look even closer, you can see inky fin­ger­prints on the man­u­script. Just try to imag­ine the au­thor's in­dig­na­tion when she de­liv­ered the work to the printer.

Joy and Sor­row all in Good Or­der Charles Dick­ens is no stranger to the Chi­nese. In fact, he was prob­a­bly the first Bri­tish writer to be in­tro­duced to China, es­pe­cially from Ni­cholas Nick­leby, his early hu­mor­ous fic­tion. The story takes place in Lon­don, where Nick­leby's fam­ily are pen­ni­less af­ter his fa­ther's death. But, he's hon­est, kind and am­bi­tious, and uses his mind and courage to deal with tough peo­ple. He faces many chal­lenges as he grows up. The lan­guage of the novel is clearly hu­mor­ous, but re­veals the cru­elty of so­ci­ety, about which Dick­ens shows so much con­cern, es­pe­cially the liv­ing con­di­tions of the work­ing class in Bri­tain, based on his own ex­pe­ri­ence. In his child­hood, Dick­ens's fa­ther was jailed for his debts, a com­mon oc­cur­rence at that time, and he him­self was sent to a shoe fac­tory in Lon­don as an ap­pren­tice, work­ing 10 hours a day and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the throes of the work­ing class. Hence his feel­ings about the fate of the com­mon peo­ple were preva­lent.

Ni­cholas Nick­leby was orig­i­nally pub­lished in se­rial form. But, there's an added de­light in the dis­play here, an­other item with a blue cover—the “favourite child” of Dick­ens, a one-vol­ume edi­tion of David Cop­per­field, re­garded as Dick­ens's most dis­tinc­tive au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel. This par­tic­u­lar vol­ume con­tains the orig­i­nal book and se­ri­als pub­lished be­fore and af­ter 1850. Ev­ery book in this vol­ume has a blue cover, with beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions. A first-per­son nar­ra­tive is used to put in his real-life ex­pe­ri­ences, so fam­ily, friend­ship, and love are in­ter­twined against the so­cial back­ground of the mid-19th cen­tury, as well as the joys and sor­rows and the ups and downs of the com­mon peo­ple.

The hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism of Dick­ens's lit­er­ary works had a pro­found ef­fect on the Chi­nese and world lit­er­a­ture. The ex­hi­bi­tion also has Lin Shu's (1852–1924) trans­la­tion of Dick­ens's Oliver Twist. Lin Shu didn't un­der­stand English, but, us­ing other peo­ple's oral de­scrip­tion of the work, he turned it into a beau­ti­ful clas­si­cal Chi­nese tale, com­bined with a stlye of the Chi­nese novel style, with a cou­plet at the be­gin­ning of ev­ery chap­ter to please Chi­nese read­ers'.

A Clean Bit of Sherlock

No, we are not talk­ing about the hot TV se­ries Sherlock, but the fa­mous, bril­liant de­tec­tive Sherlock Holmes, the cre­ation of renowned de­tec­tive sto­ry­teller of the 19th cen­tury, Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle. Holmes is a ge­nius of ob­ser­va­tion and rea­son­ing, who to­gether with his friend and bi­og­ra­pher Dr. Wat­son, solves one puz­zle af­ter an­other. The pair has many de­voted fans, and Holmes is prac­ti­cally a house­hold name in China and prob­a­bly the one lit­er­ary char­ac­ter in the world that is most fre­quently adapted for the screen. Doyle cre­ated four novel­las and 56 short sto­ries with Sherlock Holmes. On dis­play here is the story, The Ad­ven­ture of the Miss­ing Three-quar­ter, which was first pub­lished in The Strand in 1904. Although the sig­na­ture of Co­nan Doyle has yel­lowed over time, the man­u­script is clean and tidy, with only a few corrections and notes through­out its 25 pages.

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