tue 16/09/2014

Dickens and RLS manuscripts are back | Arts News

Dickens and RLS manuscripts are back

The manuscripts of Our Mutual Friend and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde return to London for the first time in over a century to form part of an exhibition exploring the influence of place on British writing.

The manuscripts will be loan from New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum. Both books present menacing aspects of London urban life in the 19th-century: Charles Dickens depicts the River Thames as sinister and squalid yet life-sustaining, whilst Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella features Soho as a dank, dangerous place where Hyde’s evil is unleashed.

Both manuscripts have interesting histories. Dickens rescued his from the Staplehurst rail crash, which killed 10 passengers in 1865. The accident, in which Dickens’ carriage was derailed and suspended over the precipice of a collapsed bridge, made the author a national hero for his role in rescuing the injured. He’d been travelling with his mistress Nelly Turner, but his celebrity ensured that her presence was kept out of the papers.

The first version of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which was written at a furious pace after a dream, was burnt and then rewitten twice over a six-week period. These earlier versions were far more explicit in alluding to Hyde’s sexual vices, but the final version is considerably softened.

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands at the British Library from 11 May to 25 September

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