Shakespeare has a new home

The EFL’s reclassification project began in 2009, and since then all new books in the library have been added to the LCC sequence. We are reclassifying existing library collections and, as a result, approximately 63% of the EFL’s collections are now in the LCC sequence.

During the Easter vacation the project continued and you will now be able to find all Shakespeare books in one place rather than having to look in two locations.

Shakespeare can be found from PR2750 to PR3195 in the corner of the main library by the Computer Room.


The Shakespeare DVD Collection can still be found on the shelves underneath the new journals display by the Quick Search machines.


Newly discovered Du Maurier poems shed light on a talented writer honing her craft


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For decades, Du Maurier poems were hidden behind this picture.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

by Laura Varnam, University of Oxford

Daphne du Maurier remains one of the 20th century’s most popular and enigmatic writers, her life captivating readers as much as her works, as the most recent biography, Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, has shown. Her literary reputation is also finally on the rise and, although her most popular novel Rebecca has often overshadowed her wide-ranging achievements as a writer, the celebration of its 80th anniversary last year reinforced Du Maurier’s place in the canon of English Literature as a serious and influential author.

This will be aided by the recent discovery of unknown poems, written early in her writing career, hidden behind a stunning photograph of the young Du Maurier in a bathing costume on the rocks, poised to take flight into the sea that was such an inspiration to her work.

The poems were discovered by auctioneer Roddy Lloyd of Rowley’s auction house, Ely, as he prepared the archive of Du Maurier materials belonging to the late Maureen Baker-Munton for auction on April 27. Baker-Munton was PA to Daphne’s husband, Lt Gen Sir Frederick “Boy” Browning and she became a close and important friend to the Du Maurier Browning family, as expert Ann Willmore explains on the Du Maurier website.

Du Maurier with her husband Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning in 1956.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

Du Maurier is still primarily known as a novelist – as well as the bestseller Rebecca she is also rightly revered for the great Cornish novels, Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman’s Creek (1941) and My Cousin Rachel (1951). But, as I argue in the book I am writing on Du Maurier, she was a far more versatile, wide-ranging, and experimental writer than is currently recognised. Du Maurier wrote plays, short stories and biographies throughout her career but she was also a poet, as her son Kits Browning explained to me when we spoke over the telephone recently.

Read more:
Du Maurier’s Rebecca at 80: why we will always return to Manderley

Honing her craft

The newly discovered poems were written when Du Maurier was honing her craft as a writer in the late 1920s. At that stage she was primarily writing short stories but, as Browning told me: “My mother wrote poetry throughout her life and career.” Indeed Du Maurier often used poetry as a way of exploring an experience or emotion or testing out a character before then expanding on her ideas in a short story or novel. One of the newly discovered poems focuses on loneliness:

When I was ten, I thought the greatest bliss,
would be to rest all day upon hot sand under a burning sun…
time has slipped by, and finally I’ve known,
The lure of beaches under exotic skies,
and find my dreams to be misguided lies,
For God! How dull it is to rest alone.

Du Maurier’s work is preoccupied by the difference between fantasy and reality – and the dangers of dreaming – and her work repeatedly returns to the tension between the desire for independence and the need for companionship and human contact.

Gender and sexuality

Another poem: Song of the Happy Prostitute, portrays a woman who is frustrated with the way her profession is represented.

Why do they picture me as tired and old…
selling myself with sorrow,
just to gain a few dull pence to shield me from the rain.

Song of the Happy Prostitute.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

What on first sight might seem an unusual, even controversial, topic for the young writer in fact reflects the dominant themes of her early work, as Ann Willmore, of Bookends of Fowey, explained to me recently. Willmore discovered the unpublished Du Maurier short story The Doll in which a young woman, suggestively named Rebecca, protects her personal independence by keeping a sex doll. “The Happy Prostitute poem fits in with Daphne’s interests in gender and sexuality, especially in her early work, and she did seem to want to shock her readers”, Willmore told me.

The poem also, in my view, relates to two early short stories from the same period of Du Maurier’s life in which she created the character of a prostitute called Mazie who boldly claimed that her work enabled her to be independent. “I’m free, I don’t owe anything to no one, I belong to myself”, Mazie declares in the short story Piccadilly. Growing up in the 1920s, when the freedom and autonomy of women was increasingly a topic for public debate, Du Maurier’s choice of subject matter reflects the concerns of her day.

Du Maurier and her children at Menabilly, the house near Fowey in Cornwall in which she and her family lived for many years. The house was the inspiration for the novel Rebecca.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

Du Maurier was a very privileged young woman, growing up in the grandeur of Cannon Hall in Hampstead – but her background was theatrical and Bohemian, as the daughter of celebrated actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and stage actress Muriel Beaumont. And, as her son Kits Browning stressed, she was an avid reader and gained much imaginative experience of the world from the books she devoured as a teenager.

As to why the poems were hidden behind the photograph – either by Du Maurier herself or someone else – we are unlikely ever to find out. Browning told the Daily Telegraph that perhaps she did not want her parents to read them. Perhaps the Happy Prostitute found fuller expression in the Mazie short stories.

These newly discovered poems shed important light on Du Maurier’s early work and writing practice. Still often dogged by the incorrect label of “romantic novelist”, these poems highlight the important themes of independence, gender, and sexuality that were to fascinate Du Maurier throughout her career, in both prose and poetry. They show her boldness, spirit, and strength, just like the photograph behind which they were concealed for all these years.The Conversation

Laura Varnam, Lecturer in English Literature, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Chaucer was more than English: he was a great European poet

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

by. Dr Marion Turner

In 2013, a Prospect magazine profile of the UKIP leader Nigel Farage described the Brexiteer’s party in Chaucerian terms:

UKIP is indeed a rag-tag bag … of cussed, contrary, wilful, protesting, obstreperous, bantering Englishmen and women, the like of which have been with us all the way back to The Canterbury Tales … the descendants of the brazen and garrulous Wife of Bath and the boisterous but genial Harry Bailey, Chaucer’s Inn Keeper. These are very English archetypes …

This notion of the quintessential ‘Englishness’ of The Canterbury Tales (1387), authored by the ‘Father of English Literature’, has a long history. In 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in Westminster Abbey simply because he lived in its precincts; but 150 years later, he was reburied in a grand new tomb as the founder member of Poets’ Corner, becoming, almost literally, the cornerstone of English literature. Poets such as John Dryden claimed him as the ‘father of English poetry’, adding that his most famous poem, The Canterbury Tales, represented ‘the whole English nation’.

Victorian writers, wedded to the essential Englishness of Chaucer, asked: ‘Who is an Englishman more English than Chaucer?’ His genius, they agreed, was ‘English to the core.’ In the 20th century, G K Chesterton took Chaucer’s vaunted Englishness to new levels, claiming that: ‘Chaucer was the Father of his Country, rather in the style of George Washington.’ More recently, the blurb of Peter Ackroyd’s Chaucer: Brief Lives (2004) describes The Canterbury Tales as ‘an epic of Englishness’, while Ackroyd calls Chaucer ‘the genial and smiling emblem of Englishness’.

This mantle of patriarchal Englishness would have seemed distinctly odd to Chaucer himself. Chaucer was able to transform English poetry the way he did precisely because of his internationalism, not his nationalism. Like all educated men of his day, he was multilingual. He devoured late-antique philosophy, Latin translations of Arabic scientific treatises, and French love poems. His unusually good knowledge of Italian – and his travels to Italy – allowed him to access the latest poetry of Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. Indeed, Chaucer’s very fascination with vernacularity was a European phenomenon: Dante and Boccaccio’s championing of Tuscan vernacular inspired Chaucer to see what he could do with his own.

The influence of these Italian poets changed what English poetry could do. Chaucer’s development of the pentameter, for instance, the 10-syllable, five-stress line that became the building block of English poetry, was inspired by an Italian poetic line (the endecasillabo). And it was Chaucer who first translated a Petrarchan sonnet into English.

This internationalism belies the idea of the ‘English archetypes’ of the Canterbury pilgrims that has seeped into the popular imagination. Far from being a UKIP-member prototype, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is based mainly on a figure called La Vieille from the French Roman de la Rose, and on stereotypes from Jerome’s Latin Adversus Jovinian. And the idea of a group of people telling stories has multiple sources, notably Boccaccio’s Decameron. Most of The Canterbury Tales doesn’t even take place in England: the settings range from central Asia to Syria to northern Italy to Flanders. And very few have any English sources.

Chaucer’s earliest trip to mainland Europe was in 1359, when, as a teenager, he fought in the Hundred Years’ War and was taken prisoner near Reims. In later years, he visited Navarre, now in northern Spain but an independent country in the 14th century – a multicultural community where Jews, Christians and Muslims co-existed relatively peacefully. He made two trips to Italy on diplomatic missions, visiting Lombardy, Florence and Genoa. And he frequently went to France, negotiating treaties and marriage alliances. Indeed, parts of modern-day France – including Calais and Aquitaine – were under English rule at this time, and the borders between the countries were constantly changing.

But Chaucer did not need to go abroad to have an international outlook, since English mercantile and aristocratic culture was profoundly European. Chaucer came from a wine-merchant family whose wealth was dependent on the traffic between France and England. Born in Vintry Ward, London – the area of the city with more immigrants than any other – the young Chaucer was brought up seeing the ships come and go on the Thames. Spices from Indonesia, furs from Russia, glass and paper from Italy, timber, grain and metal from Baltic lands, were all available in the markets and shops of late-14th-century London. The world trade system was advanced and complex, and land and sea traders crisscrossed Asia, Africa and Europe. As a child, Chaucer would have been aware of a vast global economy.

When Chaucer worked for the king’s sons and later the king, he slid easily into the internationalism of court life. Queen Philippa of Hainault and Queen Anne of Bohemia had extensive retinues from their homelands in tow, including poets who mainly wrote in French, and Chaucer himself married a woman whose family came from Hainault (a country now subsumed into France and Belgium): Philippa de Roet.

In political life, whenever issues of English national identity flared, filtered through monopolist ambition and xenophobia, Chaucer was always on the side of internationalism – we might even say globalisation. In the 1370s, London merchants, outraged that Italian merchants were gaining advantages in the lucrative wool trade, sought an English monopoly. In the so-called Good Parliament of 1376, MPs denounced these Italians as sodomites, secret Jews and Saracens, as they attempted to push them out of the wool trade. Earlier in the decade, Chaucer had travelled in company with Italians to Genoa, precisely to try to negotiate a trade deal that would have allowed the Genoans to circumvent the monopoly and have their own trading base on the south coast. He was working for John of Gaunt, a firm opponent of the London monopolists.

Chaucer’s own version of Englishness certainly did not mean driving out or excluding other Europeans: he spent his life negotiating and working with them. From 1374, Chaucer served as comptroller for the wool custom, at the heart of England’s international trading system. He regularly associated with men such as Matthew Janyn, an Italian who gave huge loans to the king; Richard Lyons, the part Fleming controller of the petty custom and an old friend of his father’s; and Jacobi Provan and John de Mari, Genoans in whose company Chaucer rode to Italy. Appropriately, from 1374 until 1385-6, he lived and worked on physical thresholds – his home above a gate on the city walls, his office on the riverbank – looking into London and then out to the rest of the world.

Chaucer bore very little resemblance to the dull patriarch depicted on the covers of so many books about him. He was a child in the seething streets of London, a young man crossing the mountain passes of the Pyrenees, a maturing diplomat avid for Italian poetry in Pavia and Giotto’s frescoes in Florence, a courtier to a Bohemian queen, a husband going home to his Hainuyer wife. He was also a poet who wrote about the markets of Paris and Bruges, the tyrants of Lombardy and the court of Chinggis Khan, even the dream of travelling to outer space. Nurtured by the writings of Ovid, Boethius, Dante, Machaut and Boccaccio, his imagination soared beyond borders. To call Chaucer the father of English literature not only misrepresents him, but also sells him short. He should be celebrated as one of the great European poets.



New Corpora available from BYU

Two new corpora are now available via the Brigham Young University collection.

The TV Corpus and The Movie Corpus together contain over 525 million words of data, and are a vital resource for looking at informal language.

Here’s more information from BYU:

The TV Corpus contains 325 million words of data in 75,000 TV episodes from the 1950s to the current time.

The Movies Corpus contains 200 million words of data in more than 25,000 movies from the 1930s to the current time.

All of the 75,000 TV episodes, and 25,000+ movies, are tied in to their IMDB entry, which means that you can create Virtual Corpora using extensive metadata — year, country, series, rating, genre, plot summary, etc.

Both Corpora allow you to look at variation over time (1950s-1970s to 1990s-2010s) and variation between dialects (e.g. American and British English). In this sense, the corpus is related to many other corpora of English that we have created, which offer unparalleled insight into variation in English.

You can find the corpora at and to use it you will need to register using your university email account

Gods in exile: resurrecting Dionysus

by Alexandra Turney

Apollo as a shepherd in Austria; Dionysus as a priest in medieval France; Aphrodite as a child washed up on the coast of Italy. While the Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote of the glory of their gods, some 19th century writers were more inspired by the idea of their fall from glory, and descent into obscurity. What kind of life would a pagan god live in modern, Christian Europe? How would they cope with their anonymous existence? And there’s another question, which I’ve recently been asking myself – why are so we fascinated by the idea of the gods in exile?

The German poet Heinrich Heine was one of the first to imagine the reincarnated gods, writing about them with mingled emotions of awe and pity (and a touch of irony) in his essay ‘Gods in Exile’:

The [Church] by no means declared the ancient gods to be myths, inventions of falsehood and error, as did the philosophers, but held them to be evil spirits, who, through the victory of Christ, had been hurled from the summit of their power, and now dragged along their miserable existences in the obscurity of dismantled temples or in enchanted groves, and by their diabolic arts, through lust and beauty, particularly through dancing and singing, lured to apostasy unsteadfast Christians who had lost their way in the forest….

Heine recounts various medieval legends about the gods, from Hermes living as a humble tradesman to an elderly Zeus weeping and shivering on a frozen island. “Decay is secretly undermining all that is great in the universe”, writes Heine, and rather than enjoying the spectacle, he advises that we should have some compassion for the fallen gods.

The idea of exiled gods was not a new one, but for some reason it captured the imagination of 19th century writers. In Swinburne’s poem ‘Hymn to Proserpine’ the speaker mourns his “Gods dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day”, while Walter Pater and Vernon Lee used short stories to explore the ideas from Heine’s essay in greater depth and psychological complexity.


Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads, 1866, from the EFL Rare Books Room

Walter Pater has been remembered primarily for his art criticism – his meditations on the Mona Lisa and his famous line “To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” His fiction, which includes the short stories of Imaginary Portraits, has been almost forgotten, but it contains some evocative contributions to the ‘gods in exile’ genre. ‘Apollo in Picardy’ and ‘Denys L’Auxerrois’ imagine Apollo and Dionysus in a medieval French context. In both stories, the gods are out of place in their Christian communities, and their conflict with their surroundings leads to tragedy.

Vernon Lee, whom Pater acknowledged as his “disciple”, saw connections between gods in exile and ghosts. In her essay ‘Dionysus in the Euganean Hills’ she suggests that the exile of the gods is “a kind of haunting; the gods who had it partaking of the nature of ghosts even more than all gods do, revenants as they are from other ages.” Her interest in the gods in exile was therefore an extension not only of her Hellenism and love of Italy, but also of her fascination with all things supernatural.

One of Lee’s best known short stories from Hauntings, ‘Dionea’, took direct inspiration from Heine. Venus (Aphrodite) is re-born in late 19th century Italy as a young girl of mysterious origins, who has an increasingly malignant influence on her surroundings. Male attempts to portray her or understand her are futile, leading only to disappointment, or even madness and death. Dionea may not be evil, but her influence is, and Lee suggests that this is a result of her alienation, and her incompatibility with the modern Christian world. The story ends with Dionea sailing away, “singing words in an unknown tongue”, unknowable to the last.

Just as the gods fell from glory, so the ‘gods in exile’ genre has faded into obscurity. I doubt I would have ever discovered these fascinating texts if I had not studied English Literature at Oxford, and attended lectures by Dr Stefano Evangelista in my first year as an undergraduate. I fell in love with the language of Swinburne, the ideas of Pater, the atmosphere of Lee.

Despite its strange, detached tone, one of the texts that made the greatest impression on me was Pater’s story ‘Denys L’Auxerrois’, a macabre tale about Dionysus’s unlikely career as a village priest in medieval France; it ends with ‘Denys’ being torn apart by the villagers in an act of sparagmos (ritual dismemberment). Ever since I studied The Bacchae at school I’d been fascinated by the figure of Dionysus – god of wine, divine ecstasy and ritual madness – and Pater’s tale of resurrection/destruction added an intriguing new chapter to the god’s mythology.

Several years later, living in Rome and daydreaming on the metro on the way to work, I found myself thinking of ‘Denys L’Auxerrois’ and Dionysus. What would happen if the god were re-born in modern Rome, a city where he has no believers? I imagined him waking up in the Protestant Cemetery and gazing uncomprehendingly at the Pyramid of Cestius. As he slowly comes to consciousness he realises, to his disappointment, that he is alive again.

My metro daydream eventually became my debut novel, In Exile. I like to think of it as a resurrection not only of Dionysus, but also of the ‘gods in exile’ genre. While I’m aware that other writers have imagined the Greek gods in modern settings (such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels or Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips), I was interested in exploring the melancholy, malevolent side of the gods, and the idea of exile. It seems to me such a fascinating concept, and a rich source of inspiration.

Aside from the glamour of the gods – centuries of art and literature are a testament to their continual fascination – I think there are two main explanations for the allure of the gods in exile. Pater and Lee are just two of many writers (and readers) who are obsessed with the past. It’s not so much a disdain for modernity as a fascination with the imaginative potential of the past, and the awareness that the past is at once unknowable and unavoidable. For Lee it is a continual, physical presence, a “borderland” that overlaps with the present. When we imagine a pagan god walking among us, we have the tantalising illusion of being able to understand these “revenants” from the ancient world.

But I think the ‘gods in exile’ genre has even wider appeal. Even more common and relatable than the obsession with the past is the interest in isolation and alienation. It’s a theme that can be found in practically every text ever written, from Beowulf to Twilight. Writers love to write stories about characters who feel out of place in their surroundings, and readers love to read about them.

At a glance, the ‘gods in exile’ genre might seem obscure and inaccessible. Why would the average modern reader, with only the vaguest notions of ancient religion and mythology, care about Dionysus’s reluctant resurrection? By writing In Exile, I hope I’ve answered the question. On some level Dionysus is not just a pagan god, but also Heathcliff or Holden Caulfield, or even the reader. In other words, god or human, author or reader, we have all felt like outsiders at some point in our lives. Exile can be a place or a time, but it’s also a state of mind.

Alexandra Turney is a graduate of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and her novel In Exile was published in January 2019.

Gender Identity in Fiction – LGBT History Month Display

To celebrate LGBT History Month 2019, the EFL have put together a display exploring gender identity in fiction.

The books included in the display are not a prescriptive list of texts, neither are they an indication of a particular way of describing gender identity. Instead, we have gathered texts from a wide range of writers, time periods, and styles, to act as examples of how authors have represented gender identity within fiction.


The Roaring Girle. Or Moll-Cutpurse (1611)
Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker
Facsimile (1914)

This play by Middleton and Dekker, fictionalises the story of the real Mary Frith (c.1584 – 1659).

In a 1612 court appearance, Mary confessed to frequenting “taverns and tobacco shops”. It also states she had “worn men’s clothing, and performed in male attire upon the stage of the Fortune Theatre”. She was charged with “immodest behaviour”.

During her life she most often wore men’s clothes, or when required “a masculine doublet above and a petticoat below”, but there is no evidence she presented herself as a man, or attempted to live as one. It is perhaps for this reason that the treatment of her life in fiction by Middleton and Dekker is favourable. Mary Frith is seen as inoffensive and at times entertaining, rather than a threat to gender norms.

In the three remaining portraits that depict her, Mary is often seen to be wearing both male and female clothes, and in the introduction to a 1993 edition of her autobiography The Life and death of Mistress Mary Frith, the editor states:

“To wear the clothing of both male and female…is to call attention to the constructed nature of gender and to disrupt any naturalized view of gender, for the denial to be one of the other…is to undermine claims about the essential nature of differences between male and female.”

Nakayama, Randall S. (ed.) The Life and death of Mistress Mary Frith, commonly called Moll Cutpurse (Garland Publishing: New York, 1993)


Moll Cutpurse: Her True Story (1993)
Ellen Galford
This novel by Ellen Galford is written in the style of a pulp novel, portraying Moll Cutpurse as a kind of lesbian Robin Hood.


Book cover of Trumpet by Jackie Kay Trumpet (1998)
Jackie Kay

Trumpet is the debut novel by Scottish poet Jackie Kay, and tells the story of jazz musician Joss Moody. Joss lives his life as a man, and only at his death does everyone learn that he was assigned female at birth.

The novel is based on the life of the jazz musician Billy Tipton, a white transgender man, but Jackie Kay reimagines his story through the eyes of a trans black man, which allows for a discussion of the intersection between gender identity and race in Britain.

Children’s Fiction
In recent years, children’s publishing has been at the forefront of gender expressions in fiction, ensuring that children of all ages have available to them stories that represent a range of gender identities.

Book cover of Introducing Teddy (a picture book)Introducing Teddy, by Jessica Walton and illustrated by Dougal Macpherson (2016), is a picture book that tells the story of a teddy who one day has to tell their best friend Errol that they would like to be called Tilly:  “I need to be myself, Errol. In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.”


Book cover of The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler


The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp (1977) is a novel for ages 8-12 and a 20th century children’s classic. It tells the story to Tyke and Danny Price, two best friends who are always getting into trouble. The gender of Tyke is not revealed until the end of the story.



Book cover of George by Alex Gino


George by Alex Gino (2015) is a novel for ages 8-12, and tells the story of George who has been keeping secret that she is a girl. She comes up with a plan, helped by her best friend Kelly, so that she can play Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web, allowing everyone to see who she really is.


Book cover of If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


If I was your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016) is one of the first Young Adult novels about a trans girl, written by a trans woman, and tells the story of Amanda, who is trying to keep the secret of her gender identity. It is a realistic and honest portrayal of a trans teen in America.



Written on the Body (1992)
Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body is a novel about obsessive love as well as a meditation on the unreality of sexual relationships and their inherent possessiveness. The narrator is never named, and at no point do we know definitively what their gender is.



Girl Meets Boy (2007)
Ali Smith

In Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith retells the Greek tale of Iphis and Ianthe, as the story of Anthea and Robin. Robin is a gender fluid character who is described as having “a girl’s toughness. She had a boy’s gentleness. She was as meaty as a girl. She was as graceful as a boy.” The novel explores friendships, homophobia, and consumerism.


Poetry, Politics and Pies: 17th & 18th Century Verse Miscellanies

Our January display in the library showcases examples of 17th and 18th century verse miscellanies from our rare books room.

Verse miscellanies are characterised by the collection of poetry by more than one author, in a single volume or a series, sometimes mixing different verse forms and subjects. Collections ranged from the elegant to the vulgar, the irreverent to the serious. Sometimes they aimed for all of these qualities at once, as seen in the title page of The Gentleman’s Miscellany (1730), advertising itself to be ‘Serious, Jocose, Satyrical, Humorous, and Diverting’ [2r]. The page displayed here contains a mocking dedication to Alexander Pope by the pseudonymous ‘Sir Butterfly Maggot’.

Printed miscellanies began to emerge in the Elizabethan period, the most famous being Richard Tottel’s Songes and Sonnettes (1557), known as Tottel’s Miscellany. Before this point, collections of poetry, prose and religious writing were compiled in manuscript. The printed miscellany format reached a peak of popularity in the late 17th and 18th century.

The nature of miscellany production can give us a sense of the verse readers enjoyed on two levels:  compilers may have selected according to their own taste, but also used their knowledge of popular taste for a commercial purpose.

Michael F. Suarez writes that “[i]n the vast majority of cases, poetical miscellanies were created as moneymaking endeavours, although most of their prefaces or advertisements claim that their compilation provides a valuable service to literature by preserving verses which otherwise might well have perished.” (Suarez, p.218)

Miscellanies did not always include well-known poets, indeed some explicitly championed little known writers or anonymous works. One example is An Asylum for Fugitive Pieces (1785), which in its advertisement refers to itself as ‘The New Foundling Hospital for Wit’. This reference to Thomas Coram’s orphanage suggests the preservation of forgotten poems as a charitable undertaking and invites readers to enjoy poetry divorced from the context of its original authorship and publication.


Although some miscellanies seem random in their selection of material, others have a focussed purpose, whether to entertain the reader, or to educate, inform or satirise.

Take the Collected Poems on Affairs of State (1689), a series containing political poems by Andrew Marvell and other writers such as John Dryden, including heroic verses on ‘The Death of the late usurper Oliver Cromwell’ and irreverent satires on the advisors and mistresses of King Charles II. The publication collects politically subversive material, some too sensitive to have been published before Marvell’s death in 1678 and the Revolution of 1688. The overall tone is critical of court corruption, and demonstrates a current of anti-Catholicism in the 1660s and 70s.

The page displayed here demonstrates an interesting example of reader engagement with the text; a previous owner has made corrections and filled in omitted names.

A final category of miscellany includes those unapologetically light-hearted publications intended for popular entertainment. A prime example is The Oxford Sausage: Or, Select Poetical Pieces, Written by the most Celebrated Wits of the University of Oxford (1764).

The preface states: ‘Our principal Aim, has been to collect Poems of Humour and Burlesque’, inviting those readers ‘grown thin, by too much Study, Fasting, and low Spirits…to partake of this cheap, delicious, and salutary, Morsel’ [A2v]-A3[r]. It also plays on the editor’s anonymity, challenging readers to find out his name.

Some of the poems refer to local characters, such as ‘Benjamin Tyrell, Cook, in the High Street, Oxford’ [A4r], perhaps indicating a select intended readership. You can see here the first in a series of poems dedicated to Tyrell’s apparently famous mutton pies, accompanied by a woodcut of the man himself at work.

For more miscellanies we recommend the Digital Miscellanies Index: a database with digitised copies of over 1500 miscellanies published in the 18th century


Bibliography/ Further Reading:

Batt, Jennifer. ‘Eighteenth-Century Verse Miscellanies’, Literature Compass, Vol 9 Issue 6, 2012.

Smyth, Adam. ‘‘Profit and Delight’’: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640–1682. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

Suarez, Michael F.  ‘The Production and Consumption of the Eighteenth-Century Poetic Miscellany’, in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England. Ed. Isabel Rivers. London: Leicester University Press, 2001. pp.217-251


This article was written by Mary Atkinson, Library Assistant, History Faculty Library (former EFL Trainee)

Winter Vacation News

Opening Hours
Vacation opening hours have now started. With the exception of the closed periods below the EFL is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Term-time opening begins again on Saturday 12th January 2019.

The EFL will close for Christmas at 5pm on Friday 21st December, and re-open at 9am on Tuesday 2nd January.


Please Note: Due to urgent electrical work in the area, the English Faculty Library will be completely closed all day on Thursday 20th December. There will be no power to the entire building from 9am to 3pm. We will reopen for the last day before Christmas, Friday 21st December.

Vacation Loans
Vacation loans are now in place for all borrowable items. Anything you check out of the library now will be due back in the first week of Michaelmas term.

Book Moves
Over the vacation staff are continuing the reclassification project. Books with the shelfmark PR5000 have moved upstairs; Hardy, Houseman, and Hopkins are currently hanging out on the balcony waiting their turn to be reclassified to LCC. During the vacation the library floorplans will be out of date, so if you’re having trouble finding anything please just ask staff.

New Blog
You’re probably aware that we have a new blog to share news with all our readers – as you’re currently on it – but did you know you can also submit articles to be published here? We’re especially keen to hear from current students who want to share work, opinions, research, passions – anything literary related. Have a look at our Contribute page for more information.

Welcome to the EFL blog

Welcome to the brand new blog for the English Faculty Library, Oxford.

This blog, run by library staff, will be home to news and updates about the library and our collections. We are also open to articles written by faculty members (staff and students) on any literary theme.