Digital Exhibition: Rare Books in the EFL

As part of the Oxford Google Books project around 2,000 out-of-copyright texts from the rare book room at the EFL have been digitized. These are available to view through SOLO as digital documents. This digital exhibition highlights several of the most used items and authors in the English Faculty Library’s Rare Book Room which are available online as digitized copies as a result of the Google project. The items from the room have been used for a variety of purposes including teaching, digital projects, exhibitions and individual research.

Firstly, the poetical works of Percy Shelley. Posthumous Poems (1824) was edited by Mary Shelley who collected his scattered poems from manuscripts, poems written in the moment and translations written years prior to his death. Mary prefaces the collection, explaining her process of collecting and editing the work as well as giving a short account of Percy’s life.

The volume is split into several sections including miscellany, fragments and a substantial number of translations. Included within the collection is the poem ‘To—’ which is now more known as ‘Music, when soft voices die’. The poem has inspired compositions which set music to the lyrics.


William Wordsworth’s work from the Rare Book Room has also been frequently consulted in the EFL. The most popular of his works consulted include his Poems, The Excursion and Lyrical Ballads across various editions. Among these the most popular text is Lyrical Ballads, which was produced by Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in collaboration. Available to view digitally is the EFL’s edition of the Lyrical Ballads: with other poems, a second edition of the work published in 1800 which consists of two volumes.

Initially the Lyrical Ballads were published anonymously until the second edition which names Wordsworth as creator. Coleridge contributes a small number of poems to the work including The Ancient Mariner, although he is only listed as a Friend in the preface, rather than being referred to by name.

The 1800 second edition’s first volume also includes the preface which having been much expanded upon since the first edition sets out key characteristics of the poetry from the Romantic movement. The essay is described as a ‘critical manifesto…providing a lengthy theoretical justification for the works to follow’, (Butler 2003: 48).


Front piece from Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility. 1833.

Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (first published in 1811 in three volumes) is the most consulted work of hers from the rare book room when considering usage of both the 1813 and 1833 editions. It has primarily been used for teaching within the faculty.


Available as a digitized version is the 1833 edition which is a single volume published by Richard Bentley (who established the journal Bentley’s Miscellany). It is number 23 of Bentley’s Standard Novels series which set out to bring together multipart-volume novels into one book. Many of Austen’s other works was also published in this series in 1833.

Beginning this edition of the text is a series of advertisements including ‘An Improved Edition of the Plays and Poems of Shakespeare’ and translations of Greek and Latin texts from the ‘Family Classic Library’. This is followed by an unattributed memoir of Austen’s life, which was written by Henry Austen.


Title page vignette from Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility. 1833.

Significant to this particular edition is the feature of illustrations, as Looser states that Bentley’s Standard Novel editions provided ‘the first mass-produced visualizations of her novel’ (Looser 2017: 19). The illustrations depict moments from the novel and are accompanied by quotes from the novel to which they refer. They were designed by a ‘Pickering’ and engraved by William Greatbatch. These same two worked on the other illustrations for Bentley’s Standard Novel editions of Austen’s work.






Illustration from Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist; or, The parish boy’s progress. 1838. George Cruikshank.

Finally, Charles Dickens has a number of works from the rare book room which have been popular for consultation over the years. Among these is Oliver Twist, which was first serialized between 1837-1839 in Bentley’s Miscellany. The full narrative was published in three volumes, prior to the completion of its serialization.


Illustration from Charles Dickens. Sketches by Boz. 1839. George Cruikshank.

Available to view as a digitized edition, is the EFL’s three volume edition from 1838, Oliver Twist; or, The parish boy’s progress. It was published by the same Richard Bentley who published the work of Austen referenced earlier in this digital exhibition. This edition appears under Dickens’ pseudonym ‘Boz’. The edition features illustrations by George Cruikshank, who also illustrated Dickens’ Mudfog Papers (1837-38), and Sketches by Boz which was first published in 1836. The 1839 edition of Sketches by Boz from the EFL is also available as a digital version.





To explore more digitized copies of texts available across the Bodleian and college libraries when searching SOLO, filter the collection type by digitized copies.




Links to Full Works

Austen, J. (1833). Sense and Sensibility : A Novel.
Dickens, C., & Cruikshank, G. (1838). Oliver Twist; Or, The Parish Boy’s Progress.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe, & Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. (1824). Posthumous Poems.

Wordsworth, W., Coleridge, S., Rees, O., & Biggs, N. (1800). Lyrical Ballads, : With Other Poems. In Two Volumes. Volume 1Volume 2


  • Butler, J. (2003). Poetry 1798-1807: Lyrical Ballads and Poems, in Two Volumes. In S. Gill (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Wordsworth (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 38-54). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Looser, D. (2017). The Making of Jane Austen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

This digital exhibition has been curated by Emma Jambor – EFL Graduate Trainee 2019-20

Irish Mythology, Fairy & Folk Tales

For March, the EFL has on display texts which engage with the mythic past of Ireland through writing about fairy and folk tales. These narratives have arisen from Irish cultural traditions and shape thoughts about national identity.

Ireland has a long cultural tradition of engaging with the mythical past, folklore and fairies through the creation of narratives and stories. Tales would have been passed around when people gathered together to share stories. It was very much an oral narrative tradition.

Within the mythological narratives there is often a focus on romantic heroes and ruthless gods, reminiscent of Norse and Greek mythology. James Stephens (1880-1950) focused on retelling these narratives. His Irish Fairly Tales (1924) focuses on the heroic figure Fionn mac Cumhaill, a legendary mythical hunter, and the challenges he and his followers must overcome. This is often referred to as the Fenian Cycle of myths. The edition is accompanied with illustrations by Arthur Rackham which bring the narrative to life.

First illustration from the Bodleian copy of Irish Fairy Tales – written by James Stephens, illustrated by Arthur Rackham

In the nineteenth century there is a strong interest in Irish fairy tales from Irish writers.  Through exploring mythological and fantastical topics writers were able to connect with their cultural routes when their own nationality was becoming more complex, and with the advances in modernity and technology. Thomas Crofton Crocker (1798-1854) was an Irish antiquary who was especially interested in and devoted to the study of ancient Irish poetry and folklore. His first volume of Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1834) went to six editions, and was translated by the Brothers Grimm into German.

Yeats (1865-1939) was also able to connect with his heritage through writing about Irish folklore and fairy tales. In his early career he produced many collected works of fairy tales. He spent fourteen years of his early life in London and through these works he was able to reaffirm his Irish nationality.  His collections Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) and Irish Fairy Tales (1892), draw upon a range of sources to illustrate fairies including the trooping fairies, changelings, solitary fairies, ghosts and witches.

Jane Wilde (1821-1896) also saw mythology as important for Irish culture. In the preface to her collection Ancient Legends of Ireland (1887), she writes: ‘…the legends have a peculiar and special value as coming direct from the national heart ’. Her tales explore a variety of Irish myths and legends from earlier generations.

Alfred Graves (1846-1931) was a poet and writer, and father to Robert Graves. He was president of the Irish Literary Society for several years. In The Irish Fairy Book (1910) a variety of narratives and poems are brought together from writers who were also drawn to the subject matter of fairies and folklore including Jane Wilde and Tennyson. In the Spectator for his obituary it was written: ‘Mr Graves not only wrote songs but stirred up fresh public interest in the old folk-songs of Ireland, Wales and the Highlands, and, moreover, induced musicians and singers to become interested too’.

Bibliography & Further Reading

  • Gantz, J. 1981. Early Irish Myths and Sagas.
  • Carrassi, V. & Wren, K. 2012. The Irish Fairy Tale: A Narrative Tradition from the Middle Ages to Yeats and Stephens.

This exhibition has been curated by Emma Jambor – EFL Graduate Trainee 2019-20

LGBT History Month 2020: Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry
May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965

For LGBT+ History Month 2020 the EFL is honouring Lorraine Hansberry. Although she died at the age of 35, she achieved a great deal in her short life: writing five plays, over 60 articles, and many poems. She was the first black woman to have her play produced on Broadway and the first black winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. As a black writer in 1950s America, the expectation was that she would write solely about the black experience, but she sought to push away those expectations and embrace a universality in her work:

“One of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay great attention to the specific. Universality, I think, emerges from truthful identity of what is…in other words, I think people, to the extent we accept them and believe them as who they’re supposed to be, to that extent they can become everybody”[1].

Lorraine Hansberry also refused to separate the link between society and art, she said “the writer is deceived who thinks he has some other choice. The question is not whether one will make a social statement in one’s work – but only what the statement will say”[2].

Born in Chicago, in 1930, Lorraine’s middle class upbringing did not afford itself the luxuries it may have, had she been white. She saw first-hand the deeply divided lines caused by segregation, and this was formative to her political and social development[3].

Lorraine briefly attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a majority white university in which the members of the women’s dormitory to which she was assigned (Langdon Manor) had a meeting to discuss if the “coeds would be amenable to the presence of a Black girl”[4]. In her 2018 biography of Hansberry, Imani Perry feels that the experience of being “in a predominantly white university, while in some ways isolating, also somewhat surprisingly provided a space for her to find and exercise a political voice beyond the circumscribed set of issues…to which women of her race and class were often confined”.

Lorraine left Madison and moved to New York in 1950, taking a job writing and editing the newspaper Freedom which provided articles about “global anticolonialist struggles and domestic activism against Jim Crow”[5]. It was during this time she openly declared her allegiance to Communism, and the FBI started to actively follow her[*].

In 1953 she married Robert Nemiroff, and they mostly lived together in New York, though Lorraine frequently spent large amounts of time back in Chicago with her family. Her diaries and letters of this time are filled with confusion and echoes of her depression. During the 1950s Lorraine was finding her place in the world, and beginning to challenge all conventions of marriage, children, and sexuality.[6] Although they separated in the late 1950s, Robert continued to be one of Lorraine’s most ardent supporters, and the pair worked together frequently.

Her early published writing was under the name of Emily Jones, in which she wrote often about the tension between commitment to family, the expectations placed on her due to her gender, and the insidiousness of homophobia within relationships.[7] Lorraine’s relationships with women was well known amongst her circle of friends, but on her death Robert Nemiroff donated all of Lorraine’s private documents (diaries, letters, unpublished manuscripts) to the New York Public Library, where it was under restricted access until 2013.[8] The result of this was that an important aspect of her life was unknown for many years. Since her papers have become available to researchers we have gained a greater understanding of Lorraine’s own thoughts about her sexuality, and how she saw herself.

In her diary Lorraine writes:

“As for this homosexuality thing (how long since I have thought or written of it in that way— as some kind of entity!) am committed to it. But its childhood is over. From now on— I actively look for women of accomplishment— no matter what they looked like. How free I feel today. I will create my life— not just accept it.”[9]

On 11th March 1959, Lorraine’s first play A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway. The New York Times reported a day later that Lorraine received a standing ovation at the end of the first performance, and described it as “a play about human beings who want, on the one hand, to preserve their family pride and, on the other hand, to break out of the poverty that seems to be their fate.”[10] It would play on Broadway for twenty-seven months, and win Lorraine the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

Lorraine continued to write – producing screenplays for A Raising in the Sun that were all ultimately rejected by movie studios, as well as writing articles – and a second play was released during her lifetime, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Her main focus from 1960 onwards was political activism, her focus being “the liberation of Black people from colonialism abroad and Jim Crow at home.”[11]

In the last years of her life, Lorraine continued to work tirelessly, determined to make a change in the world regardless of the pain her illness was inflicting on her. After her death, Robert Nemiroff adapted some of her unpublished work into the play, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, later also reproduced as a biography of Lorraine.

The legacy of Lorraine Hansberry is clear from the plays produced, and articles written, both during her lifetime and posthumously, but only in recent years are we finding out more about the Lorraine behind the words. Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, has compiled a thorough life in Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, that is both biography and tribute to a remarkable woman.


[*] Her FBI files can be seen online at

[1] Wilkerson 1983: 9 / [2] Wilkerson 1983: 9 / [3] Wilkerson 2005 / [4] Perry 2018: 27-28 / [5] Perry 2018: 47 / [6] Perry 2018: 81 / [7] Perry 2018: 87 / [8] Mumford 2016: 19
[9] Mumford 2016: 19 / [10] New York Times, Thursday March 12 1959 / [11] Perry 2018: 150


Mumford, Kevin J. 2016. Not straight, not white : black gay men from the March on Washington to the AIDS crisis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Mumford, Kevin. n.d. Opening the Restricted Box: Lorraine Hansberry’s Lesbian Writing.

Perry, Imani. 2018. Looking for Lorraine. The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Beacon Press.

Wilkerson, Margaret B. 2005. “Lorraine Hansberry.” In Black Women in America, edited by Darlene Clark Hine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilkerson, Margaret B. 1983. “The Sighted Eyes and Feeling Heart of Lorrain Hansberry.” Black American Literature Forum 17 (1): 8-13.


This exhibition has been curated by Jen Gallagher – EFL Reader Services Librarian

The Roaring Twenties

To celebrate the New Year 2020 and the beginning of the decade, on display in the EFL are books from the Roaring Twenties paired with classic cocktails which either feature in the literary works of the authors, or have been inspired by the author and their characters in modern cocktail collections.

On display are two cocktail books written in the era. Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1925) and from the end of the period, The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). The books were written as guides for barmen and staff. Within the books are a range of cocktails which would have been drank at the time, and can be found within novels from the twenties. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s the Sun Also Rises (1926) at the beginning of chapter 6 the narrator can be found sipping a Jack Rose at the hotel bar. A recipe for the Jack Rose can be found within Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.

Fitzgerald first novel This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920. His work captures the themes of the decade in America, such as the advances in modernity and technology, but also the depleting morality. The Great Gatsby (1925) has been considered one of the Great American Novels. On display is a graphic version of the novel by Greenberg (2009) which imagine the characters as strange creatures. Pairing with Fitzgerald’s work is the Gin Rickey, which features in chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby. The cocktails appearance is pivotal to Tom’s realisation of the affair between Daisy and Gatsby.

The Golden Age of Detective novels is considered to be from the 1920s to the end of the 30s. Writing these novels was Agatha Christie, and her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920 in America. The novel also saw the debut of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective. To accompany the novel is the recipe for a Black Russian, fittingly the drink is considered to have been first made by a Belgian barman.

Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own (1929), inspired the title for the 2016 cocktail book A Drink of One’s Own by Becherer and Marlatt. The collection has recipes for a range of literary ladies from Sappho to Toni Morrison, and of course Woolf. The collection was mainly inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald (née Sayre).

Evelyn Waugh’s first published novel, Decline and Fall (1928), satirised 1920s Britain through the misadventures of Paul Pennyfeather. The novel has been paired with Decline and Fall Down, an original recipe from the cocktail book Tequila Mockingbird (2013) by Tim Federle which matches works of literature with fitting drinks.

This exhibition has been curated by Emma Jambor – EFL Graduate Trainee 2019-20

Toni Morrison: Radical Genius

Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019), author of eleven acclaimed novels (including The Bluest Eye (1970), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992)), and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, was among many other things an honorary fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She received an honorary D. Litt from this university in 2005.

In celebration of her life, the English Faculty Library is now hosting an exhibition, curated by Tessa Roynon. This exhibition pays tribute to her radical genius in two ways. First, it focuses on the materials that shaped and inspired her fiction, on the sources that she transformed into art.

Second, this exhibition illuminates the very many genres through which – in works much less well-known than her novels – Morrison expressed her revolutionary perspectives on the past, the present and the future.

Throughout her life, Morrison was both a voracious reader and an astute cultural curator. She spoke often, when describing her creative process, of encountering a crucial ‘seed’ or ‘spark’ which, with great labour and over considerable lengths of time, she nurtured and shaped, and interwove with her own and her family’s personal experiences,  until each of her novels was finished.

Book cover - Contemporary African LiteratureFor The Bluest Eye, a crucial catalyst was the ‘doll tests’ carried out by Kenneth and Mamie Clark in 1947.  Sula testifies to the influence of the African cultures and literatures that the author became familiar with while working (at Random House, in the early 1970s) as project editor on the ground-breaking anthology Contemporary African Literature.

Song of Solomon was the first of Morrison’s novels to bear clear witness to the modernist writers such as Woolf and Faulkner whom she encountered and wrestled with as a student.

Both Beloved and Paradise were inspired by newspaper clippings that the author encountered in compiling material for The Black Book.

Newspaper article that inspired Toni Morrison

And in Jazz, Morrison’s starting point was a photo by renowned Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van der Zee: a picture of a young woman ‘shot by her sweetheart at a party …’.

Besides writing the novels for which she is justifiably best known, Morrison was also a brilliant essayist, an unparalleled cultural critic and a public intellectual of extraordinary prescience and integrity. While working as an editor for Random House in the 1970s she not only ensured that the work of numerous African American novelists saw publication. 

She also edited the autobiographies of civil rights activists such as Angela Davis, Huey Newton and Muhamad Ali.






Over the course of her life, Morrison edited essay collections on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy and on the O.J. Simpson case; wrote song lyrics, a libretto for the opera

Margaret Garner, and the text for a collaborative performance piece based on Othello, entitled Desdemona. She created numerous books for children (see 5 and 6), changed the field of American literary studies with her own work of criticism, Playing in the Dark (1992), and served as Guest Curator at the Musée du Louvre in 2006-07.

If you read (or listen to!) one new thing by Morrison after seeing this exhibition, let it be the lecture she delivered, in 1993, on accepting her Nobel Prize. Its emphasis on our responsibilities as readers – told through the age-old parable of the bird that is in our hands – is not easily forgotten.

The full implications of Morrison’s intellectual legacy – her insistence that the transatlantic slave trade was the critical factor in the transition to modernity, for example, and hence that modernism derives primarily from the black experience – have yet fully to be reckoned with.


Toni Morrison: Radical Genius is an exhibition at the English Faculty Library, curated by Tessa Roynon.

The exhibition can be viewed in the library, during opening hours, from 1st October to 20th December 2019. For members of the public without a university card, please email in advance to arrange a visit:

Read More:

Toni Morrison: American literary giant made it her life’s work to ensure that black lives (and voices) matter

In search of home: How Toni Morrison transformed American literature

Banned and Challenged Books

“The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, cancelled films – that thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink,“ – Toni Morrison. Burn This Book (2009)

To celebrate Banned Books Week you can now view an exhibition in the EFL of novels which have been frequently challenged and banned by governments, schools and libraries. The books on display have been banned for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to); sex, racism, explicit content, vulgar language, violence, the occult, LGBTQ+ themes and ‘troubling’ ideas.

The American Library Association (ALA) began Banned Books Week in 1982 due to increasing recorded challenges to books in public spaces. The aim of the event is to celebrate the freedom to read, and to promote silenced voices. The importance of Banned Books Week is constantly being demonstrated. Early in September 2019 a pastor at St Edward junior school in Nashville banned J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007) from the new library, he justified this by writing:

The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.

Harry Potter

 The novels have been frequently challenged for the depiction of the occult, magic and death. Harry Potter has topped ALA’s most banned and challenged books in America from 2000-2009, and still continues to be challenged across the world, including being burned by priests in Poland on account of the evil subject matter. Read at your own risk.

Novels which are now frequently considered classics such as Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) were deemed obscene on account of explicit content, and were banned in the United Kingdom. In addition to Joyce’s original novel being banned, Strick’s film adaptation of Ulysses was also banned in Ireland from its release in 1967 until 2000. Often deemed the Great American Novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) has frequently disturbed readers for the use of racial slurs and racial stereotypes. In 1885 Twain’s novel was banned from Concord Public Library where it was described as trash. It remains essential reading however for exploring depictions of race in the nineteenth century.

Also on display is Walker’s The Color Purple (1982), which placed seventeenth on ALA’s list of most challenged books from 1990-2009. The narrative explores the life of black American women in the south, and has frequently ‘troubled’ readers with its ideas. The novel depicts violence and uses explicit language which has often led to it being taken off school reading lists. The silencing of BAME voices and experiences remains a key issue which Banned Books Week hopes to highlight and challenge.

The ALA has also recognised that books with LGBTQ+ narratives are more frequently being challenged within public spaces. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Alex Gino’s George (2015), both have been banned on account of their engagement with LGBTQ+ narratives. Hall’s novel is a landmark in lesbian fiction but at its release James Douglas editor of the Sunday Express deemed it not fit ‘to be borrowed from any library’. The novel was banned from 1928-1958 in England following an obscenity trial which saw various authors support Hall including Wells, Woolf and Eliot. It would not be until after Hall’s death that the ban would be lifted on the novel.

George explores the challenges of coming out as transgender through centring on Melissa and her gaining acceptance from friends and family. Out of the 483 recorded challenges by the ALA, it was the most banned and challenged book of 2018. It also placed on the top ten list in 2016 and 2017. Gino wrote the novel as it was what they wanted to read growing up. The novel has been criticised for ‘creating gender confusion’, as well as mentioning dirty magazines and male anatomy. In 2016 the novel won the Stonewall Book Award.

Toni Morrison described the thought of censorship as a ‘nightmare’ in her edition of Burn This Book (2009). This idea has also inspired writers, such Bradbury whose Fahrenheit 451 (1953) depicts a world were books are banned and burned.

Banned Books Poster
Banned Books Week
is an important event which encourages readers to challenge attempts to censor literature and unheard voices with the support of librarians, bookshops and schools. The event takes place annually, and this year the week will be held from the 22-28th of September. Please visit for more information about events taking place and further lists of books which have been banned which can be inspiration for your next book to read.


This exhibition has been curated by Emma Jambor – EFL Graduate Trainee 2019-20

Further Reading:

Ladenson, E. 2007. Dirt for art’s sake: books on trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita, Ithaca; London.

Morrison, T. 2009. Burn this book: PEN writers speak out on the power of the word (1st ed.). New York, NY.

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.


This exhibition has been curated by Jen Gallagher – EFL Reader Services Librarian


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 exhibition was been curated by Mary Atkinson – EFL Graduate Trainee 2015-16