To celebrate World Book Day, take a look at the writers whose work is preserved at The University of Exeter
World Book Day takes place every year in the UK on the first Thursday in March. Since 1998, the annual charity event gives every child in full-time UK education a voucher to be spent on books. The event is a localised version of the original, global World Book Day organised by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing and copyright. This year’s theme is ‘share a story’.
The University of Exeter is committed to preserving the rich literary history of the South West. Both the Archives and the Special Collections not only maintain writers’ work in the form of manuscripts and papers, but the resources are accessible to students and staff for use in dissertations, seminars and exhibitions.
The Archives contain the work of more than 30 twentieth-century writers and poets, including: Daphne du Maurier, Charles Causley, William Golding, Ted Hughes, Agatha Christie and Henry Williamson. All of its holdings can be viewed in the Old Library’s Ronald Duncan Reading Room. Heritage Collections, part of the University of Exeter Library, is responsible for both the Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and the team manage the University's unique collections of archives, rare books, film memorabilia and objects. These can all be accessed via their reading room in the Old Library. The collections cover all subject areas with major highlights in Twentieth-Century South West Writing, Literature and Visual Culture, Victorian Culture and Imperial Endeavour, Arab and Islamic Studies, and Religious and Parish book collections.
The archives and collections are used extensively by academics and students; often, work within and around the collections inspires research and teaching modules. Professor Tim Kendall’s work with archival material on poet William Golding, for example, inspired one of his first-year modules. Sir William Gerald Golding (1911-1993) was born in Newquay, Cornwall; during his lifetime, he wrote 12 novels, including his most famous work, Lord of the Flies (1954). Golding also composed many essays, reviews, poems, and short stories. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Navy and then returned to writing and teaching. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. The Special Collections William Golding archive holds the writer’s notebooks, manuscripts and typescript drafts of his novels up to 1989.
Another famous writer, Charles Causley, features in the Special Collections. The poet, teacher and broadcaster was born in Cornwall and is closely associated with creative writing in the South West. The University of Exeter and its partner, the Charles Causley Trust, have a longstanding connection. The 20th-century poet was a former Exeter academic and bequeathed a large collection of poems, papers and correspondence to the University upon his death in 2003.
In addition to the work of the Collections and Archives, the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Lab has spearheaded preservation of celebrated literary figures through digitisation. The Thomas Hardy Global Correspondents Project, led by Professor Angelique Richardson and University partner Dorset County Museum, launched in 2019 with a goal of digitising 100 letters. The Victorian author was known for stories that depicted his dream county ‘Wessex’, alongside famous texts such as Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge. His letters, alongside images and fully annotated transcriptions of the letters, were publicised online and have deepened previous understanding of Hardy’s politics and philosophy. The global correspondence, received from friends, fellow artists, publishers, campaigners, fans, and other members of the public, demonstrated that Hardy had progressive views, including his anti-imperialism and anti-racism stance. They also suggested that the author played a key role in debates on suffrage, war and animal welfare. At present, the project has digitised 5,000 letters related to Thomas Hardy.
To read more about the South West writers archived at the University of Exeter please see: https://libguides.exeter.ac.uk/archives/south-west-writers and for more information relating to the Thomas Hardy project, see: https://hardycorrespondents.exeter.ac.uk/index.html.