Leila Kassir: British, USA, Commonwealth, Latin American and Caribbean Literature
Andrea Meyer-Ludowisy: Western European Languages and Literature
Senate House Library's extensive literary studies collections provide an exceptional resource for the study of the discipline. The collections cover a diverse range of periods, themes, geographical areas and formats and encompass both the canonical and the obscure. Primary material in the form of unique archives, manuscripts and published first editions mix with secondary critical works and reprinted texts to provide researchers and students with access to a diversity of voices and expression.
This page provides an overview with spotlights on key features of our literary studies collections covering British, Western European, Latin American, Caribbean, Commonwealth and USA literature.
Senate House Library holds a richly diverse collection of English literature, which has been developed since the Library’s foundation to support the study and research of the discipline. The core of the collection is a chronological span of texts from Old English to date encompassing canonical works represented by primary and secondary books and journals.
The collection is particularly strong in Medieval, Renaissance, Victorian and Modernist literature, and encompasses most literary genres.
Critical theory and works on comparative literature, alongside a collection on the development of the English language, also feature within this collection.
The collection’s journal provision spans both print and online formats, including an extensive range of 19thcentury periodicals. Manuscripts, archives, and first editions of English literature are all featured, dating from the 14th century onwards. The extensive print collection is supported by an increasing number of e-books, online journals and electronic resources, particularly those which contain digitised primary source material.
Main image credit: Cover image from The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (Longman, 1987)
Our Medieval literature collections are a mix of primary texts and manuscripts, facsimile editions, and secondary works which combine to form a particularly strong and extensive resource for the study of the period.
The library’s oldest works include books and fragments printed prior to 1500 and two copies of Langland’s Piers Plowman. Late 19th and early 20th century reinterpretations of Medieval texts are represented by books printed by the Private Press Movement, including William Morris’s Kelmscott Press Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Beautiful facsimile editions of illuminated manuscripts can be viewed as can a run of the texts published since the 19th century by The Early English Text Society. The period’s literature can also be explored virtually via online resources subscribed to by the library.
- Incunabula Collection 134 books and fragments which were printed or formerly thought to have been printed before 31 December 1500
- Sterling Library(Opens in new window) particularly ‘Section I: Authors Before 1900’, which includes two Piers Plowman manuscripts, and ‘Section III: Private Press Books’
- Early English Text Society(Opens in new window) information from the publisher. To read the library’s copies, search and request titles via the library catalogue.(Opens in new window)
- Literary Studies electronic resources(Opens in new window) including the International Bibliography of Medieval Literature
- Bloomsbury Medieval Studies(Opens in new window) online resource includes digitised illustrated books & manuscripts from our collections
- Manuscript and Print Studies collection page
The library’s Early Modern literature collections contain drama and early editions alongside facsimiles and secondary works.
The library’s Shakespeare holdings are particularly strong, containing the first four folios and other early editions, alongside later reinterpretations from the Private Press Movement, such as the Cranach Press’s Hamlet.
Shakespearean authorship debates are represented by our collections, primarily the Durning-Lawrence Library, while early modern drama is presented in numerous editions, including facsimiles from the Malone Society.
The library subscribes to a range of electronic resources for the study of the period’s literature.
- Sterling Library(Opens in new window) particularly ‘Section I: Authors Before 1900’, which includes the first four Shakespeare folios and three early quartos, and ‘Section III: Private Press Books’
- Durning-Lawrence Library(Opens in new window) emphasis on the Bacon-Shakespeare authorship controversy, and early Elizabethan and Jacobean texts
- Malone Society(Opens in new window) information from the publisher. The library’s copies are browsable on the open shelves and titles can be searched on the library catalogue(Opens in new window)
- Literary Studies electronic resources(Opens in new window) including the Shakespeare Survey
- Shakespeare: Metamorphoses(Opens in new window) 2016 Senate House Library exhibition site including a useful ‘Resources’ section
- Manuscript and Print Studies collection page
Senate House Library’s foundational collections date from the 19th century and are therefore strong in original texts from the period, which have been purchased alongside numerous secondary works. The range of authors represented from this period is broad. Canonical authors are well represented, for example the works of George Eliot and Charles Dickens are held in first editions and some serial parts, whilst Dickens scholarship is represented in the archives. Popular literature features heavily via authors such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, play texts including Dick’s Standard Plays, and extensive runs of periodicals. Travel writing features across our collections including many works written by women travellers. The collection also includes 19th century texts from the United States, many of them in early editions. Online access is provided to a wide range of resources, many of which provide digitised primary texts.
- Sterling Library(Opens in new window) particularly ‘Section I: Authors Before 1900’ for first editions and parts, ‘Section III: Private Press Books’ and ‘Section IV: Illustrated and Extra-Illustrated Works’
- Malcolm Morley Collection(Opens in new window) many hundreds of play texts dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries
- Harry Price Library(Opens in new window) books, periodicals and pamphlets on all aspects of magic, from conjuring to the occult, and including related literary works. Some of the collection is available online at Victorian Popular Culture(Opens in new window)
- Literary Archives including Katharine Longley’s research relating to Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan
- 19th Century Periodicals search the catalogue(Opens in new window) for original printed copies, or search many online via British Periodicals(Opens in new window)
- Literary Studies electronic resources(Opens in new window) including British Theatre Music & Literature and London Low Life which provides examples of street literature and cheap fiction and African American Poetry hosting works from the 18th and 19th centuries and C19: the Nineteenth Century Index
- Childhood in Dickensian London(Opens in new window) 2020 Senate House Library exhibition site
The 20th century English literature at Senate House Library is particularly strong in works from the first half of the century, with emphases on both modernism and the ‘middlebrow’.
The geographical range includes Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and some African countries (for more expansive collections of Asian and African literature see our neighbours SOAS Library(Opens in new window)).
First editions of key modernist texts feature strongly while archival items include manuscripts by W. H. Auden and James Hanley, a Nancy Cunard poetry typescript, and letters from Virginia Woolf.
The modernist links between literature and publishing and book design are well represented including works printed at the Hours and Hogarth Presses, and illustrations by Sturge Moore. Thanks to a donation from literary scholar Elizabeth Maslen, the library holds a strong selection of novels by Storm Jameson.
Literature from the latter decades of the 20th century and into the 21st predominantly consists of an extensive collection of secondary works although short story collections are actively purchased(Opens in new window) and the fantasy genre is represented in the Terry Pratchett Collection. Online access is provided to a wide range of resources which support the study of 20th (and 21st) century literature.
- Sterling Library(Opens in new window) particularly ‘Section II: Twentieth-Century Literature’ for first editions and ‘Section III: Private Press Books’ for presses such as the Golden Cockerel.
- Sterling Library Manuscripts are(Opens in new window) particularly strong in early 20th century writers
- Literary and Publishing Archives including Gerald Duckworth & Co, and Charles Lahr (bookseller)
- Elizabeth Maslen donation of works by women authors, particularly Storm Jameson: search the catalogue(Opens in new window) for Elizabeth Maslen
- Colin Smythe Terry Pratchett Collection(Opens in new window) a comprehensive collection of his works, donated by his agent Colin Smythe
- Literary Studies electronic resources(Opens in new window) including Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present, the African Writers Series (via ProQuest One Literature), and the Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive
LGBTQ+ literature is distributed throughout our literature collections, spanning a wide geographical scope and broad timeline. One of the earliest literary representations of a gay club is found in the 1710 work A Satyrical Reflections on Clubs, while the identity of Shakespeare’s “master mistress” in his Sonnet 20 is still discussed. These are just two of the earliest examples of LGBTQ+ literature in our collections which includes books, journals, pamphlets and e-resources. The resources span decades and perspectives, often reflecting shifting social attitudes.
- Queer Between the Covers(Opens in new window): Literature, Queerness and the Library 2018 (Senate House Library exhibition site)
- LGBT Thought and Culture electronic resource(Opens in new window) contains material on literature, literary reviews and literary salons, plus full text editions of c.40 works of fiction
- LGBTQ+ Activism in the Political Activism collection page Gender and LGBTQ+ activism.
Since 1941 Senate House Library has been actively purchasing English language short story collections, thanks to an ongoing donation by G.F. Troup Horne. The nucleus and beginnings of the collection are approximately 700 volumes of short stories from Troup Horne’s own collection. Works are continually added to the collection and while the initial bequest and older volumes are reference only the newer works are loanable. The older volumes can be requested via the catalogue for reading in the library (find them by searching Troup Horne on the catalogue(Opens in new window)), while the newer volumes can be borrowed from the open literature shelves.
The literature collections contain a wealth of pamphlet and small press works, many of them self-published or privately printed. There are c.2000 pamphlets in the English collection alone, predominantly poetry and drama, with many critical texts also included. The works cover the same range of periods and topics as the main book collection, from Old English to date. Literature pamphlets also feature across the collections in our Pamphlet Store and our special collections. There are examples of publications from university presses, literary societies, local history groups, religious societies and churches, political groups, community presses and writing workshops, individual private printers, and libraries. The pamphlets and small press works reflect an alternative to the mainstream of academic writing, reflecting a wide range of voices and experiences, and show the hobbyist side of printing and private press work.
- Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlets Awards – blog relating to the award winners and our collections
- Aloes Books literature pamphlets – blog concerning Aloes Books and their small press publications, relating to Thomas Pynchon
- The London Estates & Neighbourhoods that Became Publishing Houses(Opens in new window) – blog concerning community publishing works at Senate House Library
- Ron Heisler Collection(Opens in new window) – special collection of radical left works including many literature pamphlets
Western European Languages and Literatures
The Western European Literature collections provide scholarly insight into our immensely diverse European cultural heritage. The scope of these collections is naturally wide ranging and broadly covers European literature as well as topics as wide ranging as art, cultural memory, and exile studies.
The largest of the Western European Languages and Literature collections is the Romance language collection which broadly speaking covers the fields of linguistics, literature, and literary criticism which cross over into disciplines that are fragmented within linguistics, such as psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic approaches to language and multilingualism.
The material is interdisciplinary in nature and unites different fields but focuses on the literatures and culture of the areas that speak a Romance language. They include the study of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, but the collections also unite different works about linguistic minorities in Europe. These holdings include among others Catalan, Galician, Basque and Occitan. Preference is given to primary and secondary texts which are interdisciplinary in their outlook but construct cultural literary Europeanness in transnational literary projects. The Catalan collection is the most significant of the linguistic minority collections, its book collection was augmented by the Gili Catalan archive which make the library’s Catalan holdings among the strongest in the UK
Romance language material from the French, Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are in the Latin American Collections.
The Germanic languages and literature collections cover Germanic languages and literature and naturally break over thematically into related disciplines such as philosophy and history. These collections have strong holdings in the Scandinavian languages as well as Dutch, Flemish and other Germanic languages and are supported by the collection of the former Germanic Studies Library which collected primary material in German. Together they give an extremely broad coverage of Germanic Studies.
The Germanic languages divide into three groups, West Germanic, including English German and Netherlandic (Dutch); North Germanic, which includes Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Faroese and the now extinct East Germanic, which comprised the Gothic and the languages of the Vandals, Burgundians and a few oher tribes.
German literature comprises the written works of the German speaking peoples of central Europe. It shared the fate of German politics and history, namely fragmentation and discontinuity which sets German literature apart from say, the national literatures of other European countries such as France and England which enjoyed uninterrupted brilliance from the Middle Ages to the modern era. German literature experienced three historical periods of established “greatness”: the high Middle Ages, the turn of the 18th to the 19th century (the “age of Goethe”) and the turn of the 19th to the 20th. This is followed by sections on German and Germanic late 20th and 21st centuries literature and specific collection strengths in the literature of the period 1933-1945, National Socialist literature, exile literature as well as specialist foci on Austrian and Swiss literature.
Senate House Library’s Germanic literature and language collections fruitfully combine the extensive collection of Senate House Library with its focus on works in English translation with that of the Germanic Studies Library of the former Institute of Germanic Studies to provide the widest coverage possible. These wide ranging collections overlap with other collections and even disciplines, such as literature, folklore and linguistics, history, music and philosophy to name but a few.
The collections specifically aim to support the academic activities of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature and Culture, the Ernst Bloch Centre for German Thought and the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory and they contribute to the evolvement of trends in the academy.
The Latin American and Caribbean literature collections contain both primary and secondary texts. Some of the material has been sourced directly from the countries of origin so there is a high proportion of material in Spanish, Portuguese and French as well as in English. Poetry, drama and novels are all represented, in addition to critical texts on the works. The Caribbean literature also includes works published by independent publishers such as Bogle L’Ouverture, and works from Heinemann’s Caribbean Writers Series.
Latin American and Caribbean Literature
- Caribbean Studies Collections –(Opens in new window) an overview guide to the humanities and arts collections on the region held at Senate House Library. Includes literature, for example in the ‘Key Thinkers: Caribbean Thoughts and Letters’ and ‘British Subjects’: Diasporic Caribbeans and ‘Black Britons’ sections
- Ron Heisler Collection(Opens in new window) – contains works by Caribbean writers, including poetry
- Digital Resources(Opens in new window) including Prisma which provides full-text articles for the interdisciplinary study, including literature, of Hispanic and Latin America and the Caribbean. Content is available in Spanish, Portuguese and English.
A selection of items from the collections
Western European languages and literatures
Germanic languages and literature
Latin American and Carribean Literature