17 November 2013

Georgians Revealed at the British Library, 8 November 2013 - 11 March 2014

Window display at the British Library -
Georgians Revealed

I love the eighteenth century, an impression mostly formed by the books I have read from the period.  Books such as Tom Jones (1749), The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), A Sentimental Journey (1768), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) and Evelina (1778) that describe a world full of chaos, colour, open to new ideas, while laughing at human folly in all its forms.

King George III's library at the British Library
During the Georgian period, leisure activities were developing and reaching wider audiences via print - dancing, gambling, sport, fashion, gardening and gossip were popularised.  In fact most of our modern preoccupations, from Grazia, Strictly Come Dancing (I want Abbey to win), to gardening programmes and sporting activities can trace their origins to this period.  These are the connections that the new exhibition at the British Library are hoping visitors will make and the displays have been organised into sections that are aimed to help us navigate our way through the busy-ness of this century.

Lead Curator, Dr Moira Goff explained her aim was to bring the period to life  by including a mixture of "everyday throw away adverts, tickets and receipts, to gargantuan and exquisitely illustrated books that King George III himself would have treasured."

picture of Brighton Pavilion at the British Library
The exhibition begins with Public Places, Private Spaces and features grand architectural and gardening books borrowed from the British Library's most significant collection, King George III's private library of 65,000 books.  Given to the nation by his son George IV in 1823, apparently because King George III had positioned his library directly off his bedroom and George IV wanted to turn it into a more social space. Now encased in glass as a centre piece to the British Library, this priceless collection towers six-stories upwards, tantalisingly in view and out of reach.

Georgians Revealed provides the perfect opportunity to peer into some of these books, including King George III's copy of Cecilia by Frances Burney.  Opened at the page, which reads "The whole of this unfortunate business," said Dr Lyster, " has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE."  Dr Moira Goff a self-confessed fan of Fanny Burney (me too!) chose to include this in the exhibition along with two letters written by Frances Burney and one by Jane Austen.  For Burney fans, the letters are interesting because they refer to her step-mother who she wasn't very keen on and another to "my own dearest Mrs Thrale", who she fell out with over her choice of a socially unacceptable second husband.  On an aside, it's funny how things work out, Fanny Burney went on to marry a foreign, Catholic herself and face her father's disapproval as a consequence.
  
Letters by Fanny Burney and Jane Austen at the British Library

Letter from Fanny Burney to Hester Thrale at the British Library
As you journey through the exhibition, there is also the chance to enjoy some specially recorded music by The Royal College of Music from scores displayed in the exhibition, including a signed manuscript of Handel's Messiah. 

The next two sections Buying Luxury, Acquiring Style; Pleasures of Society, Virtues of Culture illustrate a growing obsession with fashion and has mannequins in perfectly replicated Georgian dress.  There are also books and pictures of dancing, horses, carriages and boxing.  My favourite display relates to a friend of Byron's who had to flee the country to escape creditors and in the process left a trunk full of receipts with his bankers.  Inherited by Barclays, the unclaimed box was eventually lent to the British Library in the 1970s.  The contents of which provide a fascinating window into the world of a young man about town, who incidentally has one of the best names ever, Scrope Berdmore Davies.
interior of Scrope Davies' box at the British Library

Tegg's Map of London at the British Museum
The final section brings Georgian London into even sharper focus by quite literally allowing the visitor to walk on it.  Tegg's New Plan of London, 1830 has been enlarged and spread out across a room, so that before you leave, you walk across London, giving you an opportunity to pick out the areas you know, with further information available on the walls.

This exhibition is only part of a year long series of celebrations across Britain and Germany to mark 300 years since the first Georgian came to the throne, King George I in 1714.  The British Library will be holding a series of events including:

LATE at the Library: Vice and Virtue
Fri 6 Dec 2013, 19:30 - 23:00 £12.50
Enter the Library turned verdant pleasure gardens for an evening of decadent pleasure and entertainment.  Celebrate the legacy of the Georgian era with guest DJ sets, live performance, circus antics and daring-do from Circus Space performers and the exquisite trapeze artistes Collectif and Then. Discover the finer points of Georgian etiquette with the Georgian Townhouse Party; promenade in masks and savour tasty Georgian morsels in a varied evening of installation, demonstration and a late night opening of the exhibition.  Join the uncommon rogues and gents, rowdy vixens and genteel ladies for a night of utter splendour and spectacle.

There is also a chance to win a luxury three-night stay in the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, click on the competition link to enter.



Date:
Georgians Revealed

8 November - 11 March 2014
Times:
Mon - Fri: 10.00 - 18.00  (closes 20.00 on Tues)
Sat: 10.00 - 17.00
Sun: 11.00 - 17.00
Prices:
Adults £9
Under 18s free
Over 60s: £7
Students: £5
Other concessions available
Address:
The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
How to get to the Library

Enquiries:
boxoffice@bl.uk | +44 (0)1937 546546.

As well as this there are other events to mark 300 years of the British-German royal link at other locations in London and Germany, for more details click on the links below http://www.london.diplo.de/300yearsbritishgermanroyalties


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