Important purchases of manuscripts and printed books for the Bodleian Library made or assisted by the Friends of the Bodleian in recent years include:


Franz Kafka letters to his sister Ottla 

The collection of over a hundred letters and postcards written by  Franz Kafka to his favourite sister Ottla provide an important insight into the life of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.  The letters reveal the dynamics within the Kafka family, the author's not-so-guarded perception of the world, people he encountered, titles he read, his travels, diet, medical condition and sense of humour.  It includes visually attractive postcards and Kafka's own drawings.  These papers joined a set of other family correspondence, already partially owned by the Library.  Together, they form an integral part of a literary archive that miraculously survived against the author's wishes and despite the historical disasters they were threatened by.

The Library purchased the letters in April 2011 jointly with the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbarch.  This historic collaboration will extend to a programme of exhibitions, conferences, exchanges of academics and other projects.

Pictured: One of the finest examples of Kafka's drawings, a postcard to Ottla 'Scenes from my life', 1918 (HS.2011.0037.00064 = MS Kafka 49, fol. 79r) 



Autograph of Jane Austen's The Watsons

In 2011 the Bodleian Library acquired the only known fiction manuscript in Jane Austen's hand that was still in private ownership.

Probably drafted in 1804-05, The Watsons marked a decisive turning point in the kind of fiction Jane Austen was writing - towards a darker and more realistic style of social criticism.  Though never completed for publication, material from it was redeployed, notably into Mansfield Park.  In aesthetic terms, the manuscript is of immense value: sixty-eight pages of closely written text, filled with deletions and revisions, it represents Austen's first extant draft of a novel in process of development.  Not only of interest for it's linguistic text, The Watsons also offers a unique opportunity to study Austen's method of making homemade booklets as her usual writing surface. 

Pictured: A page from the manuscript of Jane Austen's The Watsons (MS. Eng. e. 3764) 


Sisney Roll

Sir Philip Sidney Pedigree Roll

A manuscript pedigree for the poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney, compiled by Robert Cooke Esquire, Clarenceux King of Arms in about 1580.

The roll depicts the lineage of one of the most influential literary figures of the Elizabethan age.  It was probably commissioned by Sir Henry Sidney, the poet's father, as part of his efforts to produce a family genealogy.  The pedigree is on a long vellum roll of five joined sheets and displays 88 hand-coloured coats of arms joined by highly illuminated branch and foliage decoration.  There is an additional large and finely executed coat of arms of Sir Philip Sidney on the final sheet (currently detached), with Cooke's signature.

The Bodleian Library has a particular strength in books and manuscripts by and relating to Sidney and this roll is an important addition to the collection. 

Pictured: Sir Philip Sidney Pedigree Roll.  Photo by Adam Middleton. 



Francesco Cavalli's Erismena

The manuscript score of Francesco Cavalli’s Erismena is the earliest opera in the English language. The privately-owned score had been the object of a temporary export ban by the Culture Minister in view of its ‘outstanding significance for the study of the history of music in the UK’.

Erismena was originally produced in Italy in 1655 by the leading Italian composer of the mid-17th century, Francesco Cavalli (1602-76). This manuscript, with a complete English singing translation, was written in about 1670, evidently for performance (though none has been traced) – thirty years earlier than any other import of Italian opera into England. Its prologue is unique to this manuscript, and may have been the work of an English composer. The manuscript makes its return to Oxford having been in the libraries of William and Philip Hayes, successive 18th-century professors of music in Oxford.

Pictured: The spine of the manuscript score of Cavalli’s Erismena (MS. Mus. d. 282)


The 'particular-book' of James Nedeham, Surveyor of the King's Works, 1539-40

A manuscript ‘particular-book’ of James Nedeham, Surveyor of the King’s Works in the reign of Henry VIII was originally part of the Foljambe Library removed from Osberton Hall, Nottinghamshire. Covering the years 1539-40, the volume fits perfectly into the sequence of eleven other such ‘particular-books’ in the Bodleian’s Rawlinson collection.

These volumes record a variety of details relating to modifications and repairs to the structure and fittings of royal manors and palaces, and also the names of the labourers and craftsmen who carried out the work, with details of their pay each month.

Just as MS. Rawl. D. 775 records work carried out in May and June 1533 ‘ageynst the coronacion of the Quene’ Anne Boleyn, the Foljambe volume includes payments for work done in preparation of the arrival of Anne of Cleves. The wedding of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves took place in the newly appointed Queen’s closet on 6 January 1540.

Pictured: A page from James Nedeham’s pay-book, showing accounts for work at Greenwich just after the marriage there of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. (MS. Don. c. 206)

The Sheldon Tapestry Map of GloucestershireSheldon Tapestry Map of Gloucestershire

A substantial part of a map of Gloucestershire, depicting also parts of Wiltshire and Monmouthshire, woven in wools and silks, part of a series of four large tapestry maps commissioned by Ralph Sheldon (1537-1613) for the Sheldon family home in Weston, Warwickshire, probably in the 1590s.

Two of the four (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire) were already owned by the Bodleian, having been bequeathed by the antiquary Richard Gough in 1809, and a third (Warwickshire) is part of the Warwickshire Museum’s collection.

The maps are of major significance for cartographic history, forming a unique representation of the landscape of the Midland Counties of England when modern cartography was still in its infancy. The maps are also significant as examples of decorative art. Technically, they are without parallel in the UK, with only two other continental equivalents, the so-called Armada tapestries woven for Lord Effingham in 1595, and a tapestry map of Leiden woven in Flanders around 1587.

Pictured: The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Gloucestershire. Photo by Nick Millea.

Dante in his studyThe Tom Phillips Archive of Dante's Inferno

An archive of materials relating to the Talfourd Press edition of Dante’s Inferno, translated, illustrated, designed and published by the artist Tom Phillips (b. 1937), one of the great 20th-century livres d’artiste.

This archive enriches the Bodleian Library’s collection of materials associated with the arts of the book and is a major addition to the Library’s holdings relating to Italian studies.

Pictured: Tom Phillips, Dante in his Study. Copyright Tom Phillips, The Tom Phillips Archive of Dante’s Inferno.


Manuscripts of Sir Robert Filmer

A group of manuscripts of Sir Robert Filmer, 1st Baronet (1588?-1653), political theorist, and of other Filmer family members, discovered among a collection in the Filmer home of East Sutton Park, Kent, in 1939, and later acquired by the scholar Peter Laslett, who identified Filmer as the embodiment of the intellectual ideas opposed by the philosopher John Locke later in the 17th-century.

The presence of the Filmer manuscripts alongside Paul Mellon’s portion of the Locke library and manuscripts in the Bodleian Library will add to the importance of the Library as a centre for the study of the history of political thought during the 17th century.


Philip Larkin Letters

A collection of nearly 2,000 letters, cards, poems and photographs sent by Philip Larkin (1922-1985), one of the most significant poets writing in the English Language during the second half of the 20th-century, to Monica Jones, a lecturer at Leicester University who died in 2001, who enjoyed a sustained relationship with Larkin for over 40 years and who, following his wishes, burned his diaries at his death.

The collection is a largely unresearched source of information about Larkin’s life, feelings and poetry, and contains unpublished poems and manuscript and typescript drafts of poems that were eventually published. It joins other significant groups of Larkin material already in the Bodleian.


The Abinger Shelley PapersShelley's draft manuscript of Frankenstein

The Abinger Shelley papers, a major source for British literary and intellectual history during the Romantic period, comprise of the papers of:

  • the philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836), author of the influential treatise An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and of his wife, the pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792);
  • the incoming correspondence and other papers of their daughter Mary Shelley (1797-1851) and of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822);
  • and much further material of their family and circles.

Included are three key pieces: the surviving fragments of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscripts; the joint journal of Percy and Mary Shelley, in five volumes; and the unpublished journal of William Godwin in 32 volumes, 1788-1836.

Pictured: Page from Mary Shelley’s draft manuscript of Frankenstein, with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s corrections (Abinger Shelley papers Dep.c.477/1, fol.21r, detail).


Mendelssohn's Hebrides or Fingal's Cave OvertureMendelssohn's Hebrides or Fingal's Cave Overture

The final working autograph manuscript of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Hebrides or Fingal’s Cave overture. One of the composer’s best known works, the overture was inspired by a visit to the Hebrides in 1829 and was to be three years in gestation.

This manuscript was written during the composer’s next visit to England, and is dated at the end ‘London 20 June 1832’. Its 34 pages are full of deletions and revisions in his characteristically fine calligraphic hand, reflecting his final main work on the composition.

The Bodleian’s magnificent Mendelssohn collection already contained important source material relating to the work, and now offers unique opportunities for the study of the development of the work.

Pictured: Mendelssohn's Hebrides or Fingal's Cave Overture (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn d. 71, fol.8r).


Rectangular world map from The Book of CuriositiesThe Book of Curiosities and Marvels for the Eyes

View the manuscript online »

A newly discovered medieval Arabic manuscript of an anonymous treatise entitled Kitâb Gharââal-funûwa- mullah al ‘unûn, or loosely translated, The Book of Curiosities and Marvels for the Eyes, probably originally composed in Egypt in AD 1020-1050, this apparently unique copy was probably made in about 1200.

The treatise is made up of two books, one dealing with the heavens (10 chapters), and the other with the earth (25 chapters). Both books include a remarkable series of early maps and astronomical diagrams, most of which are unparalleled in any other known extant Greek, Latin or Arabic manuscript.

This is an Islamic scientific manuscript of the first importance for scholarship and an important acquisition for the Bodleian, which has one of the few significant collections of medieval Islamic cartographic manuscripts in Europe.

Pictured: Rectangular world map from The Book of Curiosities and Marvels for the Eyes, c.1200 (MS. Arab. c.90, fols. 23v-24r).


A Manuscript Book of HoursSt. George's Hours, Oxford

Made for use at St. George’s, Oxford in the late 14th century. The Oxford origins of this fragmentary Book of Hours of the Use of Sarum are revealed in its calendar, where the entry for 2 April reads ‘Dedicacio sancti georgii oxonie’.

St. George’s, Oxford, was the church built in 1074 within Oxford Castle. The book is datable by its illumination. 

The three surviving historiated initials are enough to reveal that the iconographic programme for the Hours of the Virgin consisted of a cycle of scenes of the Passion of Christ, common in English Books of Hours, but differing from the French pattern of scenes from the Life of the Virgin.

Pictured: One of three surviving historiated initials from the St. George’s Hours, Oxford, late 14th century (MS. Don. d. 206, fol. 30v).


Bust of Sir Charles MackerrasSir Charles Mackerras: a bust by Antonia Young

Sir Charles received an honorary D. Mus. from Oxford in 1997 and is an honorary fellow of St. Peter’s College.

The Dunard Fund has donated a substantial sum towards the creation of the new Music Reading Room in the proposed New Bodleian redevelopment, and wishes that room to be named the Charles Mackerras Music Reading Room. The bust will eventually occupy a place of honour in the new reading room.

Pictured: Sir Charles Mackerras: a bust by Antonia Young. Photo copyright Greg Smolonski.

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