THE British Library has signed a deal with Amazon to resurrect tens of thousands of out of print books and make them available to a modern audience.
Under the deal, some 65,000 works of 19th Century literature, covering fiction, poetry and philosophy, will become available either for free download as e-books, or in paperback as print-on-demand titles.
Most of the works, representing some 25 million pages, are out-of-print and many are currently only accessible at the British Library. The deal with Amazon will allow people to download titles as free e-books for the Kindle device, or buy physical copies through the online retailer’s CreateSpace print-on-demand operation.
The British Library estimates that between 35 and 40 per cent of its collection of 19th Century British printed editions are either unique, or at least inaccessible through libraries in the UK or elsewhere. As well as authors of familiar classics, such as Dickens and Conan Doyle, the collection also includes lesser-known or otherwise forgotten works. These include A Strange Story by Edward Lytton, said to be one of the period’s most popular novelists but now largely neglected, and The Story of a Modern Woman by Ella Hepworth Dixon, described as the ‘greatest unread novel of female struggle’.
“The British Library’s deal with Amazon to make literary gems available through print-on-demand and the Kindle e-book reader is a landmark agreement in more ways than one,” said Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library.
“Unlocking 65,000 titles of 19th Century material for new generations to discover, the deal also shows how innovative public sector institutions can keep moving ahead, even in a tough economic climate.
“Re-imagining our relationships with both private and public sector partners is absolutely essential for extending our ability to connect with our users. The British Library has much to offer major commercial organisations such as Amazon, giving us an opportunity to leverage the high value of our collections to ensure doors that might have been closed for lack of funding remain open.”
Over the coming months, the British Library/Amazon deal will resurrect:
A Strange Story, by Edward Lytton (1862)
An epic work of fantasy and romance, this supernatural story s filled with captivating gothic style of one of the most popular of all Victorian novelists, now largely forgotten.
The Story of a Modern Woman, by Ella Hepworth Dixon (1894)
Packed with moving scenes and vibrant characters, this work is a fine example of the ‘New Woman’ genre of late Victorian England and as been described by John Sutherland as the ‘greatest unread novel of female struggle’.
The collection also includes examples of popular fiction from the Victorian era, known as ‘penny dreadfuls’:
The Blue Dwarf, by Lady Esther Hope, pseudonym (1860)
A rival series to Edward Viles’ ‘Black Bess’, this series depicts the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin as the faithful servant tool of the Blue Dwarf, a deformed heir to ancient estates who had been denied his inheritance, and their escapades with Scottish clansmen, Irish banditti, and even Red Indians.
The Dark Woman, by J M Rymer (1861-2)
From one of the most prolific and successful penny dreadful authors, this series ever runs short of the thrilling deeds – dastardly, dare devil and gruesome that characterise Rymer’s work. Largely inaccessible to the general public, an original copy of this incredibly rare series is apparently currently available on eBay for £299.
Among the 19th Century material unique to the British Library and only available in its reading rooms is:
The Amorous Knight and the Belle Widow (1809)
Written in three acts, this original comedy was produced in dedication of Valentine’s Day.
A Useful Compendium of Many Important and Curious Branches of Science and General Knowledge, by Reverend Thomas Watson (1812)
The Bishop and the Parson’s Beard, a tale in verse (1810)