Literature of the British Isles has been one of the central collecting areas from the early days of the library and the scope ranges from the fourteenth century through World War I. The strength of the collection lies in literary texts rather than literary criticism, in printed works rather than manuscripts, in original form rather than reprint. While secondary materials have been collected at varying levels over the years, the focus has always been directed to primary materials.
Within the broad strength of the English literature collection, particular strength is reflected in the following areas: prose fiction, especially to about 1760; texts of all major and many minor writers with multiple editions and many works by women; Elizabethan and Restoration drama; early English translations of classics and continental literature; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century periodicals; and poetry. The titles in the Pollard and Redgrave, Wing, and English Short Title Catalogs are well-represented in Newberry holdings.
For further resources see also the research guide on British and Irish History.
You can use this research guide for information on Searching the Online Catalog, Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera, Reference Sources, Highlights from the Newberry Library Collections, Journals and Periodicals, Databases, Other Digital Resources, and Exhibition Catalogs.
To find primary and secondary sources related to British and Irish literature in our collection, you can search by Subject in our catalog using the following headings (subject searching is slightly better in the Classic, rather than Vu-Find, interface for the catalog). These search suggestions are meant to get you into the catalog. It’s a good idea to use the See Also notes whenever available, as well as scroll before and after to see additional supplied subheadings.
At times, the terms “British Literature” and “English Literature” have been used interchangeably in the online catalog, but some subject searches differentiate between Great Britain, England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The terms in brackets indicate when another location or language could be substituted for the supplied term.
Literature and Society-[England]
Books and reading (browse the supplied subheadings to find England, Great Britain, Scotland, etc.)
You may also search by title or author, if either of these is known.
If searching by subject does not yield sufficient results, you can also search by keyword, Boolean search (string together multiple keywords with “and”), or use the Advanced Search.
To find materials in a specific language or from a specific time period, click on the “More Limits” button and limit by language or choose a year or range of years.
When you find a desired title, it can be useful to click on the link for the subject headings in the catalog record for additional similar items, or use the words from the subject headings in searching by keyword.
The Modern Manuscript and Ephemera holdings are strongest in American materials, primarily Chicago and the Midwest. To find modern-manuscript materials and ephemera related to British and Irish literature, you can search by keyword or keyword phrase, much like a Google search.
To browse the Modern Manuscript collections, go to the Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera search page and click on the links from the list on the left.
Two highlighted Modern Manuscript collections are listed below:
The collection includes correspondence, works, and miscellaneous material relating to Katherine Mansfield, British short story writer and critic. The Additions contains two manuscript works of Mansfield; many of the poems in these were never published.
Correspondence, photographs, and artwork of and relating to Arthur Conan Doyle and his family including 140 letters, notes, and cards written by Arthur Conan Doyle, 12 letters to him, and 57 other letters, some by Doyle family members and others retained by C. Frederick Kittle (mostly regarding his collecting of Doyle materials). Also artwork by Doyle’s father, grandfather and uncle, four additional illustrations, 25 photographs, and a few miscellaneous items.
This is a selection of reference books broadly related to literature of the British Isles. You should browse the stacks around these call numbers since there should be materials dealing with similar topics nearby. All items with a “Ref” call number do not need to be requested through the online catalog and should be viewed on the 3rd floor. There are also photocopies of articles from the Newberry Library Bulletin and other publications on British History in the green binder called “General Guide to the Collections in the Newberry Library” in the 3rd floor checklist area, as well as articles and checklists in the “Britain” section of the checklist area.
Brothers, Barabara and Julia Gergits, eds. British Travel Writers, 1837-1875. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. Dictionary of Literary Biography 166. Ref PN451 .D5 v.166
—, eds. British Travel Writers, 1876-1909. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. Dictionary of Literary Biography 174. Ref PN451 .D5 v.174
An Encyclopedia of British Writers. New York: Facts on File, 2003. Facts on File Library of World Literature. Ref PR421 .E63 2003 vols. 1-2
Matthew, H.C.G., and Brian Harrison, eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: In Association with the British Academy: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Ref DA28 .O95 2004
Poole, William Frederick. Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature. New York: P. Smith, 1938. Available in the Newberry checklist area in the 3rd floor Reference and Bibliographic Center.
Schleuter, Paul and June Schleuter, eds. An Encyclopedia of British Women Writers. Revised and expanded ed. New Brunswick, N. J..: Rutgers University Press, 1998. Ref PR111 .E54 1998. We also have the 1988 edition, call number Ref PR111. E54 1988.
Scott, David, editor in chief. The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Ref PR19 .O95 2006
Snell, K.D.M. The Bibliography of Regional Fiction in Britain and Ireland, 1800-2000. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002. Ref Z2014 .F4 S64 2002
Sullivan, Alvin, ed. British Literary Magazines. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983. Historical Guides to the World’s Periodicals and Newspapers. Ref PN5124.L6 B74 1983
Shakespeare, William. Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies. London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623. Vault Case Oversize YS .01. The first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, known as the First Folio.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Forty-Two Illustrations by John Tenniel. London: Macmillan and Co., 1865. Case 4A 878. The so-called “first (recalled) issue of the First edition,” printed for Macmillan by the Oxford University Press and subsequently condemned by the author.
You can find journals and journal articles online by searching databases such as Academic Search Complete, Article First, ECO, JSTOR, MLA International Bibliography, Project Muse, and WorldCat Discovery. Unless you know the journal title, it’s best to look for articles online, through print reference sources, or by using Poole’s Index (for 19th-century articles).
We also have British journals in the Newberry collection, which you can search for by title of the journal, keyword, or subject. You can also click the Set Limits button and choose Magazines/Journals as the Primary Format, then type in your search terms.
The following databases offer a variety of sources for researching British Literature. These subscription databases are available to registered readers only within the library building. A full listing of Newberry databases can be found here.
Early English Books Online (EEBO): Digital facsimiles of English books, 1475-1700, including more than 125,000 titles listed in Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700) and their revised editions, as well as the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661) collection and the Early English Books Tract Supplement.
Iter: Middle Ages and Renaissance: Provides access to a bibliography covering literature pertaining to the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700) plus seven or eight additional databases.
The Newberry offers a number of Digital Resources including online exhibitions, classroom resources, and digital collections. These resources showcase digital images of materials from the Newberry’s collection, as well as provide background information and context for these materials. You can browse digital resources by topic, or go through the alphabetical list.
The Bard is Born: Featured here are highlights from the exhibition, including a First Folio; a musical score, composed circa 1500, titled “Victory of Agincourt;” a stunning, oversized, nineteenth-century engraving titled “The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions;” and Chicago Shakespeare Theater Founder and Artistic Director Barbara Gaines’s annotated copy of Henry V from that first, rooftop performance.
Creating Shakespeare: Creating Shakespeare explores how Shakespeare–contrary to Ben Jonson’s famous phrase–was both of an age and for all time, through an examination of how he created his works.
The following are catalogs for physical exhibits that have taken place at the Newberry. They may be useful in finding primary sources and images related to British and Irish literature. All of these catalogs can be found in the Newberry checklist area in the 3rd floor Reference Center.
Committee for the Celebration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Publication of the King James Bible… Celebration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Publication of the Authorized (or King James) Version of the Bible in English Held in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Thursday, May 4, 1911. Chicago: Pettibone, 1911. This booklet contains facsimiles of the title-pages of four Bibles in the Newberry. Call number: C 214.15 and C 214.15a
Dean, Susan, comp. Victorian Illustrated Literature; A Catalog for an Exhibition at the Newberry Library, Winter 1976. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1976. Call number: Ref PR 468 .I4 V53 1976 and Wing ZB 2745.621
Hamilton, Ruth E. King Arthur in Word and Image. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1988. Call number: PN 685 A7 H35 1988 and photocopy in checklist area
Hulse,Clark and Paul F. Gehl. An Uncommon Collector: Frederic Ives Carpenter (1861-1925). An Exhibit of Renaissance Imprints at the Newberry Library, December 17, 1995-February 19, 1986. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1995.