The Royal Literary Fund and the Perils of Authorship Symposium

Founder of the Literary Fund, David Williams (1738-1816) by John Francis Rigaud

Founder of the Literary Fund, David Williams (1738-1816) by John Francis Rigaud

The British Library Conference Centre

Friday 9th May, 10:30am-5:45pm (followed by a wine reception and an evening event)

The dissenting minister, philosopher and educationalist David Williams founded the Royal Literary Fund in 1790 in order ‘to withdraw those apprehensions of extreme poverty, and those desponding views of futurity, which lead Genius and Talent from the path of Virtue’, which in practice meant providing confidential financial aid to struggling writers. More than three thousand six hundred writers applied to the Fund prior to 1939, including luminaries such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Clare, Leigh Hunt, Joseph Conrad, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Richardson, but also hundreds of less familiar figures. Their stories of their difficulties, as preserved in the Fund’s archive, stand testament to the enduring difficulties of making a living by the pen in the period between the French Revolution and the end of the First World War. The Fund’s Archive is held at the British Library, but large parts of it are available on microfilm at numerous institutions in the UK and abroad.

At this symposium, four noted scholars will each bring their particular expertise to bear on the Fund’s records, exploring the perils of authorship in the long nineteenth century from a range of perspectives:

Professor Jon Mee (University of York) – ‘General science, Political Disquisitions, and the Belle Lettres’: The First Decade of the Literary Fund

Dr Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) – UnRomantic Authorship: The Case of Women in the Royal Literary Fund Archive (1790-1830)

Professor Josephine McDonagh (King’s College London) – Forms and Rituals of Giving and Receiving at the Royal Literary Fund

Professor Max Saunders (King’s College London) – Fund of Stories: Modernism, Life Writing and the RLF

The symposium will also feature an introduction to the Royal Literary Fund Archive by Dr Matthew Sangster (British Library) and a roundtable discussion to close the proceedings.

Tickets can be booked online at http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event159778.html. The fee is £15 (or £10 for concessions) and includes tea breaks, lunch, a wine reception after the conference, and entry to the subsequent evening event, ‘The Royal Literary Fund and the Struggling Author’, introduced by Sir Ronald Harwood, and featuring James Walton in conversation with Richard Holmes, Jeremy Lewis and Claire Tomalin; this will take place between 6:30pm and 7:30pm.

This symposium is a collaboration between the British Library, the Royal Literary Fund, and the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of York.

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