If you’re heading to Britain this year and are of a bookish bent then you’re in for a treat. Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, Enid Blyton, Harry Potter and Arthur Ransome are among the literary figures who have significant anniversaries this year.
In honour of this, VisitEngland has declared 2017 to be the Year of Literary Heroes. To celebrate, there is a host of events planned, from special tours to exhibitions and grand film presentations accompanied by a live orchestra.
Among this literary pantheon are:
A tree featured in the Harry Potter film in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
JANE AUSTEN (200th anniversary of her death)
When Jane Austen breathed her last on July 18, 1817, she was just 41 and two of her most famous books – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – hadn’t even been published. Since then she has rarely been out of print and is one of England’s most beloved novelists (she wrote early chick lit, I understand).
A comprehensive round-up of the many events planned can be found at Jane Austen 200 – A Life in Hampshire (janeausten200.co.uk) but they include a touring Mysterious Miss Austen exhibition and a sculpture trail of 25 “BookBenches” in Basingstoke (the town claims her as its own but she was actually born in nearby Steventon). The Bank of England has also confirmed that the face of the new plastic £10 note – due to be released this northern summer – will be Austen. Expect Winchester Cathedral, her final resting place, and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath to be overrun with women clutching dog-eared copies of … whatever one that Darcy bloke’s in.
HARRY POTTER (20th anniversary of the first book).
Twenty years? Surely not. Well, you’re all grown up now so maybe it’s time to celebrate the first publication in June 1997 of Harry Potter (the world’s most annoying boy wizard) and the Philosopher’s Stone by heading to Britain this year.
There are already plenty of Potter pilgrimage sites.
From October 20 until February 28, 2018, there will be an exhibition at the British Library dedicated to Harry Potter – the first of its kind to celebrate a single series of books by a living author. It will include previously unseen materials from J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury, the book’s publisher.
ENID BLYTON’S FAMOUS FIVE (75th anniversary of the first book)
Five on a Treasure Island was the first book published in this irritatingly wonderful book series. It was 1942, in the middle of a world war, and off went the, then, not-so-famous middle-class snot-noses on parent-free adventures that these days would see child services getting involved quick smartish.
The books will be reissued in May with new covers and the Enid Blyton Entertainment and Hodder Children’s Books are teaming up with the Royal Horticultural Society to hold a series of events to celebrate. Five Go on a Garden Adventure activities – themed adventure trails, craft workshops and storytelling – will feature across four society gardens throughout 2017.
There will be a picnic party on August 11 (Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday) in all the gardens. Expect Julian, Dick, Anne, George and their dog Timmy to pop along and drink their own weight in ginger beer.
SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS (50th anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s death)
Arthur Ransome, author of the Swallows and Amazons children’s book series that no doubt launched plenty of childhood sailing dreams, died on June 3, 1967. There is an Arthur Ransome Festival planned in Suffolk but details are currently in short supply. In the meantime, head off to Woolverstone Marina on the Shotley Peninsula and pay your respects by booking a sail aboard Ransome’s restored yacht Nancy Blackett. In his book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea (itself celebrating 80 years this year) this becomes The Goblin, “a little white cutter with red sails”. These books also featured lashings of ginger beer.
Among the Harry Potter locations is Christ Church’s Great Tudor Hall, Oxford.
SHERLOCK HOLMES (125th anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes publication)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was first published in 1892 but the Holmes stories had been published in magazines since 1887 so it’s really the 130th anniversary of the appearance of the world’s most famous detective. There’s nothing much specially planned but you can visit 221B Baker Street if you want. Be warned, there’s nothing there. The Holmes’ 221B Baker Street is actually between 237 and 241 Baker Street and is the site of the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
The Benedict Cumberbatch TV series Holmes’ home was shot at 187 North Gower Street, about 25 minutes away. There is a Sherlock Homes pub at 10 Northumberland Street, Westminster, with a smattering of memorabilia.
ARNOLD BENNETT (150th anniversary of his birth)
Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Bennett was head of war propaganda during World War I and a prolific writer and journalist. There is a three-month exhibition on his life at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke from February 18 to July 2. Other highlights include new theatre adaptations of his novels. There’s also a self-guided Arnold Bennett’s Bursley Trail to see local scenes connected with his works
Winchester Cathedral is Jane Austen’s final resting place. Photo: iStock
His big claim to fame, though? The Savoy Grill named an omelette after him. It’s made of smoked haddock, Parmesan cheese and cream. Oddly, he died of typhoid, not a heart attack.
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON (125th anniversary of his death)
Yes, yes, The Charge of the Light Brigade and all that. Some poetry, too, what with him being Poet Laureate during most of Queen Victoria’s reign. Not too much new going on with Tennyson in 2017 but his favourite pub was the 16th century White Hart Inn at Tetford in Lincolnshire. Grab a pint and think “wow, Tennyson woz ‘ere”. Rabid Tennyson fans will want to head across to youtube to watch a creepy animation of the man himself reading The Charge poem (from a real wax cylinder recording he made).
The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. Photo: iStock
The gothic interior of Winchester Cathedral. Photo: iStock
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