How Romance Blossomed among the Silent Readers ; ... AND INCIDENTALLY
Shakespeare, Sebastian, The Evening Standard (London, England)
LADY Antonia Fraser complains that the British Library Reading Room has become overrun by undergraduates who are hogging all the desks. Her fellow historian Tristram Hunt bemoans the fact it is now a "groovy place" to meet for a frappuccino. Many feared that when the old Reading Room closed, the British Library would lose its charm. Far from it. It has become more fashionable than ever as a social venue.
In Charles Dickens's day you had to take a vow of silence to get a ticket to the Reading Room. It was a haven for intellectual endeavour Karl Marx pondered the tenets of world revolution here and Lenin used the pseudonym Jacob Richter LL D to gain entrance.
It's hard to believe Marx would ever get round to finishing Das Kapital if he were alive today, given the dearth of desks. That may be no bad thing; but think of all the other potentially great works of literature we might be depriving ourselves of.
Yet the British Library has long been a venue for covert liaisons and silence was very much part of its romantic appeal. Michael Holroyd, the biographer of George Bernard Shaw, says the playwright was always falling in love there: "He wrote countless love letters and poems to women he fancied but never had the courage to approach in the library." Malcolm Bradbury also fell in love here as a postgraduate at London University. …