The BBC is to host a year-long celebration of literature with new programming across BBC TV, Radio and online, including a “landmark” BBC2 series “The Novels That Shaped Our World”, to be broadcast this autumn.
The three-part series “will examine the novel from three perspectives: empire and slavery, women’s voices, and working class experiences”, arguing that the novel has always been “a revolutionary agent of social change”. Episode one will examine responses to race and empire, from Robinson Crusoe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Things Fall Apart and Wide Sargasso Sea. Episode two explores women and the novel, from Richardson’s Pamela and the work of Jane Austen to Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, and on to Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy. The final episode will look at the class struggle explored in novels, from Dickens, Gaskell and Hardy to Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, and on to the group of working class writers that began to write their own stories in post-war Britain. Broadcast dates are yet to be unveiled.
There will also be a The Novels That Shaped Our World Festival, a collaboration between the BBC, libraries and reading groups, covering a list of 100 novels which have had an impact over the last three centuries, chosen by broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, authors Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal and Alexander McCall Smith, Bradford Festival Literary Director Syima Aslam and TLS editor Stig Abell. The panel will appear on BBC Radio 2’s Book Club with Jo Whiley, and the 100 English-language novels will be discussed at an event hosted by Whiley at the British Library on 8th November.
Other highlights of the year will include, on BBC2, Helen Fielding looking back at the origins of her fictional heroine Bridget Jones, the story of Michael Bond and his creation Paddington Bear, and an exploration of the life and work of Hilary Mantel. On BBC4, David Olusoga will travelling to the US, Uganda and Nigeria, to meet the writers who helped make African novels a global phenomenon, while Richard E Grant travels to France, Italy and Spain to visit places that have inspired writers across the centuries. There will also be coverage of Toni Morrison, building on the BBC’s archives of the author, and Morrison’s Beloved has already been confirmed as one on the list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.
Meanwhile BBC Radio 4 will see a 12-part serialisation of Middlemarch on Radio 4, and a five-part series in which five writers paint a portrait of George Eliot through introductions to her female characters. Other highlights will include programmes about James Ellroy and Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart will be dramatised on Radio 4, as part of a season of Nigerian literature. New recordings of 20 classic novels will all be released in full on BBC Sounds, with the first set of 10 appearing at the end of August and including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds.
Lamia Dabboussy, acting director at BBC Arts, said: “BBC Arts is committed to exploring novels that have had a huge impact on our lives, from the classics to contemporary fiction. We’re hoping to get the nation reading, re-reading and debating novels through this year-long focus on literature across the BBC. Whilst not exhaustive, our programming aims to generate debate and to shed a light on the role of literature to entertain, challenge and spreahead social change since the birth of the English language novel 300 years ago.”
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