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BBC Arts and the Novels that shaped our world

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Colin Weldon

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The BBC Arts’ Novels that shaped our world festival was launched to mark the 300th anniversary of the English language novel. This is an initiative in conjunction with the BBC, libraries and reading groups to explore 100 novels that have had an impact over the last three centuries.


The centrepiece of the season will be the three-part BBC Two series, The Novels That Shaped Our World. The series will examine the novel from three unique perspectives: Empire and slavery, women’s voices and working class experiences.


A panel of six will choose and will create discussion and debate to fuel the celebration.  Journalist and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, actor and writer Zawe Ashton, Bradford Festival Literary Director Syima Aslam, author Kit de Waal, journalist and editor of The Times Literary Supplement Stig Abell and author Alexander McCall Smith.

The panel will appear on Radio 2’s Book Club to discuss deliberations before the 100 novels, all in the English language and all works of fiction, will be revealed at a live event hosted by Radio 2’s Jo Whiley at the British Library and streamed into libraries onto the Living Knowledge Network in late autumn 2019, to coincide with the BBC Two series The Novels That Shaped Our World. The panel will also be appearing at literary festivals, including Bradford Literary Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The books will be presented in ten themed categories:

  • Identity
  • Politics, Power and Protest
  • Rule Breakers
  • Love, Sex and Romance
  • Coming of Age
  • Adventure
  • Life, Death and Other Worlds
  • Class and Society
  • Family and Friendship
  • Crime and Conflict

They will fuel a year-long engagement campaign, working closely with agencies including Libraries Connected, CILIP, the Scottish Library and Information Council and the Reading Agency and Publishers Association. There will be events in libraries to provide a platform to discuss the novels that continue to shape our world, and information packs will be made available from January to October 2020 to reading groups for them to discuss and debate the categories and novels.

Using the panel’s choices, a team from the University of Wolverhampton will provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of the public’s reading preferences and judgement of literary quality, and the results will be revealed as the Festival culminates in October 2020, to coincide with the annual Libraries Week.

Lamia Dabboussy, acting Director, BBC Arts, says: “The emergence of the English language novel 300 years ago has resulted in some of the most entertaining, exhilarating and extraordinary works of art of all time. It has also been an agent of immense and radical social change, altering the way we look at class, gender and race.

“From engagement campaigns to landmark series across BBC TV and Radio our hope is that The Novels That Shaped Our World season and accompanying festival will encourage everyone to read more and discover new books and authors, from the classic to the contemporary.”

Mark Freeman, President, Libraries Connected, says: “The Novels That Shaped Our World Festival is a fantastic opportunity for local libraries to promote some of the most influential books ever published. The festival will help demonstrate the enduring impact of English literature on society and culture, not just in this country but around the world. I couldn’t be more pleased that Libraries Connected is partnering with the BBC in this wonderful celebration of 300 years of the English language novel.”

The birth of the novel will be marked, celebrated, debated and explored with other programming across BBC Radio, TV and Digital, which will be announced in due course.


Credit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2019/the-novels-that-shaped-our-world






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