Library to Museum: leave our Joyce alone

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For centuries they were two halves of one venerated cultural institution. Now, three years after they went their separate ways, a rift has emerged between the British Museum and the British Library over the growing literary flavour of the former's exhibitions.

The museum is planning a three-month display next spring of illustrations inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses, and curators at the library, in London, are said to be livid at what they regard as the latest example of a creeping infiltration of their academic territory.

A source at the library told The Independent on Sunday: "Bosses are fuming, and the curators do not understand what the British Museum is playing at. We want it to get its tanks off our lawn."

Even before the latest exhibition plans emerged, he said, the library's manuscript specialists had become alarmed by the museum's direction. Its most recent show explores the whodunit writer Agatha Christie's interest in the archaeology of the classical world.

The Joyce exhibition, Imaging Ulysses, focuses on watercolours and pencil drawings composed by Richard Hamilton in response to the Irish writer's stream-of-consciousness masterpiece. They will be accompanied by first-edition copies of Joyce's worksborrowed from private collections.

A museum spokesman denied that it was invading the domain of its sister institution, saying: "Although these exhibitions have incorporated literary material, we don't ask the library for the use of its manuscripts. The new exhibition is primarily about Richard Hamilton."

The museum and library were formally split in 1972, but did not become wholly separate entities until 1998.