The new website, Discovering Literature, includes the manuscripts of authors such as Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Austen, Dickens and Wilde.
Postings on the website begin with the Romantic and Victorian periods and as well as the novels themselves, include a range of other materials such as handwritten manuscripts, diaries, letters alongside original documents from the time the authors lived in, such as newspaper clippings, adverts and photographs.
The website also offers the largest collection of childhood writings of the Brontë sisters, and other unique artefacts which shed new light on their life and works.
It comes as a survey of 520 English teachers revealed that 82 per cent feel that students today find it hard to identify with classic authors and their work.
Furthermore, 86 per cent believe that classic literature risks being underappreciated by today’s students unless more is done to inspire them.
The hope is that this wider selection of materials will bring their world and literary works to life “in a new way”.
The British Library will continue to add to the resource until it covers English literature “from Beowulf up to the present”.
Highlights already online include an 1809 dictionary of criminal slang including words found in the works of Charles Dickens, for example “twist” – meaning “hanged” – from Oliver Twist. William Blake’s notebook is also online, including drafts of his iconic poems London, The Tyger and The Chimney Sweeper and many of his drawings.
Many of the website’s selected texts support the UK curricula for GCSE, A level and undergraduate teaching of English literature.
Roger Walshe, head of public engagement and learning at the British Library, said: “From a handwritten manuscript by Charles Dickens or Emily Brontë, to a lock of Shelley’s hair or a newspaper clipping from Dickensian London, at the British Library we know from our daily work with young people how contact with original materials can bring to life a novel or poem written centuries ago. The students of today make the readers of tomorrow and we want to inspire the next generation of readers with this fantastic digital offering.”
Visit Discovering Literature at www.bl.uk/discovering-literature