Ivor C. Treby (1933-2012) was a poet, a literary researcher and, by way of a day job, an Oxford-trained biochemist who spent most of his career teaching in London. He was also an inveterate traveller, a horror movie aficionado, a Haydn fanatic and a man who managed to visit every Wetherspoon pub in the greater London area. Importantly, not least for his own identity as an author, he was also a gay man. His sexuality is a theme in many of his poems and in his correspondence and papers more broadly, which are wonderfully revealing of gay life in London and abroad from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first. His archive touches on the literary activism of the Gay Authors’ Workshop; the risks of being a gay teacher; gay social groups; London’s bathhouses; cottaging on the Underground; love and sex; and are a record of Treby’s friendships with other gay (and straight) men and women whose letters light up this archive.
The collection is a small one which covers a lot of ground. It includes Treby’s correspondence from the 1950s to his death in 2012; copies of many of his own poems in draft; research materials for his work on the Victorian lesbian poets Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper, who wrote under the pseudonym Michael Field, including photocopies of privately-held Michael Field correspondence and manuscripts; audio files of Treby reading his own poems and those of Michael Field; and copies of Treby’s art and his science writing. The correspondence is notable for Treby’s witty, often saucy, cartoons and his sometimes wryly camp worldview (in the persona of ‘Blanche’). Thanks to those who wrote to him, it’s also an accidental, and interesting, collection of homoerotic postcards.
Treby was meticulously organised and had a keen interest in his archival legacy, and his papers came to the Bodleian for the most part pre-arranged. He took particular pains with his correspondence, which arrived in date order, foliated, listed in detail and occasionally annotated with contextual information. The correspondence is mainly, as usual, incoming letters but it has been interleaved with returned, draft, and copied letters from Treby and, still in Treby’s arrangement, it will be seen as he intended it to be seen, each letter hand-selected. Fortunately, he took what appears to be an honest and vanity-free approach to that selection.
A relatively unknown man, whose life is not thoroughly documented in other sources, readers can have the pleasure of discovering Treby for themselves as they read, from his very active, lively and well-travelled youth and middle age to the very end of his life, following a cancer diagnosis and years of treatment. Even his death, as his letters show, was carefully prepared for and approached with Treby’s characteristic strength of mind and humour. This sense of discovery makes the experience of reading the letters wholly absorbing and very moving.
Interesting in its own right, the Treby archive also joins a large collection of original Michael Field papers and other Bodleian literary archives of interest to Queer theorists, including those of:
- William Beckford (1760-1844) the author of the oriental tale Vathek and of several volumes of travel writings, the builder of Fonthill Abbey, and an important collector of paintings, objets d’art and books.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), Jesuit and poet.
- The Lovelace-Byron papers the papers of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron (1792-1860), the wife of Lord Byron, the poet.
- T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) archaeologist, soldier and author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
A selection of Treby works from our book collections (all links to the Bodleian Libraries SOLO catalogue):
- Awareness of the sea : selected poems, 1970-1995 (2000)
- Blanche’s last fling (2006 – the last published of Treby’s own writings)
- Michael Field catalogue: a book of lists (1998)
- A shorter shīrazād: 101 poems of Michael Field (1999)
- Music and silence: the gamut of Michael Field (2000)
- Uncertain rain: sundry spells of Michael Field (2002)
- Binary star: leaves from the journal and letters of Michael Field, 1846-1914 (2006)