Category Archives: Women

New catalogues: Papers of A.J. Ayer and Papers of Ruth Pitter (or: Everything is connected)

At first sight, they don’t have much in common: A.J. Ayer (1910-1989),  a philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism and close association with humanist ideas who  enjoyed socialising at clubs in London and New York, and at college dinners in Oxford, and Ruth Pitter (1897-1992), a poet deeply rooted in natural mysticism and spirituality, who preferred a much more reclusive life in a Buckinghamshire village.

However,  Ayer and Pitter have a connection, not only through the fact that their respective papers both share an archival home in the Bodleian’s special collections.

Both were regular contributors to the BBC talk show The Brains Trust in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and they actually met and talked, at least once, as this letter from the papers of Ruth Pitter confirms:

‘Fan mail’ received by Ruth Pitter after her appearance on The Brains Trust of 28 May 1957, with retrospective comment by Pitter.  MS. 7154/3.

The ‘other prof’ whose name Ruth Pitter could not remember when annotating her correspondence in the 1970s must have been Julian Huxley, an evolutionary biologist and zoologist (John Betjeman, the poet, writer and broadcaster, completed the Brains Trust panel for that episode of the programme).

Which questions the Brains Trust discussed in May 1957 we do not know, but any queries about religion, divinity, spirituality, nature and evolution, morals and family values would have sparked a lively debate between Pitter who, inspired by C.S. Lewis’s religious broadcasts and writings, had joined the Anglican Church in the 1940s, on one side, and Ayer and Huxley, both staunch rationalists and secular humanists, on the other.

Ruth Pitter donated her extensive correspondence with C.S. Lewis to the Bodleian Library, and around the same time started sorting and extensively annotating her own papers with view to bequeathing them to the Bodleian. The archive comprises literary papers and other material relating to Ruth Pitter’s career as a poet (c.1903-1983 and some posthumous material), as well as personal correspondence with an emphasis on literary and social letters (1911-c.1988) and personal and financial papers (1897-1988), including material relating to Pitter’s decorative painting business Deane & Forester. Also included are photographs (c.1884-1981), prints, drawings, engravings and watercolours (c.1900-1989), audio recordings of interviews with, and songs and poems by, Ruth Pitter (1981-1987 and n.d.), and material relating to Ruth Pitter which was collected by her friend Mary Thomas (1897-1998).

A.J. Ayer’s papers arrived at the Bodleian in 2004, donated by his son Nick. The material comprises personal and professional correspondence and papers, as well as papers – mainly manuscript and typescript versions – relating to A.J. Ayer’s books, essays, lectures, articles and other (published) works. While the material spans Ayer’s academic and professional life from c.1930 to 1989 and includes some posthumous material, there is an emphasis on material from the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s.

For both collections, online catalogues are now available: Papers of A.J. Ayer and the Papers of Ruth Pitter.

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The Natasha Spender archive is now available

Programme for a piano recital by Natasha Litvin (later Spender) in 1944, from MS. 6647/54The archive of Natasha Spender, concert pianist, academic, and wife of the poet Stephen Spender, is now available.

Natasha Spender, Lady Spender, née Litvin (or Evans), was born on 18 April 1919, the illegitimate daughter of Ray Litvin and Edwin Evans, who was a well-respected (but married) Times music critic.

Ray Litvin (d. 1977) was from a family of Lithuanian Jewish refugees and grew up in Glasgow. She became an actress and was by 1915 a regular with Lilian Baylis’s Old Vic theatre company but in 1926 her career was crushed when she caught typhoid fever and became profoundly deaf.

Young Natasha, who had been fostered out during her early years, went on to spend her holidays with the wealthy and very musical family of George Booth (son of the social reformer Charles Booth) and his wife Margaret at their home Funtington House in West Sussex. A gifted pianist, Natasha trained at the Royal College of Music and following graduation, studied with the musician and composer Clifford Curzon and the pianist Franz Osborn before starting her professional career. During the war, she gave concerts for ENSA and in 1943 she, along with the actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, founded the Apollo Society which presented poetry with a musical accompaniment. She appeared often on television and radio including as the soloist in the very first concert televised by the BBC. She also gave recitals in the UK and abroad, including a concert for former prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In the 1960s Natasha made a move into academia after earning a degree in psychology and from 1970 to 1984 she taught music psychology and visual perception at the Royal College of Art. She later contributed to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Natasha met the poet Stephen Spender in 1940 at a lunch party hosted by Horizon, a literary journal that Stephen was co-editing at the time. They married in 1941. For decades, the Spenders were central figures in the London (and international) literary scene, with Stephen Spender’s career as a writer, professor, lecturer, editor and delegate taking them all over the world, with long periods in America.

In the 1950s, Natasha became friends with the terminally alcoholic, noir author Raymond Chandler, who fell in love with her. The exact nature of their relationship became an ongoing source of speculation among his biographers. This, along with controversies over unauthorized biographies and interpretations of Stephen Spender’s life led to Natasha fighting hard for the rights of biographical subjects and particularly for her husband’s reputation. Following Stephen Spender’s death in 1995, Natasha founded the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust, which continues to promote poetry in translation, and she collaborated first with John Sutherland on an official biography of her husband (published in 2004) and then with Lara Feigel on an updated edition of Spender’s journals (published in 2012). Natasha also published articles about friends and associates, including Dame Edith Sitwell and Raymond Chandler, and her archive includes an unfinished memoir covering the early years of her life and marriage. She died on 21 October 2010 at the age of 91.

The papers will be of interest to readers researching the history of early twentieth century theatre and performance, the academic field of visual perception, and the literary circle of Stephen Spender.

Jenny Joseph archive is now available

Jenny Joseph standing in a lane Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

Jenny Joseph in Minchinhampton, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

The catalogue of the archive of the British poet Jenny Joseph is now available online.

Jenny Joseph (1932-2018) is best known for her much-loved poem ‘Warning’ with its famous opening lines:

 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

It was 1961 and Joseph was still in her 20s when she wrote ‘Warning’ for the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time. It was first published in The Listener magazine in early 1962 and then revised for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem wasn’t an immediate hit but it built up steam through the 1980s in the UK and abroad (particularly in the US), becoming much anthologised, reprinted and re-used, featuring in everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on such a life of its own that the archive includes an unauthorised poster attributing the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 it was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired a social movement: the Red Hat Society, a group for women over 50. (You can find recordings of Jenny reading ‘Warning’ and other poems at the Poetry Archive and on YouTube).

Jenny Joseph was born in Birmingham and raised in Buckinghamshire. She won a scholarship to St Hilda’s College in Oxford to study English, and graduated in 1953. She trained as a secretary and then as a reporter, starting at the Bedfordshire Times and moving to the Oxford Mail. She sailed to South Africa in December 1957 and worked as a secretary and as a reviewer for the leftist newspaper New Age. In February 1959 she had just started teaching at Central Indian High School in Johannesburg when she was expelled from the country for reasons stated as ‘economic grounds or on account of standard or habits of life’ – likely connected to her anti-apartheid views and associations. She returned to London and thereafter lived mainly in London and in Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.

She married pub landlord Charles Coles in 1961 and had three children while continuing to write, teach English as a foreign language, and lecture in language and literature for the Workers Education Association and West London College.

Jenny Joseph’s poetry was first published and broadcast on radio in the early 1950s on programmes like Thought For The Day and Poetry Please. Her first poetry collection, The Unlooked-for Season, was published in 1960 by Scorpion Press (in 1962 it received a Gregory award for poets under 30). She did a great deal of work for children – writing six children’s reading books in the 1960s, teaching workshops in schools, and in 2000 publishing All the Things I See – Selected Poems for Children. Her last poetry collection Nothing like Love (a collection of love poems) was published in 2009. In 1995 Joseph won the Forward Prize for her poem ‘In Honour of Love’ and her experimental fiction work Persephone (1986) won the 1986 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.

The archive is particularly strong on business correspondence, with a section dedicated to her most popular poem, ‘Warning’ that includes not only agency correspondence and fan letters but artefacts (from cartoons to quilts) that were inspired by the poem.

Cataloguing was generously funded by Jenny Joseph’s friend Joanna Rose, and by Joseph’s family.

“All the kick, the go, the cheese”: Lady Clarendon’s letters in Bodleian Student Editions

This term, the Bodleian Student Editions workshops have entered their fourth year.

Students at the 30 October workshop get acquainted with Lady Clarendon’s diaries

They continue to attract students from across the university, undergraduate and postgraduate, arts and science students. This year we have been editing the letters of Katharine, Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874), to her sister-in-law, [Maria] Theresa Lewis, and these letters are proving to be as fascinating as the very popular Penelope Maitland correspondence.  Some of the letters have been uploaded into our ongoing catalogue on Early Modern Letters Online.

Students working on Lady Clarendon’s letters

Staff and students grapple with tricky handwriting, 6 Nov 2018

These letters fulfil the criteria that we have laid down for suitable material for the workshops – they are in good condition, unpublished, interesting, readable for non-specialists, have no copyright complications, and are in a format that allows the letters to be distributed among the students in the workshop. As the students work in pairs, we require six  or seven individual letters in each workshop, with more in reserve should the transcripts be completed quickly. The perfect format is the fascicule which makes the letters much easier to handle – one fascicule can be given to each pair. Inevitably, most of the good runs of letters that fulfil these requirements tend to be in 19th-century collections of papers that were never bound. This allows us to make a virtue of necessity, because there are very large collections of 19th-century letters acquired relatively recently (i.e. post-1970) that are well worth exploring for their historical interest.

Lady Clarendon’s letters in fascicules

Selection of the Lady Clarendon letters was undertaken by myself and Balliol student Stephanie Kelley, the Balliol-Bodley scholar in early 2018, who also provided digital photographs of many of the letters. Though the workshops give access to original papers, digital images are also made available for detailed checking of difficult words.

The letters were purchased by the Bodleian in 1982, to add to the archive of her husband the 4th Earl of Clarendon already deposited here in 1949 (the 4th Earl’s papers were transferred to Library ownership in 2013). The choice of Lady Clarendon as a subject for the workshops is fortunate in that this year we have been joined by Andrew Cusworth, who is placed in the Bodleian in connection with the Prince Albert Digitisation Project. The Earl and Countess of Clarendon were intimate with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and court gossip is one of the interesting aspects of the letters.

Lady Clarendon to Theresa Lewis, Vice Regal Lodge, Dublin, 14 Dec 1847

George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1800-1870), was a major political figure of the mid-Victorian period, and his wife’s letters are of considerable political interest as she was his confidante in many matters. In the period covered by the letters, Clarendon was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1847 to 1852, and then Foreign Secretary from 1853 to 1858. His career therefore coincided with major events including the Irish Famine, the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, the Crimean War and the Indian uprising known as the ‘Mutiny’. The recipient of Lady Clarendon’s letters was Maria Theresa Lewis (nee Villiers), Clarendon’s sister, and the wife of George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), another Liberal politician who served as Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs from 1847 to 1850, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1855 to 1858, Home Secretary 1859 to 1861, and War Secretary from 1861 to 1863. The letters do not only discuss politics however. There is a great deal about family matters, the activities, and above all the illnesses of children, parents and other family members. Lady Clarendon’s lively style provides a very accessible glimpse of aristocratic Victorian life and preoccupations, and the student editions will provide a very useful adjunct to the catalogues of the various parts of the extensive Clarendon archives in the Bodleian.

The workshops have been kept entertained by Lady Clarendon’s fascinating take on mid-Victorian life. Here are just a few examples of her inimitable style – more extracts will follow so watch this space! All letter are to her sister-in-law Theresa Lewis.  Look out for a follow-up Blog with further extracts.

Vice Regal Lodge, 22 Sep 1847 – on the arrival of her mother-in-law in Ireland

Here is Mrs. George sick, tired, but having had a good short passage … she has blue pilled and Speedimanis’d … [Speediman’s pills were a Victorian remedy for stomach complaints]

Vice Regal Lodge, 14 Dec 1847 – on Irish troubles

Lord Clancarty told me … that Bishop Derry the Catholic Bishop of Clonfort had inadvertently let out before Lord Sligo dining out somewhere that the landlords who had been shot deserved it richly!!!! – this Bishop is a Jesuit, I believe a clever and a wily man, but saying this was a great slip…

Vice Regal Lodge, 17 Dec 1847 – forgets to report the birth of her sixth child!

George Lewis’s Board of Controul office, his most excellent début in Parliament, on your side the water, and our dreadful murders and George’s administrative atchievements on this side have been deeply interesting to us both – only think of my not mentioning George Patrick Hyde’s birth too amongst the remarkable events!!

Vice Regal Lodge, 1 Jan 1848 – ‘my unavailing head’

 … George depends upon me for writing to you for him too as tho’ always busy he is particularly overwhelmed to-day and at this moment I hear the murmuring voices of Attorney Generals and Lord Chief Justices in his room settling all sorts of coercive and improvement measures and I don’t venture even to pop my ‘unavailing’ head (as he calls it) in…

[in the same letter] – a present that is ‘all “the kick, the go, the cheese”’

… Mama is leaving us with Robert this afternoon … – they take two small parcels to London. There is a small locket of blue enamel and rose diamonds with George’s and my hair in it, which we present with a joint kiss to you as a little Xmas souvenir– There is a chatelaine in steel which is all “the kick, the go, the cheese” and which I send to Thérèse as my birthday present …

OED  chatelaine: ‘an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at their waist … consists of a number of short chains attached to the girdle or belt … bearing articles of household use and ornament, as keys, corkscrews, scissors, penknife, pin-cushion, thimble-case, watch etc …’

OED the kick: the fashion, the newest style

OED the go: the height of fashion; the ‘in’ thing, the ‘rage’.

OED the cheesecolloquialObsolete. The right, correct, or best thing; something first-rate, genuine, or exemplary.

Students share an amusing anecdote with staff.

Bodleian Student Editions workshops are organised by Helen Brown (DPhil candidate in English), Andrew Cusworth, Chris Fletcher, Miranda Lewis (Cultures of Knowledge), Olivia Thompson (DPhil candidate in Ancient History), and Mike Webb, as a collaboration between the Department of Special Collections, Centre for Digital Scholarship, and Cultures of Knowledge. All photographs by Olivia Thompson