Tag Archives: letters

New catalogue: The Montgomery family papers

A small collection, this is the archive of a close-knit family of intellectuals, Robert Montgomery (1859-1938), his son Neil Montgomery (1895-1979), Neil’s wife Margaret (1896-1984) and their children, Lesley Le Claire (1927-2012) and Hugh Montgomery (1931-2008).

Robert Montgomery was an Argyll-born weaver’s son who became a headmaster in Huddersfield. While the archive is light on his papers, it may contain a long-lost gem of Highland romanticism, Robert’s draft novel The Last of the Clans. Or perhaps not – as his son, Neil, wryly writes in a preface:

“For the main part, however, the novel is hardly a success. My father never intended to publish it, or if he ever entertained such an idea he quickly abandoned it.”

Neil Montgomery was a distinguished psychiatrist who became the superintendent of Storthes Hall Hospital, a Huddersfield asylum. He had a strong interest in metaphysics, literature and theological matters with a particular interest in the philosophical poetry of Denis Saurat (1890-1958), an Anglo-French scholar, writer and broadcaster.

The Montgomery children went on to excel in divergent fields. Hugh Montgomery studied at Merton College, Oxford and  became a physicist, working among other places at the Harwell Research Laboratory in Oxford. He was a member of the Scottish Arctic Club and one of the features of the family archive are his photographs of expeditions to Greenland and Iceland in the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Montgomery (who in 1986 married Alan Le Claire, also a physicist and originally Hugh Montgomery’s boss) became a much respected librarian, finishing her career as Librarian of Worcester College, Oxford (1977-1992). She was an expert, in particular, on seventeenth-century Britain, a hub of scholarly work on the period, and friend to researchers, reflected in the large pile of letters from Eric Sams, a musicologist and a Shakespeare scholar. The archive also features Lesley’s literary works as a playwright and author, including the script she wrote for Worcester College students to dramatize the Putney Debates of 1647, which was eventually produced for BBC radio. She went on to write other BBC Third Programme documentaries and to write and lecture on subjects including Kenelm Digby (manuscripts collected by Digby can be found in the Bodleian [PDF]).

The Montomery family archive is notable for the warmly affectionate, psychologically informed, intellectually stimulating, and open-minded correspondence between family members. In a letter from Neil Montgomery to Lesley, then 24, on the 16th of June, 1951, he writes about divorce, repression, the emancipation of women and the sexual sphere.

“The insistence on feminine chastity is of course a culture pattern belonging to a firmly based patriarchal society […] the demand for chastity of wives and daughters is basically the jealousy of the “Old Man”, the father, against all younger males. […] Nevertheless in a properly regulated society the vote will be a useful thing to have. So too will sexual freedom. Women will then be able to choose chastity freely and not forced to accept it as something imposed upon them by the lordly male. And that, unless I am much mistaken, will be in basic accord with the normal woman’s nature. […] Deep in her bones woman knows what the biological meaning of all this sex business is. She must have a stable home for the children which are born. Therefore she is instinctively against promiscuity. […] So then I come back to my genial Victorian corner. The sanctity of marriage is not overthrown. Women can still be paragons of virtue, and at the same time I can lay claim to be in the vanguard of modern thought. Did ever you know a better of [sic] example of having one’s cake and one’s halfpenny?”

The archive is particularly strong on early twentieth-century psychological theories, and their intersections with literature, philosophy and theology. It is also notable for Neil Montgomery’s correspondence with Philippe Mairet and W.T. (Travers) Symons, editors of the New English Weekly; the long sequence of letters from Eric Sams to Lesley Le Claire; a series of draft articles written by the mathematician Ethel Maud Rowell; and the transatlantic, wartime letters written by Margaret Montgomery (the honorary secretary of the Huddersfield Association of University Women) to Lydia Lagloire of Quebec City, Canada (a fellow University Woman) which touch on conditions in the U.K. and Canada and the political situation in Quebec, among many other matters.

New catalogue: Stephen Spender archive

The catalogue of the Stephen Spender archive is now online.

Stephen Spender at the B.B.C., n.d.

Stephen Spender at the B.B.C., n.d.

Sir Stephen Spender (1909-1995), poet, playwright, author and critic, was the longest surviving member of the ‘Auden Group’ (Oxford poets Louis MacNeice, W.H. Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis and the Cambridge-educated novelist Christopher Isherwood).

Although he studied at Oxford, at University College, Spender ultimately failed to take a degree and moved, with Isherwood, to the more sexually liberated Weimar Germany, starting a three year relationship with a former soldier called Tony Hyndman (1911-1980). Isherwood’s experience in Germany was worked into his novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939), which was famously made into the film Cabaret (1972), starring Liza Minnelli. Spender meanwhile, wrote The Temple (finally published in 1988) which was unpublishable at the time due to its homosexual content.

Moving back to England, Spender flirted with joining the Communist Party, and was briefly involved in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side as a writer and delegate. In December 1936, he married Inez Maria Pearn (1914–1977), a modern languages postgraduate at Oxford. By 1941, they were divorced and Spender married Natasha Litvin (1919-2010), a concert pianist, with whom he had two children.

Disqualified, by health and age, from military service in World War II, he became a London fireman with the Auxiliary Fire Service while also co-editing the literary magazine Horizon with Cyril Connolly (1903-1974). After the war, Spender earned a living in colleges across America as a lecturer and university professor. From 1965 to 1966 he served as the poetry consultant at the Library of Congress (effectively the U.S. Poet Laureate) and alongside his teaching, he worked as co-editor of the monthly magazine Encounter from its inception in 1953 to its funding scandal in 1966-7, when it was revealed that the magazine had been subsidized by the C.I.A., at which point Spender resigned. He also continued to publish poetry, drama, novels, short stories, essays, literary criticism and journalism right up to his death in 1995, and was well known for his autobiographical works, including World Within World (1951).

Beyond his writing and teaching, Spender campaigned against censorship and the persecution of writers, founding the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, which became Index on Censorship. He was knighted in 1983.

A longtime member of the literary establishment in the UK and the USA, Spender’s archive includes a rich correspondence with hundreds of notable people, from J.R. Ackerley to Virginia Woolf, and not least with his wife Natasha Spender. It includes long sequences  of correspondence with W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot (mainly photocopies of originals held by U.S. archives), and also sequences of original correspondence with Cecil Day-Lewis, Christopher Isherwood and his partner, the artist Don Bachardy, as well as Spender’s good friends Isaiah Berlin, Joseph Brodsky and John and Rosamond Lehmann. His correspondence also recounts the implosion of his editorship of Encounter. Another feature are numerous notebooks and loose draft material for Spender’s poetry and other literary works.

See also the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Spender; Stephen Spender, the Authorized Biography by John Sutherland (2005); and the National Register of Archives for a list of institutions across the U.K. and the U.S. holding Spender archival material.

New acquisition: John Buchan letters

“Publishing is my business, writing my amusement and politics my duty.”

It was the 75th anniversary of John Buchan’s death on 11 February and the Bodleian has recently purchased 21 letters (MS. Eng. c. 8330) from Buchan to his Brasenose College friend Benjamin Consitt Boulter, known affectionately as Taff or Taffy. Buchan is probably best-remembered today for his spy adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), which has been filmed on multiple occasions with diminishing success after Alfred Hitchcock’s definitive 1935 version. But Buchan’s prolific novel writing formed only a part of a varied career as a politician and colonial diplomat, which culminated in his appointment as Governor General of Canada in 1935, a post which he held until his death in 1940.

Twenty of the holograph letters date from Buchan’s formative Oxford undergraduate days, while the last is a typescript sent from Government House, Ottawa, a few weeks after the outbreak of war in 1939 and three months before Buchan’s death  in 1940. By this time Buchan was first Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in the County of Oxford and his friend Boulter had retired to Burford, where he continued to write and illustrate Christian-themed books. There is a forty-year gap between the last handwritten ‘Oxford’ letter and the final typed one – an archival absence which is perhaps more poignant and voluble in its way than full documentation, passing as it does straight from the youthful hopes of the correspondents to their old age, although Boulter outlived Buchan by 20 years and died in 1960.

Also included among Buchan’s own letters is one to his younger sister, Anna Masterton Buchan (1877-1948), who was herself a novelist writing under the pseudonym O. Douglas. The sender is unidentified, but the subject is the tragic death of the Buchans’ brother, William, in 1912. William worked in the Indian Civil Service and the letter (sent from India) laments the loss of his ‘sweetness & unselfish devotion’.

 

-Judith Priestman, Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts

Philip Larkin and Judy Egerton letters.

Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin

In 2003 the Bodleian purchased the correspondence of the poet Philip Larkin and his great friend, the art historian and curator, Judy Egerton. These letters were closed to researchers during Egerton’s lifetime, but are now available and the catalogue has been mounted online.

Larkin was sub-librarian at Queen’s University Belfast in 1951 when he first met Egerton, and their correspondence dates from 1954 (the year before Larkin’s first substantial volume of poetry, The Less Deceived, was published) until the time of his death in 1985. It is an amicable, gossipy and mutually affectionate exchange, more in the vein of his correspondence with Barbara Pym than the comically – and not-so comically – strident tones adopted by male friends like Kingsley Amis, or the frequently tense and unhappy letters to his lover, Monica Jones.

-Judith Priestman, Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts