Tag Archives: literary

New Catalogue: Evan Jones Archive

The catalogue of the Evan Jones archive is now online and the material available for readers to consult.

Born in 1927 in Portland, Jamaica, Jones was educated in both Jamaica and Pennsylvania before studying at Wadham College, Oxford. He graduated in 1952 with a BA (Hons) in English literature and initially went into teaching, but came to establish himself as a poet, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

The archive consists of screenplays, typescripts, correspondence and publicity material relating to Jones’ poems, novels and screenplays, as well as audio-visual material for the films and television programmes he worked on. Perhaps most notably, the collection contains material concerning his seminal The Fight Against Slavery.

Written by Jones in 1973 and broadcast by the BBC in 1975, The Fight Against Slavery is a 6-part television series which documents the outlawing of slavery in the British Empire. The episodes are based in Africa and the West Indies and tell a story from 1750-1834, with the characters and narrative based on real people and actual events.

The archive includes annotated drafts and typescripts of the different episodes, and the later novel adaptations of the screenplays. There is also publicity material of the series produced by the BBC and printed advertisements for it, as well as contemporary newspaper reviews. The personal letters in the collection indicate that it was well-received and generated much discussion and official correspondence relays the processes behind its broadcast. VHS copies of the series are also in the archive, and will be digitised for preservation and to make them accessible long-term.

Evan Jones is a descendant of both slaves and slave owners, and The Fight Against Slavery seems like a personal effort to disclose the struggles of particular individuals to eradicate the slave trade, with Jones himself introducing each episode.

Not all of Jones’ oeuvre holds the weightiness of this dramatisation though, with films such as Modesty Blaise, a comedy starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde loosely based on a comic strip of the same name, and the television play Madhouse on Castle Street which features songs performed by Bob Dylan, also being examples of Jones’ screenwriting. As well as this, he is known for the screenplay of the film Escape to Victory. The main plot of this film revolves around a football match between the English and Germans in a German prison camp during World War II, and it stars Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone. Material on these and other works also feature in the archive, demonstrating the wide-ranging subjects and genres Jones worked on.

Outside of Jamaica, Evan Jones’ writing is perhaps not as well known as his screenplays; but since the 1950s when he wrote ‘Song of the Banana Man’ in an Oxford pub in response to a challenge to show what he thought Jamaican literature should be like, he has returned time and again to his homeland and themes of race, family and identity. Almost half a century later and the banana man’s song still resonates with Jamaicans and ex-pats alike and you can find ‘Song of the Banana Man’ featuring in the Favorite Poem Project http://www.favoritepoem.org/ of Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States.

‘Song of the Banana Man’ was the first poem to use Jamaican patois in a way that was accessible to a broader audience and Ian Thomson[1] cites it as a major influence on the dub poets of the ’70s.

Jones was asked to write Protector of the Indians–a historical book about Bartolomé de las Casas–in 1958 but most of his other literary papers remained unpublished while his career in screenwriting took off. Aside from a series on West Indian history and folklore for children (1989-1991)[2] for Macmillan’s Caribbean Writers collection that is still taught in classrooms today, he has mainly focused his energy on film and television; though he had always had the time to write articles and editorials about Jamaica for various publications.

However, in the 1990s he set out to write a novel because there was a story inside him that wanted to be told. Stone Haven (1998): a fictional historical epic with a semi-autobiographical core, chronicles the lives and loves of the Newton family as they rise to political power. Jones’ close ties to and abiding love for Jamaica informs its pages and it has drawn critical praise for its realistic portrayals of life on the island.

This diverse collection of papers and audio-visual material spanning over six decades of Jones’ life will be a great resource for future researchers.

[1] Thomson, I. The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica (2009)

[2] Jones, E. Tales of the Caribbean (1989-1991)

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.

Catalogue of the papers of the Tilling Society now online

 

The papers of the Tilling Society (1982-2006), a group set up to celebrate the life and works of the author Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940), have been catalogued and are available for readers to consult.

Spanning from the early-nineteenth century up until 2009, the papers consist of material collected by the Tilling Society relating to both E.F. Benson and the administration of the Society. It includes correspondence, stories and articles by E.F. Benson and members of his family; as well as ephemera, photographs and audio-visual material relating to theatrical, televised and radio productions of his stories. In addition, it contains circulars, documentation and photographs produced by the Society.

The last page of a letter from E.F. Benson to his friend Canon John Fowler

The last page of a letter from E.F. Benson to his friend Canon John Fowler

Whilst the original letters of E.F. Benson and copies of his early publications will have obvious appeal to researchers, this lively archive also tracks the popular afterlife of Benson’s works in material relating to dramatisations of his stories, and is evidence of the Tilling Society’s admiration and appreciation of the author – papers on and photographs of the annual events the Tilling Society held for its members demonstrate their great love for E.F. Benson and his stories and characters.

A souvenir brochure from a Tilling Society ball

A souvenir brochure from a Tilling Society ball

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

Hypertext and self-destructing poems


A few of us attended the Flair Symposium at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin in November. It was an opportunity to hear about literary archives from the perspective of the writers that create them and the archivists that curate them.

While at the HRC, I also found some time to take in their (now just closed) exhibition – The Mystique of the Archive. The exhibition described the contents of a literary archive, exploring its journey from creator to archival repository to scholar. Two items in particular stuck with me. First, the plot chart for Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, and second the display of Michael Joyce’s Afternoon. The first has all the magical qualities of a traditional manuscript – it’s a window on the composition process. The second is one of few exhibits of born-digital archive material that I have seen. Afternoon is a work of hypertext fiction created using software called Storyspace. You can buy both the current versions of the work and the software used to create it from Eastgate. I have never read a work of hypertext fiction, but I understand that the format presents the reader with a variety of paths through the work. Matthew Kirschenbaum of MITH is working with the archive of Deena Larsen, a hypertext author who encourages the extension of her works; this introduces all sorts of interesting questions about the (potential) scope of the archive.

Matt was also the first user of the Joyce archive at the HRC and he writes about this in his book Mechanisms. He writes too of the importance of the physical medium on which data is inscribed and the use of data forensic techniques to recover and examine data. There’s much in Mechanisms that chimes with issues and approaches we have encountered, though the terminology is very different to that used by archivists. At the FLAIR Symposium, Matt spoke about the Agrippa Files (also the subject of a chapter in Mechanisms) and there’s a website dedicated to this. The work that’s been done on Agrippa is an interesting example of data recovery and emulation. The poem was a digital work designed to scroll on the screen, accompanied by the odd sound effect. It was also crafted to self-destruct by encrypting itself after a single reading. The poem has been recovered, using dd, from a 3.5″ disk used with an early 90s Mac. On the website, you can now view a video of the poem running in the mini vMac emulator booted with a System 7 boot disk.

The NEH has funded a collaboration between MITH, HRC and Emory on digital literary manuscripts. The grant supports a series of site visits, which will enable the partners to share experiences and to develop a fuller proposal for the curation of contemporary literary archives. We were lucky enough to meet with the good folk of this collaboration at Texas. As well as hearing about MITH’s work with the Larsen archive, we learned of their work on the Jonathan Larson archive and a project which investigates the preservation of virtual worlds (see Kari Kraus speak on this at the Metaverse conference). We also heard from Erika Farr and Naomi Nelson about Emory’s experiences with the digital elements of the Rushdie archive, and from Gabriela Redwine about the Ransom Center’s work on the digital materials in its collections (including the Joyce and Mailer archives). The stories from all three institutions stem from hands-on engagement with born-digital archives, which makes their telling all the more valuable; others will be able to read about this work when a paper is published toward the end of the NEH grant.

-Susan Thomas