Tag Archives: philanthropy

New catalogue: Archive of David Astor

The catalogue of newspaper editor and philanthropist David Astor is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

In the middle of July I took a trip to the village of Sutton Courtenay –it was a sunny day, lockdown and there was not much else I could think of doing. Besides, I’d been meaning to visit for a while. I’d heard that George Orwell was buried in the churchyard there. How Orwell came to be buried in Sutton Courtenay is quite a well-known story –  Orwell wanted to be buried in the nearest Church of England cemetery to where he died, but finding there were none in central London with any space, his family appealed to his friends for help, and David Astor, who lived in Sutton Courtenay stepped up. And as it happens, Astor is now buried just behind his friend.

The graves of George Orwell and David Astor at All Saints’ Church, Sutton Courtenay

Orwell was one of many writers who, though not strictly journalists, were recruited by Astor to write for The Observer, but as you can see their friendship extended beyond the literary. When Orwell was suffering from a bout of tuberculosis and was recommended clean air by doctors, Astor arranged for him to stay on the island of Jura, a place where the Astor family had large estates and where David Astor had spent many childhood holidays. It was while staying on Jura that Orwell wrote 1984.

George Orwell is certainly not the only big name to crop up in the David Astor archive – going through his correspondents is almost like reading Who’s Who, including, of course a large amount of correspondence with his mother Nancy Astor, the first woman to take a seat in Parliament. There is, however, a definite lean towards Astor’s philanthropic interests. Members of the anti-apartheid movement feature heavily, especially the noted campaigner Michael Scott, and of course Nelson Mandela.

It’s not just the famous in this archive though, but also the infamous. Astor’s great interest in prison reform led him to become, along with Lord Longford, one of the most high profile campaigners for the release of “Moors murderer” Myra Hindley. Though the campaign to get her parole – or at least an end date for her sentence – was ultimately unsuccessful, Astor and Hindley corresponded regularly up until Astor’s death in 2001. He clearly found her letters indicative of her reformed character. Whether others will – well, they’ll have to read them to judge them.

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.