Tag Archives: poetry

‘Youth’s Funeral’ by Rupert Brooke

One of the earliest donations of literary manuscripts to the Bodleian Library via the Friends of the Bodleian, founded in 1925, was a fair copy manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘Youth’s Funeral’, published as ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’ (shelfmark MS. Don. d. 1). According to the Summary Catalogue, the poem was donated by Mrs G.F. Brooke in 1926.(1)

Fair manuscript copy of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

Today, Rupert Brooke is possibly best known as a War Poet and is included on the Poets of the First World War memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside fellow poets, Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, and Siegfried Sassoon. ‘The Funeral of Youth’, however, was written in 1913, before the war. In the published version, the poem is described as a threnody, a memorial lament, and is an epitaph for bygone days of youthful innocence. In Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke, Paul Delany suggested Brooke’s inspiration was Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘God’s Funeral’, meditating on the death of belief, which had been published in the Fortnightly Review in 1911. (2) Brooke had met Hardy in Cambridge at a performance of Milton’s masque Comus by the Marlowe Society in 1908 (as well as producing the play, Brooke had played the Attendant Spirit).

Rupert Brooke was born on 3 August 1887 at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, to William Parker Brooke (1850-1910) and his wife, Ruth Mary Brooke (née Cotterill), the second of three sons. His father was classics tutor and later housemaster of School Field at Rugby School, which Rupert himself attended after studying as a day boy at Hillbrow preparatory school. At Rugby, he won a prize in 1905 for his poem, ‘The Bastille’, and excelled at sport. Brooke went on to read Classics at King’s College, Cambridge between 1906 and 1909. During this period, Brooke embraced various Cambridge groups, including the Apostles (an exclusive discussion group) and the Fabian Society. He also became one of what his friend Virginia Woolf would later call the ‘neo-pagans’, embracing outdoor exercise, vegetarianism, and alternative lifestyles, and having a strong interest in socialism.

Portrait of Rupert Brooke © IWM Q 71073 (IWM Non Commercial Licence)

After he completed his degree, he lived in nearby Grantchester continuing his academic studies and writing. His father died in January 1910 and Rupert went back to Rugby to cover as Deputy Housemaster for a term. His first volume of poetry, entitled Poems, was published in 1911. The following year, he helped Edward Howard Marsh (then Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary) publish the first of his Georgian Poetry series.(3) Brooke contributed several poems to Georgian Poetry 1911-1912, including one of his most famous poems, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, which he had written while away in Berlin.

During 1912, however, Brooke had a nervous breakdown, part precipitated by his complex web of chaste and sexual relationships, and (potentially) confusion over his own sexuality.(4) Early in 1913, Brooke wrote ‘Youth’s Funeral’ whilst staying with his friends, Francis and Frances Cornford, in Cornwall. Later in the year he earned his longed for Fellowship at King’s College and then travelled abroad in order to restore his health, visiting the United States, Canada, and the South Sea Islands. A collection of prose essays of his time abroad was published posthumously as Letters from America in 1916 with an introduction by Henry James.

Rupert returned to England in June 1914 and, soon after war broke out in August, enlisted in the Royal Navy. Though he was at the siege of Antwerp, he saw little action. Shortly after this, he wrote his famous war sonnets, including ‘The Soldier’, which were published in New Numbers in December 1914. Having joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915, Brooke sailed for Gallipoli, but he died at sea on 23rd April after contracting septicaemia from a mosquito bite. Winston Churchill paid tribute to him in The Times and Lascelles Abercrombie’s obituary in the Morning Post (27 April 1915) quoted from Brooke’s ‘The Funeral of Youth’.(5) Later that year, Brooke’s 1914 and other Poems (including ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’) was published posthumously; his Collected Poems were edited by Edward Marsh, his literary executor, and published with a memoir in 1918.

Binding by Douglas Cockerell for manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

As with many of the early Friends of the Bodleian deposits, the manuscript of ‘Youth’s Funeral’ has been finely bound in brown Morocco, in this case by the renowned bookbinder Douglas Cockerell and is encased in a bespoke wooden box. Interestingly, Cockerell was appointed adviser on printing to the Imperial War Graves Commission and he oversaw the printing and binding of the registers of the dead for each war cemetery.(6) Whilst Brooke is commemorated as a war casualty, the circumstances of his death meant he was buried in an isolated grave on the island on Skyros. His friend and fellow solider Denis Browne described Brooke’s burial place as ‘one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head’.(7)

In his introduction to Letters from America, Henry James described Brooke as ‘young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching’. Along with the patriotism of his 1914 sonnets, the image of an innocent young poet tragically killed in the course of war prevailed for many years, an image which was carefully maintained by his friends and literary trustees. In reality, Brooke was a more complex character and, though they made him famous, his war poems only account for a small proportion of his work.

– Rachael Marsay


Footnotes

  1. A little research has shed no light on the identity of Mrs G.F. Brooke, though she was presumably a relation of Rupert’s (there are no candidates in his immediate family, all Rupert’s siblings had died unmarried by the date of the deposit). The Archive of Rupert Brooke is held at King’s College, Cambridge.
  2. Paul Delany, Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke (Montreal/Kingston 2015), p.126-127.
  3. See Great Writers Inspire podcast (University of Oxford), ‘Georgians and Others’ by Dr Stuart Lee.
  4. By this time, Brooke had been romantically involved with Noel Olivier, Katherine (‘Ka’) Laird Cox, Phyllis Gardner and the actress Cathleen Nesbitt. An oral history interview of Cathleen Nesbitt, which touches on her relationship with Rupert Brooke, is available on the Imperial War Museum website.
  5. Quoted in ‘Rupert Brooke (3 August 1887-23 April 1915)’ in Patrick Quinn (ed.), British Poets of The Great War: Brooke, Rosenberg, Thomas: A Documentary Volume, Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 216, Gale, 2000, p. 5-97.
  6. A. Crawford, ‘Cockerell, Douglas Bennett (1870–1945), bookbinder’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004, online).
  7. Rupert Brooke and Edward Howard Marsh, The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke : With a Memoir (1918).

 


Please note that following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Lost Leader: The Archive of Mick Imlah

The catalogue of the archive of the poet Mick Imlah is now available online.*

Michael Ogilvie Imlah, better known as Mick Imlah, was born with his twin sister on 26th September 1956 in Lewisham Hospital to James and Bathia Imlah. Whilst James and Bathia both originally came from Aberdeen, the Imlah family relocated from Bromley in Kent shortly after the twins’ birth to Milngavie near Glasgow, where Mick attended the local primary school.

After a decade or so, the family moved back to Kent and Mick attended Dulwich College from 1968. Whilst at Dulwich he wrote poems as well as a short stories for the school magazine The Alleynian, one of which was inspired by Kafka. His early notebooks, started around this time, were (like his later ones) full of ideas and drafts for verse alongside copious notes about cricket scores and teams.

Mick went on to read English at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1976 where his tutors included John Fuller and Alan Hollinghurst. At Magdalen, he also indulged his love for sport, playing in both rugby and cricket college teams. After graduating with a first in 1979, Mick embarked upon a DPhil on Arthurian myth in Victorian Poetry; though this was never completed, he held junior lectureships at the college until 1988.

Whilst at Magdalen, Mick continued to write poetry and his first pamphlet of poems, The Zoologist’s Bath and Other Adventures, was printed by Fuller’s Sycamore Press in June 1982. In the title poem, a dramatic monologue, an eccentric Victorian evolutionary theorist is convinced that mankind will return to its origins – the sea – and therefore refuses to get out of the bath, having convinced himself that he is developing a fin. Imlah was a perfectionist and his poems in particular would undergo revision after revision as demonstrated by the multiple notes and drafts of poems in the collection (he later admitted, ‘I revise, much too much’).

In 1983, following in the footsteps of Andrew Motion, Mick became editor of the Poetry Review (a post shared at first with Tracey Warr) until 1986. The same year, Mick resurrected the publication of Oxford Poetry. From 1987 to 1990, Mick took an editorial post at the luxury travel magazine Departures (ironically, having previously never travelled very far).

Birthmarks, Mick’s first main collection of poems, was published in 1988. He left Magdalen for London that same year and became Poetry Editor at Chatto & Windus in 1989, a post he held until 1993. His income was supplemented by writing reviews of fiction, non-fiction, television programmes, and films for the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday among others. His reviews were written out long-hand in his neat handwriting, ready for the fax machine.

Mick Imlah’s drafts for the poem ‘Birthmarks’, c.1988, MS. 12919/1. With kind permission of the literary executors of Mick Imlah.

After Birthmarks, poetry took somewhat of a back seat until 1992, when the Times Literary Supplement commissioned Mick to write a poem on the centenary of Tennyson’s death, ‘In Memoriam Alfred Lord Tennyson’. This would go on to become, along with ‘B.V.’ (a poem about the poet James Thomson), the sequence ‘Afterlives of the Poets’ in his final collection of poems.

In 1992 he joined the staff of the Times Literary Supplement and in 1995 succeeded Alan Hollinghurst as Poetry Editor, a post he held until his death. Having generally avoided word processing until now, Mick was finally forced into using a computer for this role.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mick also worked on biographical entries for The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry (published in 1994); wrote an introduction to Anthony Trollope’s Dr Whortle’s School (1999); co-edited with Robert Crawford The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000), which also had a profound effect on his own poetry; and published a selection of verse by Alfred Lord Tennyson for Faber and Faber’s ‘Poet to poet’ series (2004). He published a number of new poems in Penguin Modern Poets 3 in 1995 and the Clutag Press printed Diehard in 2006, a taster of poems for his final collection of poems, then still work in progress.

In autumn 2007, Mick was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. His second – and final – collection of poetry, The Lost Leader, which had been at least 10 years in the making, was published in 2008 and won the Forward Prize for best poetry book of the year. Drawing heavily upon his Scottish roots, Mick also paid tribute to his partner and daughters. Mick died in early January 2009, aged 52, and was buried in Ayrshire after a funeral service at Magdalen College.

The archive contains many drafts of verse and prose: much of the material in the archive (especially the notebooks) demonstrate how the different strands of Mick Imlah’s work (poetry, prose, criticism and review) and interests (particularly cricket) were inextricably entwined. Similarly, there is evidence that Imlah’s notes written at college and university were re-used and re-cycled throughout his career.

– Rachael Marsay

A recording of Mick Imlah reading his poem ‘Muck’ (from The Lost Leader), recorded in 2008 as part of the Archipelago Poetry Evening at the Bodleian Library, can be heard as part of The Bodleian Libraries (BODcasts) series.

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible to readers as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

New catalogue: papers of Edmund Blunden

The catalogue for a collection of letters and papers relating to the poet Edmund Blunden is now available online.*

Perhaps best remembered for being a war poet, Edmund Blunden is commemorated alongside fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Many of his war poems, however, were written in retrospect and have the added poignancy of being written by an author over whose entire remaining life the First World War cast a long shadow. His poetry, like that of his literary hero John Clare, often evoked nature and explored how the natural world was affected by the devastating effects of war.

Born in London on 1st November 1896, the eldest of nine children, Edmund’s formative years were spent in Yalding, Kent. He attended Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. When he left school in 1915, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and fought on the front line. His war years were not without distinction and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. He would later write about his experiences in his acclaimed prose work, Undertones of War, published in 1930.

During the last year of the war, when on camp in Suffolk, he met, fell in love with, and married Mary Daines, a local 19-year-old girl. Their first child, Joy, was born the following year but tragically died after only a few weeks. Joy’s death was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Mary carefully kept the letters Edmund sent her during their courtship when he was away with military duties; as she requested, however, her own love letters to him have not survived.

Edmund Blunden and Mary Blunden (née Daines), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1920 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After demobilisation in 1919, Edmund started studying at The Queen’s College, Oxford but this was cut short, partly for financial reasons. He travelled alone to Buenos Aires in 1922 and then accepted the post of professor of English at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1924. Both times he left Mary and his family behind, their daughter Mary Clare having been born in 1920 and a son John Clare in 1922. Edmund, always a prolific correspondent, sent home copious letters, postcards, and Japanese prints, which Mary and later Mary Clare kept carefully. However, the strain of living apart took its toll on an increasingly fragile relationship. Edmund returned home in 1927 and the couple were divorced in 1931.

Despite an inauspicious start at Oxford, Edmund became Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford between 1931 and 1947. In these years he met and married the writer, Sylva Norman (née Nahabedian). The marriage, perhaps based more on intellectual need than compatibility, was short lived. Shortly after the marriage was dissolved in 1945, he married Claire Margaret Poynting, a young teacher and Oxford graduate, who shared his love of literature and cricket. They had four daughters.

Edmund returned twice again to the Far East – firstly in a diplomatic role between 1947 and 1950, before returning for a longer period as Professor of English Literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1954 and 1964. This time, though, he took his entire family with him.

Publicly acknowledged for his works to literature, in 1951 he was made a CBE, received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1956, and was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Upon his retirement in 1964, the family returned to Suffolk. Though his health was deteriorating, Edmund Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, a post he had to resign after two years. He died at his home in Long Melford in 1974 aged 77.

The collection contains an extensive series of correspondence, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, mainly comprising letters sent from Edmund Blunden to his first wife Mary. The collection also includes commonplace books, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, various papers and correspondence relating to biographies, and papers relating to Mary Blunden.

– Rachael Marsay

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

“My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania”—Handmade editions of poetry by Frederic Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33)

Working in archives, there is one thing which I find really special, and actually quite magical: even with a catalogue description, I am never entirely prepared for what is waiting inside the box. MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is a perfect example of this. The Summary Catalogue entry for this item reads:

Twelve booklets containing copies of works by 20th cent. poets, written, and decorated in colour, by Frederic Prokosch, ‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70; a colophon in each states that it is one of five numbered copies.

I was intrigued by the date uncertainty, and by the fact that these would be handmade editions so I was curious to check out the contents. Inside a small dark blue box lay indeed twelve booklets, most of them with colourful marbled covers, along with an enclosed letter.

December 2.

Dear Sir,

I am sending you, as a gift, a group of 12 little handmade pamphlets of poetry which I did long ago. (They look rather Art Nouveau to me now!) 
I hope they will amuse you.

Cordially,

Frederic Prokosch

There are six poets featured in the series—W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats, along with Prokosch himself—and two booklets per poet. Quite interestingly, the two that do not have marbled covers are works by Prokosch; an attempt, perhaps, to differentiate himself from his fellow writers? Apart from the difference in the covers, all booklets are built in the same way: around five leaves, with a unique illustration at the beginning, always containing gold elements, and the poem(s) in the middle of the booklet with an illumination for the first letter.


The Gull by Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/10, fols. 1v-2)


Two Poems by Yeats (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/11, fols.2v-3)

Frederic Prokosch was born in Wisconsin, in the United States, in 1908. He studied literature before becoming a writer himself, publishing his first novel in 1935 (The Asiatics), and his first collection of poems in 1936 (The Assassins). His memoir, Voices (1983), although proven to be mostly a fictional work, depicts Prokosch’s passion for the arts of the written word. In Voices, the reader is treated to a collection of anecdotes, including a tale of his newly discovered passion for poetry and printing: “I turned to poetry . . . My poems grew twisted, exotic, impenetrable. I wrote of mountains and deserts, of icebergs and caravans. My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania.”[1] Although not printed editions, the booklets that form MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 probably were a product of this desire. Through the memoir, the reader also follows Prokosch as he encounters a great number of famous artists, many of them writers, including Auden, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound. Although there is no indication of any meetings with Yeats, the Irish poet is frequently mentioned throughout Voices. As questionable as those stories might be, they are nonetheless a testimony of Frederic Prokosch’s respect and admiration for his fellow writers.

Voices is not the only thing about Prokosch that raises suspicion regarding its accuracy. Robert Greenfield, who extensively studied the American writer in Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch (2010), pointed out:

As a consequence of this medley of twists and turns, apocryphal claims, misstatements, distortions, and falsifications encompassing more than a century, even the simplest facts of his life, such as the date of his birth, are still subject to dispute.[2]

It seems MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is no exception to this, falling in the very shroud of mystery described by Greenfield. It is quite unclear when Prokosch actually produced the booklets; although he claims they were made in New Haven in 1932, the New Summary Catalogue entry suggests otherwise: “‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70”. And they might even have been made slightly later than that. Indeed, upon close examination, some of the papers chosen by Prokosch bear (very faint but still visible) watermarks revealing the brand of the material—Arches and Ingres, both French brands. Quite interesting when one knows Prokosch spent the last decades of his life in the South of France. This would also be a perfect match to the biography written by Greenfield:

In 1972, Frederic abruptly ceased his travels and retired to ‘Ma Trouvaille’, a cottage in Grasse, in the south of France, where he played bridge, made some half-hearted efforts to cultivate a garden, revived his interest in printing private limited editions of his favourite poems and withdrew into invisibility.[3]

When I opened MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 I was, as always, quite unsure what would be sitting within the box. In this case, I found very beautifully made booklets of poetry, including some by one of my own favourite authors. But I also discovered Prokosch, a writer I had never encountered before working here, and more than that, I found myself in the middle of a date riddle. Pretty exciting for a small dark blue box.


[1] Prokosch, Frederic. Voices: A Memoir, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1983, p. 45

[2] Greenfield, Robert. Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010, p. 21

[3] Ibid., p. 19

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.

New Catalogue: Papers of Louis MacNeice

The catalogue of the papers of the Northern Irish poet and playwright Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) is now available online.

MacNeice studied Classics at Oxford from 1926, and together with Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis, he became part of the circle of poets and writer that had formed around W.H. Auden. His professional life began in 1930 as a lecturer in Classics, but in 1941 he joined the BBC and for the next twenty years produced radio plays and other programmes for the Features Department.

Whilst he also wrote articles and reviews, theatre plays, a novel and even a children’s book, MacNeice is best known for his poetry. Between 1929 and 1963, he published more than a dozen poetry volumes, such as Autumn Journal (1939) – regarded by many as his masterpiece, Springboard (1944), Holes in the Sky (1948), Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), and Visitations (1957). His last poetry volume, The Burning Perch came out just a few days after MacNeice’s untimely death in autumn 1963.

Amongst other works published posthumously were a book entitled Astrology (1964), Selected Poems (1964) edited by W.H. Auden, the autobiography The Strings are False (1965) edited by E.R. Dodds, and Varieties of Parable (1965), as well as the radio/ theatre plays The Mad Islands and The Administrator (1964), One for the Grave (1968) and Persons from Porlock (1969), and the song cycle The Revenant (1975).

(Frederick) Louis MacNeice by Howard Coster,
nitrate negative, 1942. NPG x1624.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The archive at the Bodleian Libraries comprises more than 70 boxes of literary papers and other material relating to Louis MacNeice’s career as a writer, as well as extensive personal and professional correspondence, and some personal papers. Continue reading

Display – Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

A hundred years ago, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. As the celebratory church bells rang out, a telegram was delivered to Susan and Tom Owen informing them of the death of their eldest son, Wilfred, one of 17 million casualties of the Great War to end all wars. He had been killed at the age of 25, just seven days before the Armistice. Owen received the Military Cross for gallantry, but was unknown to the public as a poet: only five of his poems were in print before his death. Today he is recognised as one of the greatest writers of war poetry in the English language.

To mark this double centenary the Bodleian has mounted a display of original material from the Owen Collection, which was given to Oxford University by Owen’s sister-in-law, Phyllis, in 1975 and transferred from the English Faculty Library to the Bodleian in 2016. Included in the exhibition are manuscripts of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’; editions of the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine which Owen edited while being treated for shell-shock in 1917, and a selection of photographs and personal belongings preserved by his family.

Curated by Judith Priestman and Andrew Wheale

Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War
26 October – Christmas 2018
Proscholium, Bodleian Old Schools Quadrangle
Free entry