The Bodleian Libraries have welcomed the donation of Cecil Day-Lewis’s personal archive with a special one-day event celebrating the poet’s work.
His children, Oscar-winning actor Daniel and television chef Tamasin, have given the libraries their father’s collection of papers which includes never-before-seen photographs, manuscripts and correspondence. The donation follows an initial literary bequest from Cecil’s wife, the actress Jill Balcon, who died in 2009.
Funding is being sought to catalogue the newly-acquired collection to make it available to students and other readers.
Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis spoke of how “thrilled” they were that their father’s papers had been accepted by the Bodleian. They said: Oxford played an important part in our father’s life.
“If the manuscripts had ended up outside the country it would have saddened us all as a family as the poets who became papa’s lifelong friends and peers all met up at Oxford as undergraduates.”
They added: “We know that future generations will now have easy access to the manuscripts for
research, scholarship and the simple joy of seeing how a poet worked at a poem; the pit-face of the
pen and its scratchings out and correcting, shaping and forming, in what is the most succinct, spare and specific form of writing in terms of both meaning and use of language.”
English finalist Abbas Panjwani echoed these comments, saying: “The opportunity for Cecil Day Lewis scholars to access previously unreleased manuscript evidence is fantastic. The fact that he was an Oxford alumnus and the manuscripts are coming to the Bodleian is a bonus.”
Cecil Day-Lewis was one of the most renowned poets of the 20th century as well as writing novels under the pen-name Nicholas Blake. He studied classics at Wadham and was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1951 before becoming Poet Laureate in 1968.
The archive will allow readers to delve into Day-Lewis’s private live. As well as including literary works such as the final verse of a poem to mark the birth of his son Daniel, the collection also includes correspondence with major figures in British culture such as Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness and Sir John Betjeman.
The papers spread over 54 boxes and also contain several drafts for poems, essays and television and radio scripts.
David Whiting, Co-literary executor of C Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon’s estate said that the archives “offer a kind of microcosm” of the poet’s professional and private life. He added that they
give “a real insight into his world and that of his wife Jill Balcon is given by the range of letters from their correspondents, from EM Forster to Alec Guinness.”
He added: “There are, amongst much other material, manuscripts and typescripts of Day-Lewis poems, and the detective fiction written under his alias of Nicholas Blake, much of it now being republished.”
The Bodleian event centred on a discussion of Day-Lewis’s life and work between Tamasin Day- Lewis, Lord Gowrie, St. Andrews English Professor Douglas Dunn and Exeter College’s Dr Chris Fletcher which was bookended with poetry recitals by actor Gabriel Woolf.
Dr Fletcher, the Bodleian’s Keeper of Special Collections said: “We are really delighted to add this important collection to our growing holdings of modern literary papers. The family has been
extremely gracious and generous and we are delighted to be holding this celebratory event in honour of Cecil Day Lewis and Jill Balcon.”
The Day-Lewis archive is one of a number of its kind held by the Bodleian. In February last year, acclaimed-author and Lincoln College alumnus John Le Carré donated his literary collection to the libraries.
Alan Bennett and Kenneth Grahame have also donated their personal archives to the Bodleian.