Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Remarkable numbers and revised opinions

In spite of the quietude on the blog front, work has been continuing in the archive and on the Gurney research front, with my endeavouring to get some thoughts down on paper ahead of PhD submission at the end of the year. I thought I would share some thoughts and facts from today's visit to the archive, which are just a few of the interesting things that occupy my mind as I go from day to day in this undertaking.

I have long wanted to try to put a figure on the number of poems written by Gurney, not least looking forward to the OUP edition. As I am going through finalising the catalogue, I am in a position to start counting, having drawn together the chronology of the poetry manuscripts, working out which manuscripts might be drafts of other poems etc. Today I have totted up the single 1925 poetry manuscripts: a total of 288 poems. This is overshadowed by the quantity written in 1926 - the equivalent of one for every day of the year, 365. Add to this the notebooks from the period, The Book of Five Makings and Best Poems - a further 116 poems - and the total comes to an extraordinary 769 poems from these two years alone. It is a remarkable body of work, some of which is very fine.

Today I was also rehousing the post-1926 correspondence. As I went, I was re-reading some of the later letters. One of the anecdotal stories told of Gurney is that when the proofs of the Music and Letters symposium were shown to Gurney late in 1937, prior to their publication in January 1938, Gurney left them unopened, unable to open them in his illness, and saying that the Symposium had come 'too late'. The correspondence presents a less melancholic state of mind than the tragic case that has often been projected. Yes, Gurney is fifteen years into his incarceration, and is ill at the time (the proofs were despatched by Marion Scott to Gurney on 27 November 1937). He is finding it difficult to write (although there are no extant writings beyond 1927), but he is still reading avidly (he reads the two volume Everyman edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson in the days around the arrival of the proofs) and in his letters projects a less sorry figure than one has been lead to believe.

Boswell was one of the books read during 1937, but the one name that recurs in most of Gurney's letters from this year is A.E. Housman: he is Gurney's constant companion, from Spring of that year until his death on Boxing Day of that year, at the age of 47.

5 comments:

Pamela said...

Photos taken of Gurney during the asylum years always show him with a book in hand or engrossed in the act of reading. He clearly remained engaged in his interests despite the effects of his illness. People who suffer from bipolar illness are not ill all the time nor are they always disconnected from the outside world. Although Gurney suffered from disconnects at times, he was not always living in dark and gloom, consumed by his illness.

A possible point of interest regarding his asylum poem "The Wind". Kavanagh notes in the Collected Poems that it is signed "IG 'Valentine Fane'". Valentine Fane did exist and she did publish poems. Her name was actually Valentina Fane but she wrote under Valentine. She was born in 1893 and died in 1977.

Thank you for the update. They are always interesting and revealing. Pam

Philip Lancaster said...

The reason for his reading is made clear in a letter of April-May 1927, in which Gurney writes: 'here is madness - safety is in books'.

The Valentina Fane detail is fascinating and useful. The poem reads like Gurney but it would be interesting to see if it is Fane or if he just used one of her verses as a starting point for his own. This would be particularly interesting since, dating from 1929, 'The Wind' is the last potentially original writing we have by Gurney after a gap in the archive of two years, from the essays of April-May 1927. The last poem is from late 1926.

Tom Cook (Fife, Scotland) said...

Personally, I hope that the poem was by Ivor Gurney. It's a truely lovely piece and I've now ordered the Michael Hurd biography in order to find out more about a man who could produce such an exquisite poem.
I discovered Gurney's poems back in 1999 on a visit to, of all places New Zealand. I picked up a paperback edition of some of his poems (Everyman series) and was intrigued by some of the verse. This particular poem is the last in the little booklet and I've read and re-read it so many times since then.
Good luck with your continuing research.

Pamela said...

For Tom Cook -- may I also suggest my recent biography of Gurney(and Marion Scott)Song of Pain and Beauty, The Boydell Press 2008.
Pam Blevins

Angel A Knight said...

hi there I'm researching valentine Fane as my grandparents worked for her in the 1940's and lived at carters cottage on her land (my mum and her brothers also lived there) I had no idea she was a poet as well and I would love to see samples of her work if your able to suggest any, she had quite a tragic sad story of lost love in her life! She was a complete eccentric so I'm told though had once been presented at court as a deb!