Unpublished collection of correspondence.London, 1940-1967 Stock Code: 125175
NotesThis fascinating, unpublished collection of correspondence from Vera Brittain to her friend and admirer Dorothy Perkin consists of 18 autographed and typed letters and cards written between 1940 and 1967. It contains Brittain's observations and reflections on her pacifism, family, politics, writing, publications, and her relationship with Winifred Holtby. Twelve of the letters were written during the Second World War, as Brittain worked through the Blitz and continued her pacifist work, and during which time Perkin was sending contributions to Brittain for an anthology she was working on. Entitled Above All Nations, it was compiled from contemporary newspapers, books and journals, relating acts of kindness and compassion between enemies in wartime, the anthology was published in April 1945. In September 1945, the discovery of the Gestapo's "Black Book", the Sonderfahndungsliste GB, "revealed that the names of both George and Vera were included on the list of 2,820 British subjects and European exiles who would have been arrested or taken into 'protective custody' in the event of a successful invasion... it showed that the Nazis had understood, far more clearly than the British Government who had attempted to identify pacifists with Fascists and pro-Nazis, that the faith by which the Christian pacifist lived 'was a power inimical to, because precisely the opposite of, their own doctrines'" (Berry & Bostridge, pp. 445-46). Brittain also discusses her plans to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Winifred Holtby's death with the publication of a volume of letters. Perkin was one of the subscribers of the volume, which was privately published as Selected Letters of Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain in 1960 in an edition of 500 copies. Brittain's final letter to Perkin was written three months after an accident that led to Brittain's decline in the final years of her life: "It was raining when she set off just after six o'clock on 2 November 1966 to give a talk at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Crossing Northumberland Avenue she tripped over some builders' debris piled up in the gutter, and fell headlong on both arms... the consequences of her accident were more serious than she first thought" (Berry & Bostridge, p. 514).
Below is a breakdown of the correspondence:
1. Handwritten card (9 x 11 cm), dated 30 April 1940, from Allum Green Cottage, Lyndhurst, Hants. Thanks DP for sending an admiring letter about Testament of Friendship, which was published on 2 January that year, and remarking that "through it you have learnt still more about Winifred Holtby's beautiful life and work". VB had been lecturing in the US and Canada in the first part of the year, and had returned mid-April. She bought the cottage in Lyndhurst the previous year with the rest of her savings from Testament of Youth, and spent her time there working on the final draft of Testament of Friendship. VB's tour of the US had come to the attention of the Foreign Office: "It is for consideration whether we ought to stop her going. She is also a crank, and a self-opinionated one at that, but she must be well-known in the United States by reason of a remarkable book entitled Testament of Youth... to stop her journey now may draw undesirable attention" (Berry and Bostridge, p. 392).
2. Folded ALS, dated 20 February 1941, from 43 Athenaeum Court, London W1. "Thank you very much for writing me such a kind letter about my books. I am glad that they mean something to you in this world of crises and catastrophes. You certainly have known little else in your short life. I am often glad that I am just old enough to remember the pre-1914 period in which I was at school". VB discusses her pacifist views and hopes for peace. The flat in Athenaeum Court in Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park, was a temporary residence that VB and her husband had moved into in January 1941, following a hit from an incendiary bomb to their home in Cheyne Walk; the Lyndhurst cottage had been let to a Southampton family, similarly displaced by a bomb. Their children, Shirley and John, were evacuated to the US in April that year. VB continued her war work: in January and February she went to trench shelters in East London and handed out soup and cocoa ("to help in a more active fashion than by writing cheques", Berry and Bostridge, p. 411).
3. Folded TLS, dated 19 November 1941, in the original stamped envelope, from 67 Richmond Hill Court, Richmond. VB thanks DP for two letters and regrets not having had a chance to speak to her at Youth Forum and explains why she will not be travelling in the near future due to the pressures of her work. VB and her husband moved from Piccadilly to a modern flat in Richmond at the start of October 1941. Intending to stay only three months, they ended up living there until April 1943.
4. Folded typed letter, dated 20 November 1942, from 67 Richmond Hill Court, Richmond, 32 lines, signed by a secretary p.p. Vera Brittain. VB comments on DP's letter about VB's book Humiliation with Honour, which was published the preceding month. To VB's astonishment, the book ran to three editions, selling ten thousand copies in three months. VB discusses pacifism and the teaching of history: "If people could learn history from a really wide and truthful perspective, it would be one of the most valuable ways of preventing wars. This is why I insist so much upon this in my book".
5. Folded TLS, dated 12 January 1943, from 67 Richmond Hill Court, Richmond. VB comments upon DP's letter asking about the religious attitude in her Letters, and sets out an explanation of how religion affects pacifism and war, and vice-versa.
6. Handwritten postcard (9 x 14 cm), dated 3 June 1943, from 2 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. VB acknowledges receipt of a letter and cheque for Kingsley Hall and tells DP "I am opening a meeting with Patrick Figgis to-night & shall give it to him then." In mid-April 1943 the Brittains re-opened Cheyne Walk, which had been empty since September 1940, as her children would be returning home from the US.
7. Handwritten postcard (9 x 11 cm), dated 23 June 1943, from 2 Cheyne Walk. VB thanks DP for the page from The Accountant which VB indicates will be included in her anthology. "In January 1943, George had conceived the idea of an anthology of acts of kindness and compassion between enemies in wartime. It was to be a compilation from contemporary newspapers, books and journals, under such headings 'Respect for the Enemy' and 'Helping the Wounded', which he and Vera planned to work on together Gollancz had welcomed the idea of Above All Nations, which he saw as another opportunity to press home opposition to Vansittart's Germanophobic message" (Berry and Bostridge, p. 443). It was published on 23 April 1945. John Betjeman remarked that is was a "bravely inopportune book", appearing just ten days after the liberation of Belsen and Buchenwald. The book's message "was quickly submerged by the tide of public loathing of the German nation which was sweeping Britain" (Berry and Bostridge, p. 445).
8. Handwritten postcard (9 x 14 cm), dated 19 August 1943, from 2 Cheyne Walk. VB acknowledges receipt of an Anthology contribution and comments on "comfortably placed officials advocating hardships for others wh. when they wd would never dream of enduring themselves".
9. Folded ALS, dated 9 October 1943, with the original stamped envelope, from 2 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. VB acknowledges receipt of further contributions to the Anthology, and discusses her progress, commenting "If only it can mitigate the growing indictment of each nation against the other, and contribute even a beam of light to the atmosphere of peace-making, it will have done its job". Shirley returned on 17 October ("For weeks Vera dared not leave the house for more than two or three hours in case Shirley should arrive homeVera related how she clasped her tightly 'in a surge of emotion which I never allowed myself to show again'", Berry and Bostridge, p. 435).
10. Folded ALS, dated 15 December 1943, with the original stamped envelope, from 2 Cheyne Walk. VB acknowledges further DP contributions to her Anthology, particularly those referencing Sweden and Czechoslovakia, and talks about the difficulty of sorting through the contributions. VB speaks of her children, and of trimming a Christmas tree for the first time since 1939.
11. Handwritten card (9 x 14 cm) dated 29 February 1944, from 2 Cheyne Walk. VB acknowledging further contributions to the Anthology. In the second paragraph VB comments: "The raids air raids have meant domestic chars i.e. cleaning ladies for me, as thanks to them I have lost members of my staff and my son is at the bomber school in the London area which was rather a shock."
12. Handwritten card (9 x 14 cm) dated 19 July 1945, from 2 Cheyne Walk. VB acknowledges DP's letter about the Birmingham meeting, and discusses the Potsdam conference and her letter to Peace-lovers.
13. Folded TLS on blue paper, dated 14 April, 1953, with the stamped envelope, addressed from 4, Whitehall Court, Westminster, SW1. VB comments about DP's observation that VB's daughter Shirley was standing as socialist candidate for Harwich: "It is quite a minor triumph in its way, since she is only 22, and I do not think that a girl of that age has ever been selected before". VB comments on a work in progress, Testament of Experience. The Brittains had sold the lease on Cheyne Walk, moving to the Westminster flat overlooking the Embankment in 1952.
14. Handwritten card (9 x 14 cm) dated 8 October 1958, from 4 Whitehall Court, with the original stamped envelope. VB apologizes for the brief reply, explaining she is in the midst of packing for a six month visit to North America, and suggests to DP that she read her most recently published book Testament of Experience: "I think it might interest you as it continues the story told in the two other Testaments". She continues with comments about Winifred Holtby's dust jacket blurb for Testament of Youth. She relates her daughter's election win and present activities, and reveals she is planning to publish a new volume of Winfred Holtby's letters in 1960, when it will be 25 years after her death.
15. Folded TLS on blue paper, dated 16 June 1959, in the original stamped envelope, from 4, Whitehall Court. The letter brings DP up to date after VB's return from her North American trip, and responds to DP s comments about reading Testament of Experience; comments on Holtby's reaction to the prefatory letter in South Riding and VB's plan to publish the following year the book of letters, as well as her next book The Women at Oxford; refers to a paperback edition of Testament of Youth; and talks briefly about her recent trip and her visits to Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
16. Folded TLS on blue paper, dated 22 February 1960, in the original stamped envelope, from 4, Whitehall Court. VB comments on the release of her new book, The Women at Oxford and the press reviews of it; refers to the brochure for VB's next book, Selected Letters of Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain and refers to the enclosed brochure for the book (which is present). The final paragraph gives an account of VB's upcoming trip to Africa where she has been invited by the University of Natal to take part, as the main woman lecturer, in a conference they are holding in July to celebrate the Union of South Africa's Jubilee. She continues: "It will be a wonderful opportunity to see things for myself and perhaps try to emulate Harold Macmillan by making clear our attitude towards racial questions without offending my hosts. In this case, they can be subtly discussed in terms of the women who have gained their freedom, but were once in subjection."
17. Folded TLS on blue paper, dated 9 December 1960, in the original stamped envelope, addressed from 4, Whitehall Court. VB discusses her newest book, Selected Letters of Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain.
18. Folded TLS on blue paper dated 17 January 1967, in the original stamped envelope, addressed from 4, Whitehall Court, Westminster. VB writes "I was laid up over the Christmas period owing to a serious accident".
Together 18 items of correspondence: ALS, TLS and autographed postcards (see full breakdown below).
A few faint marks, horizontal and vertical creasing from folding for posting. In excellent condition.
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