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Laura Riding Jackson papers


Laura Riding Jackson papers
Jackson, Laura Riding
Collection number:
0.75 linear feet
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
Literature and Rare Books
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

Laura Riding Jackson (1901-1991) was an American poet, critic, and editor. She was closely associated with the Fugitive group, a cluster of American Southern writers centered at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, which included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. She had a long partnership with Robert Graves; together they co-founded the Seizin Press, published several volumes of poetry, and co-edited the literary journal Epilogue. Jackson is generally acknowledged to have influenced the work of Graves, the New Zealand filmmaker Len Lye, and the writers James Reeves, Norman Cameron, T. S. Matthews, Jacob Bronowski, and W. H. Auden. The collection consists of correspondence between Jackson and Robert Nye, a British author, editor, and playwright, as well as manuscripts, newspaper and magazine clippings, and photographs. Subjects discussed include writers and writings, Martin Seymour-Smith, Robert Graves, and Nye.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Laura Riding Jackson papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

Laura (Riding) Jackson (1901-1991) spent her life in pursuit of truth through poetry and her language work. At the beginning of her career, she associated with the Fugitives, a group of Southern poets and critics, who supported and encouraged her poetry; later she became a close collaborator and intimate of the British poet Robert Graves. But her desire to express absolute truth led her to renounce poetry and turn instead to the study of language. Because of her compulsive individualism, Laura became a controversial figure, considered a madwoman by her detractors or a prophet by her supporters.

She was born Laura Reichenthal on January 16, 1901, in New York City. An Austrian immigrant, her father Nathan Reichenthal was a failed businessman and active Socialist. Laura was the daughter of his second wife, Sadie Edersheim, a German-Jewish sweatshop worker. Laura rejected her father's socialism and, though aware of her Jewish heritage, did not practice Judaism. After graduating from Girls' High School in Brooklyn, she received a scholarship and attended Cornell University. Although she never completed her degree at Cornell, she did meet Louis Gottschalk, then a graduate history student at the university, whom she married in 1920.

During their marriage, Louis Gottschalk taught at the University of Louisville, enabling Laura to meet Allen Tate and other members of the Fugitives. The group encouraged her poetry, and, beginning in 1923, she began to publish under the name Laura Riding Gottschalk. Her first book of poetry, The Close Chaplet, appeared in 1926. Fugitive member John Crowe Ransom sent her poems to his friend Robert Graves who then invited Laura to visit him in England. Meanwhile, she alienated the Fugitives by attempting to claim leadership of the group. During this period, her marriage was unravelling as well; it was dissolved on the basis of incompatibility in 1925.

In 1926, Laura Riding, as she now called herself, took Graves's offer and moved in with him and his wife, Nancy Nicholson. Laura and Graves collaborated on a number of projects; the first, A Survey of Modernist Poetry, published in 1927, concerned their views of contemporary poetry and set forth a method of textual analysis. Other joint projects were A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928) and No Decency Left (under the pseudonym Barbara Rich). They also co-founded the Seizin Press (1927-1938) and co-edited the Epilogue, a literary magazine.

However their relationship, which had become more a friendship, was plagued with controversy. In 1929, Laura jumped out of a fourth-story window during a heated argument with Graves and two others; she broke her back and suffered complications from her injury the rest of her life. Laura and Graves then left England for Deia in Majorca because of a scandal involving the poet Geoffrey Phibbs. Phibbs, with whom Laura was having an affair, left her for Graves's wife, and Laura attempted suicide. Graves and Laura moved Seizin Press to Majorca as well and collected around them a small group of poets and artists, including film-maker Len Lyle, and writers James Reeves, Norman Cameron, T. S. Matthews, and Jacob Bronowski.

Until forced to leave Deia by the Spanish Civil War, Laura and Graves were involved in an intense and compelling relationship. During this period she published poetry, essays, and fiction. Full length works include fiction--Progress of Stories (1935), A Trojan Ending (1937), and Lives of Wives (1939)--and collections of poetry--Poems : a joking word (1930), Twenty Poems Less (1930), and Collected Poems (1938).

In Under the Influence , T. S. Matthews describes Laura:

I had never met anyone who worked as hard as Laura did. She wrote for most of the day and often late into the night--stories, poems, criticism, letters. She always had two or three books going on at a time. Besides her own work, and collaboratives with Robert (Graves), she had a hand in many other pies, helping, advising, "straightening out the muddle" in someone else's poem, picture, sculpture, novel.

After leaving Majorca, Laura and Graves settled briefly in London and Brittany and then parted company after they came to America in 1939. The breakup of the relationship left Laura bitter and hostile to Graves.

In 1941, Laura married Schuyler B. Jackson, a one-time poet and former poetry editor of Time magazine, who had been married with children when he met Laura. She severed all ties to Graves and their previous circle and styled herself Laura (Riding) Jackson. Shortly after this second marriage, she renounced poetry because it appealed to the senses and, therefore, could not express absolute truth. With Jackson, Laura began a project on word meanings (to be called Rational Meaning: a new foundation for the definition of words), on which she would work for the next thirty years. The Jacksons settled in Wabasso, Florida, and for some time tried to support themselves by shipping citrus fruit. For the remainder of her life, Laura wrote essays and articles, and, after Schuyler Jackson died in 1968, she continued their "language work." Her book-length works published after Schuyler's death included two collections of her poetry, Selected Poems: in five sets (1970) and The Poems of Laura Riding (1980), and The Telling (1972), which she characterized as her "personal evangel." Laura died from heart failure on September 2, 1991, in Wabasso.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers of Laura (Riding) Jackson consist primarily of her correspondence, postcards, and notes to British writer Robert Nye. They also include manuscripts of two essays, seven photographs chiefly of Laura and Schuyler Jackson, and several clippings. The main topics include poetry, writing, language, and the pursuit of self-knowledge. Other subjects include her personal activities and observations on Martin Seymour-Smith, Robert Graves, and Nye himself. The correspondence also includes comments on several poets and writers, in particular, James Joyce, Hart Crane, Arthur Rimbaud, James Reeves, and George Buchanan.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The papers of Laura (Riding) Jackson were purchased by the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in 1974.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by: Mary Boccaccio, 1979 Re-processed and guide revised by: Elizabeth Slomba November 1996

Processing note:

When the collection was originally arranged and described in 1979, it was organized into one series of five categories arranged alphabetically: "Clippings + Notes," "Correspondence," "Robert Frost," "How to Think of Women," and "Martin Seymour-Smith." There were separate folders for Laura's essays, a letter mentioning Robert Frost, and clippings. When the collection was reprocessed in 1996, the letters were arranged into one series, and the letter mentioning Robert Frost was interfiled with the other letters in its proper chronological sequence. Undated notes, gift cards, and a postcard were separated from the "Clippings + Notes" and filed with the correspondence. A second series was created for the essays. The clippings became a third series and were photocopied onto acid-free paper, and the originals discarded. Individual documents comprising more than one page were clipped together with plastic fasteners. The photographs, formerly housed in a separate miscellaneous photograph collection, were reunited with the remainder of the collection to form the fourth series. When the photographs were processed in the 1970s, they were dry-mounted onto archival matte board and identification was recorded on the matte boards. In 1996, these matte boards were placed in Mylar sleeves and then in acid-free folders. The entire collection was then rehoused in new archival acid-free boxes.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Lara D'Agaro August 2007.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence to Robert Nye, 1962-1966 (137 items)

Robert Nye (b. 1939) is a British literary critic, poet, playwright, and novelist. He began his career as an acclaimed poet but eventually turned to literary criticism and fiction. His first novel, Doubtfire, was published in 1967. His best known works are his later novels, Falstaff (1976), Merlin (1978), and Faust (1980). Laura and he began a relationship through correspondence in the early 1960s that continued until her death. He serves as a trustee of her literary estate.

This series contains 137 letters, postcards, and notes, both handwritten and typed. Most of them were written by Laura (Riding) Jackson to Robert Nye. However, the files also include a few letters and notes written by Schuyler B. Jackson, some letters addressed jointly to Robert and Judith Nye, carbon copies of letters written to Martin Seymour-Smith and his wife Janet, and a letter from Kitsa Grigozrathou of Salonica, a friend of Laura. The date of the earliest letter is May 27, 1962, and that of the last letter September 26, 1966.

The correspondence discusses poetry and the writing of poetry, word usage, poetic and other inspiration, and Laura's writing projects, including the linguistic work with Schuyler, criticism on the work of others, and The Telling. It also addresses Nye's work and personal life, Laura's editor Sonia Raiziss, Robert Graves, and Martin Seymour-Smith. Other important subjects include her philosophy, theories, and personal life.

Laura comments at length on James Baldwin, William Blake, James Buchanan, Norman Cameron, Hart Crane, Charles M. Doughty, Robert Frost, Barry Goldwater, V. I. Gurdjieff, James Joyce, Leonide Ouspensky, Ezra Pound, Arthur Rimbaud, William Carlos Williams, and William Butler Yeats. There are brief comments on Joseph Auslander, Kay Boyle, Johannes Brahms, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Max Ernst, Kenneth Fearing, Sally Graves, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Herbert, D. H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Edwin Muir, Wilfred Owen, David Reeves, "Sitwellian folk," Genevieve Taggard, Nathaniel Tarn, Dylan Thomas, and Mark Twain. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 1
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 2
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 3
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 4
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 5
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 6
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 7
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 8
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 9
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 10
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 11
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 12
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 13
Correspondence, 1962-March 1966 series 1box 1folder 14
Correspondence, 1966 and undated series 1box 2folder 1
Correspondence, 1966 and undated series 1box 2folder 2
Correspondence, 1966 and undated series 1box 2folder 3

Series 2: Works by Laura (Riding) Jackson, 1963, 1965 (2 items)

This series consists of two essays written by Laura (Riding) Jackson. The essay "How Now to Think of Women?" is a typewritten carbon copy incorporating minor additional material into a response she had written for the article "How to Think of Women" (on the position of women in today's world) that had been published in Civilta Delle Macchine; the piece is accompanied by a clipping of the Civilta Delle Macchine article. The second essay, "On the Poems of Martin Seymour-Smith," is a typewritten carbon copy commentary on the poems of Seymour-Smith. The essays are arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"How Now to Think of Women?", 1963 series 2box 2folder 4
"On the Poems of Martin Seymour-Smith", 1965 series 2box 2folder 5

Series 3: Clippings, 1938-1966 and undated (13 items)

Laura (Riding) Jackson sent these newspaper and magazine clippings to Robert Nye. They concern a variety of subjects, including Barry Goldwater and the Wizard of Oz. Of note is a magazine clipping of a review of Laura (Riding) Jackson's poems written by Schuyler B. Jackson before they met. The clippings are arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Clippings, 1938-1966 and undated series 3box 2folder 6

Series 4: Photographs, 1964-1965, and undated (7 items)

The photographs depict Laura (Riding) Jackson, Schuyler B. Jackson, and the Hudson River; a detailed list of these images appears in the box inventory. The photographs are arranged by subject and then chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Photographs series 4box 2folder 7
Laura (Riding) Jackson, age 6, 7, or 8, front head and shoulders, in white dress with large white bow., undated series 4box 2folder 7item 1
Laura (Riding) Jackson, as a young woman, three-quarter profile, head and shoulders, facing portrait right., undated series 4box 2folder 7item 1
Laura (Riding) Jackson, as older woman standing on porch of Wabasso, Florida, in hat., circa 1964 series 4box 2folder 7item 2
Schuyler B. Jackson, as young boy, 5 or 6, full front in white outfit, with dog in front of house., undated series 4box 2folder 7item 2
Schuyler B. Jackson, as a young man, in a group picture taken outdoors of a "literary cricket club" with J. C. Squires, G. K. Chesterton, and unidentified others., undated series 4box 2folder 7item 3
Schuyler B. Jackson, as an older man outdoors, full front in white pants and no shirt., circa 1964 series 4box 2folder 7item 3
Color view of the Hudson River, Westchester County, N.Y., in the winter with snow, taken from porch of unidentified friends of Laura (Riding) Jackson., circa 1965 series 4box 2folder 7item 4

Related Material

Cornell University holds a significant Laura (Riding) Jackson and Schuyler Jackson Collection. Additional collections are located in the Joint Universities Libraries in Nashville, Tennessee, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Northwestern University Library.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.


Names (Added Entries)