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Hope Mirrlees papers


Hope Mirrlees papers
Mirrlees, Hope
Collection number:
0.25 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:

Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978) was an author of novels, poems, and translations. However, she is most remembered for her circle of literary friends, which included T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Lady Ottoline Morrell. She published two novels, Lud-in-the-Mist and Counterplot, and a book of poetry, Moods and Tensions: Poems. She began, but never completed, a biography of seventeenth-century British antiquarian Sir Robert Bruce Cotton; part of this was published as A Fly in Amber in 1962. With Jane Harrison, she produced two translations of Russian literature, The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself and The Book of the Bear. Her papers consist solely of correspondence; significant correspondents include T. S. Eliot, Ottoline Morrell, Virginia Woolf, and Leonard Woolf.

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Hope Mirrlees papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Historical Note

Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978), author of novels, poems and translations, is also remembered for her distinguished literary friends, including T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Her 1926 novel, Lud-in-the-Mist, has been recognized by science fiction critics as an outstanding example of English fantasy writing. Her work, however, has been overshadowed by the great literary men and women of post-World-War-I Britain with whom she associated.

Helen Hope Mirrlees was born in England in 1887, the daughter of William J. Mirrlees, a wealthy sugar merchant, and Emily Lena Moncrieff. Her elder sister, Margot, married into the landed gentry of Oxfordshire, and her younger brother, William, was a professional soldier who later became a major general. Mirrlees spent part of her childhood in South Africa and received her early education from a French governess. She returned to England to finish her education at St. Leonard's School in St. Andrews, Scotland. Mirrlees abandoned her early theatrical ambitions to study classics at Newnham College of Cambridge University. Jane Harrison, a Greek scholar and lecturer in classical archaeology at the college, became Mirrlees's friend and mentor, and together they travelled to Paris in 1915 to study Russian. Also at Newnham College, Mirrlees met Karin Costelloe, later studying French with her in Paris. Costelloe married Virginia Woolf's brother, Adrian Stephen, in October 1914. Through this association, Mirrlees became acquainted with Woolf.

Woolf and Mirrlees met in 1917 and remained acquaintances through the 1930s. Woolf described Mirrlees in a March 22, 1919, diary entry:

[Mirrlees is] a very self conscious, wilful, prickly & perverse young woman, rather conspicuously well dressed & pretty, with a view of her own about books & style, an aristocratic & conservative tendency in opinion, & a corresponding taste for the beautiful & elaborate in literature. . . . She uses a great number of French words, which she pronounces exquisitely; she seems capricious in her friendships, & no more to be marshalled with the long goose wand which I can sometimes apply to people than a flock of bright green parrokeets.

Woolf asked Mirrlees to correspond with her; Mirrlees responded, "O no. I can't write to people" ( Diary, March 22, 1919). In a January 1919 diary entry, Woolf included Mirrlees on a list of those she considered friends, and Mirrlees spent a weekend with the Woolfs at their country home, Asheham, in September 1919.

Woolf seems to have had ambivalent feelings about Mirrlees's writing. In 1919, she reluctantly reviewed Mirrlees's first novel, Madeleine: One of Love's Jansenists, for the Times Literary Supplement. The review disappointed Mirrlees who had spent several years working on the book and had difficulty getting the work published. However, Leonard and Virginia Woolf requested a story from Mirrlees to be published by their own house, Hogarth Press. Mirrlees produced a poem, Paris, which Virginia Woolf pronounced, "obscure, indecent and brilliant" ( Letters of Virginia Woolf, 385), and in May 1920 the poem became one of the first works published by Hogarth Press.

Mirrlees also was acquainted with one of the foremost literary hostesses of the early twentieth century, Lady Ottoline Morrell. Lady Morrell's circle of friends, including Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley, were known as the Bloomsbury Group. As early as 1919, Mirrlees visited the Morrell home during her stays in London and remained a close acquaintance of Lady Morrell for almost twenty years.

In 1922, Mirrlees moved to Paris with Jane Harrison. Together, they produced two Russian translations. The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself (Hogarth Press, 1924) was the first English translation of the earliest autobiography written in the Russian language. Their second collaborative translation was The Book of the Bear (1926), a collection of Russian folk tales about bears. Leonard and Virginia Woolf visited Mirrlees and Harrison in Paris in 1923, and Mirrlees continued to make frequent trips back to England to visit her friends and family. She produced two other novels, Counterplot (1924) and Lud-in-the-Mist (1926), both of which received generally favorable reviews. Mirrlees returned to England after the death of Jane Harrison in 1928 and rented an apartment in London.

Lud-in-the-Mist was Mirrlees's last novel. Shortly after its publication she began researching what was to become her lifework, a biography of seventeenth-century British antiquarian, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. One volume of this work, entitled A Fly in Amber, was published in 1962 by Faber and Faber. T. S. Eliot, a director of Faber and Faber, took close interest in Mirrlees's progress. Their relationship grew from a professional acquaintance into a close personal friendship. Eliot boarded at Shamley Green, the Mirrlees family home near Surrey, to escape London during World War II and corresponded regularly with Hope and her mother even after the war. Eliot wrote to Mirrlees that "it may be that I did there what will be regarded as my best work" (December 7, 1952).

After her mother's death in the late 1940s, Mirrlees travelled to Paris, Egypt and eventually Cape Town, South Africa. She lived in Cape Town for the next eleven years and continued to work on A Fly in Amber. In the biography, Mirrlees digresses into a survey of seventeenth-century British society, science and culture. Mirrlees never completed a proposed second volume to this work. Instead, her last work was a small book of poems entitled Moods and Tensions: Poems (1965). Mirrlees returned to England sometime before 1974, where she died in 1978.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers of Hope Mirrlees, which cover the period 1919 to 1974, consist primarily of correspondence, both letters and postcards, to Hope Mirrlees and her mother, Emily Moncrieff Mirrlees. T. S. Eliot is the primary correspondent, but the collection also contains letters from Leonard and Virginia Woolf and Lady Ottoline Morrell. The major topics include writing, mutual acquaintances, social events, family and personal affairs.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The papers of Hope Mirrlees were purchased by the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in June 1974.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by: Janet Saunders December 1993

Processing note:

The correspondence in this collection was originally arranged by recipient and secondarily by sender. The papers have been rearranged and divided into series structured alphabetically by sender. Items within the series are in chronological order. Letters have been removed from envelopes and flattened. Envelopes have been retained and attached to their original contents. Metal paper clips have been replaced with plastic clips. Newspaper clippings have been enveloped in acid-free paper. The materials have been placed in acid-free folders.

Encoded by:

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

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 (113 items)

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an American-born British poet, playwright and critic. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the British Order of Merit in 1948 for his poems and plays, which include "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Waste Land and Murder in the Cathedral. He was also a renowned editor and critic, founding The Criterion, a quarterly review, and working as a director at the Faber and Faber publishing house for forty years.

This series contains 113 letters from T. S. Eliot to Hope Mirrlees and her mother; the earliest is dated October 22, 1934, and the last, December 1, 1960. Most of the letters are from the period between 1939 and 1948. Many of the letters are typescript; others are handwritten. A few newspaper clippings relating to Eliot's family and activities are included. The correspondence addresses a variety of topics, including Eliot's writing in general; Mirrlees's biography, A Fly in Amber; household affairs; cats; social events; books; health; and mutual acquaintances. The materials are arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 series 1box 1folder 1
Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 series 1box 1folder 2
Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 series 1box 1folder 3
Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 series 1box 1folder 4
Correspondence from T. S. Eliot, 1934-1960 series 1box 1folder 5

Series 2: Correspondence from Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1936-1938 (3 items)

Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938) is best known as a hostess and patron of the arts who brought together some of the most important writers and artists of her day. Her circle of friends included Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell and Augustus John. Her husband, Philip Morrell, was a Liberal member of the British Parliament, and their home served as a refuge for conscientious objectors during World War I.

There are three autograph letters from Lady Morrell to Hope Mirrlees in this series. The letters were written in the later years of Lady Morrell's life and discuss mutual acquaintances, Ireland and Philip Morrell's illness. They are arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence from Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1936-1938 series 2box 1folder 6

Series 3: Correspondence from Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1919-1928 (6 items)

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an English novelist, short story writer and critic. Her novels included To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway; and her essay A Room of One's Own is considered a classic feminist work. Woolf also served as a frequent reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, and she and her husband Leonard launched a small literary publishing house, the Hogarth Press, in 1917.

This series contains six autograph letters and postcards from Virginia and Leonard Woolf to Hope Mirrlees. All were written solely by Virginia Woolf except one letter written by Leonard Woolf, with an added postscript from Virginia, expressing condolences on the death of Mirrlees's mentor, Jane Harrison. Other letters address "Solid Objects" and Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf; Mirrlees's writing, including a proposed play; social engagements; and mutual acquaintances. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence from Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1919-1928 series 3box 1folder 7

Series 4: Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1946 and 1974 (2 items)

This series consists of two pieces of correspondence, one autograph letter from Hope Mirrlees to Mrs. L. H. Cohn and one picture postcard addressed to T. S. Eliot from an unknown sender. The letter is dated May 1, 1974, and concerns the sale of Mirrlees's papers. The postcard may be from a member of Eliot's family, since in 1946 his brother resided in Cambridge. The postcard contains a newspaper clipping concerning a request from Poland for 4,000 cats to control a rodent problem; a handwritten notation under the clipping reads "practical cats." These items have been arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1946 and 1974 series 4box 1folder 8

Related Material

The University of Maryland Libraries' Special Collections holdings in the Archives and Manuscripts Department include T. S. Eliot materials that were acquired from various sources, now organized as the T. S. Eliot Collection.

The papers of Lady Ottoline Morrell, also maintained by the department, contain correspondence from Lady Ottoline to Siegfried Sassoon, one of the members of the Bloomsbury group, from 1919 to 1934. The correspondence addresses the countryside, World War I, literature, poetry and travel.

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.


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