A Closer Look at the Edward James Archive
West Dean's Archivist, Simon Coleman, recently delivered an evening lecture to introduce the cataloguing of the Edward James Archive which is currently underway.
The talk provided an introduction to the Cultural Papers and highlighted material found in both these papers and in other sections of the Edward James Archive. Over thirty images accompanied the talk: most of these were of letters, manuscripts and photographs from the archive, with a few of frontispieces of The James Press publications. Edward James' involvement in the creative arts, principally in the 1930s and 1940s, was the first major theme covered. There was focus on the nature of James' relationships with a number of artists and writers and various material from the Cultural Papers was featured. This included letters from Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Edith Sitwell and George Grosz, original drawings by Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Leonora Carrington, and a John Betjeman manuscript poem (from Mount Zion). Music manuscripts by Kurt Weill ('The Seven Deadly Sins') and Francis Poulenc ('Secheresses') were also featured. James' well-known letter to Aldous Huxley in 1939, which first outlined the plan that was later realised by the formation of West Dean College, was discussed in the context of James' philosophical and idealistic character.
The breadth of James' participation in artistic ventures during these years was too extensive to be fully covered in a general talk, but there was the opportunity to highlight the record of his poetry and novel writing, as well as The James Press publishing house. There are extensive surviving drafts for his published and unpublished works and much of this material has yet to be properly sorted. The talk also discussed James' architectural creations at Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico, which combined many of the artistic and cultural influences that he had absorbed at earlier stages of his life.
From an archival perspective, the Edward James Archive is unusual for a number of reasons. Information about how it was created in the 1980s, from material held at the College and additional letters and papers brought here from the USA, remains very sparse. The original artwork, literary papers, and music manuscripts in the Cultural Papers, and the high profile of their authors, is a rare and outstanding feature. The large number of James' own draft letters, often extending over dozens of sheets of paper, is the other unusual element in the Archive. The talk concluded by outlining the longer term plan to publish the eventual Cultural Papers catalogue online, this being the intended first step in the process of cataloguing and making accessible the whole Edward James Archive.
Find out more about Cataloguing the Edward James Archive.