Image: Vanessa Bell, Book Jacket for Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931), SxMas-18/5/191

Modernist Special Collections at the Keep

The University of Sussex Library’s Special Collections contains holdings vital to research in Modernism, including a number of internationally acclaimed archival, manuscript and rare book collections, relating to 20th-century literary, political and social history. Collections relevant to the Centre for Modernist Studies include the Grace Lake/Anna Mendelssohn Papers and a series of collections relating to the Bloomsbury Group, including the Monks House Papers of Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf, the Edith Sitwell papers, the Charleston papers and the Carrington Papers. The Mass-Observation Archive contains the papers of the social research organisation of the 1930s and 1940s and continues to collect new material in the present day.

The Monks House Papers of Virginia Woolf is a world-renowned and extensive archive of Virginia Woolf’s letters, manuscripts, press-cuttings, and books from Monks House. This is a rich archive, including manuscript and typescript material and drafts relating to Jacob’s Room, ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, A Room of One’s OwnThe YearsThree Guineas, and Roger Fry. Highlights include the ‘fan mail’ written to Woolf by her readers, as well as the three notebooks bursting with newspaper clippings and notes gathered by Woolf as she prepared to write her feminist pacifist anti-fascist essay Three Guineas—Woolf claimed she had ‘collected enough powder to blow up St Pauls.’ The archive also contains correspondence between Leonard and Virginia Woolf between 1912 and 1935, as well as letters to and from Elizabeth Bowen, E. M. Forster, Rosamond Lehmann, Katherine Mansfield, Rebecca West, and T. S. Eliot.

The Leonard Woolf Papers offer a detailed insight into Leonard Woolf’s life as an author, journalist, publisher, and political activist. The archive covers Leonard Woolf’s early life and career as a civil servant in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). Leonard Woolf’s work as a journalist, editor and publisher is represented in papers relating to The Nation, the New Statesman, and Political Quarterly, while his political activism is documented in papers relating to the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, and the League of Nations. The archive includes manuscripts and notes relating to Leonard Woolf’s books and his autobiography, as well as extensive correspondence.

The May Sinclair Papers consists of a number of books and manuscripts by the modernist novelist, poet, translator, philosopher and critic, May Sinclair, the first critic to coin the term ‘stream of consciousness’ in relationship to modernist writing. The archive includes a series of typed and handwritten drafts of short stories and philosophical essays, as well as signed hardback copies of Sinclair’s books.

The Anna Mendelssohn Archive archive provides an extensive record of Mendelssohn’s work as a poet and artist from 1977 to her death in 2009, as well as significant earlier material. Born in 1948, Anna Mendelssohn was an activist and a highly regarded writer and artist strongly influenced by modernist avant-garde aesthetics and ideologies. In 1972 she was sentenced to prison for her political activism; after prison she was accepted to Cambridge to read English, and had a family whilst studying. Among her publications are the volume Implacable Art (Folio/Equipage 2000), a series of chapbooks, predominantly with Rod Mengham’s Equipage press, and contributions to anthologies including Iain Sinclair’s Conductors of Chaos (Picador 1996).  Further materials are housed at the British and Cambridge University Libraries, but the archive at Sussex Special Collections constitutes the vast majority of her records, and includes art (pen and ink, pastels, oil), poetry, life writing, fiction, musical compositions, memorabilia, and nearly 800 notebooks.

Other collections of interest to modernist scholars include the Mass Observation archive, the Rudyard Kipling papers and Edith Sitwell letters.

Also refer to the Library’s Special Collections pages and the Mass Observation Archive for further information.

Also refer to the research environment page for information on facilities and support.

Please also consult information available at The Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research.


Image: Vanessa Bell, Book Jacket for Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931), SxMas-18/5/191