The Papers of Edmund Blunden

Recently added to the online catalogue of the Library’s Additional manuscripts on the Janus website are two collections of papers relating to Edmund Blunden (1896-1974), poet and academic.

Blunden wrote his first poems during the First World War and was one of the longest serving of the War poets, seeing continuous action on the Western Front from 1916 until 1918. He took part both in the Somme offensive and the Battle of Passchendaele, two of the bloodiest battles of the conflict.  He managed to survive physically unscathed though mentally he was deeply affected by the pain and suffering he had witnessed. Blunden did not write many poems during the war.  His most important works were written later, having had time to reflect on his experiences. Perhaps his most significant war work, Undertones of War, was published in 1928 and is a prose account of his time in the trenches.

Apart from his poetry Blunden had a varied and successful literary career. He worked as a critic and reviewer for a number of publications, including a stint as assistant editor for The Times Literary Supplement in the 1940s. He edited poems by John Clare, published studies on Charles Lamb, the Keats Circle and Thomas Hardy, and wrote an important biography of Shelley.

Blunden was also a well-travelled and successful academic, being variously Professor of English at Tokyo University in the 1920s, a tutor at Merton College, Oxford in the 30s and Chair in English at Hong Kong University in the late 1950s. His Far East connections also saw him be appointed as cultural adviser to the UK liaison mission in Japan immediately after the Second World War.

He was well connected in literary circles and counted amongst his friends Siegfried Sassoon, Walter de la Mere, Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves. Sassoon would remain a close friend until his death and the Library’s Sassoon collections hold correspondence between the two.

One collection of papers (MS Add. 9856) contains letters written between 1939 until 1968 by Blunden to Douglas Grant. They met whilst Grant was a student at Oxford prior to the Second World War and kept in contact until Grant’s death in 1969. Grant was a writer and academic, becoming Professor of American Literature at Leeds University. Also included are a few verses written by Blunden and press cuttings relating to him

The second collection (MS Add. 9859) covers the period 1938 to 1968 and includes letters written by Edmund Blunden and his third wife Claire Blunden to Phyllis Burley, a long-time admirer of Blunden’s work.  Also included are various programmes, pamphlets, school journals and other items relating to Blunden.

Both collections contain detail on Blunden’s literary criticism and also give an interesting insight into the varied and interesting life of this important literary figure.

The papers are available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

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