Library acquires papers of Sir Frank Kermode

The papers of one of the most important and influential British literary critics of the 20th century have been acquired by the University Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The library is now the home of the papers of Sir Frank Kermode, 87, who lives in England.

Kermode, who is best known for his celebrated studies on D.H. Lawrence and Shakespeare, also achieved some notoriety in the 1960s when he resigned from a literary magazine he discovered was funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

During his academic career, he served as the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London from 1967 to 1974 and as the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University from 1974 to 1982. He also has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities.

The author of more than 40 published books, Kermode was knighted in 1991. He is a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, an honorary member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Sciences of France.

According to Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, some of the most significant files concern the resignation of Kermode and his colleague Stephen Spender in 1967 from the editorial board of Encounter after learning that the CIA had been covertly funding this literary magazine.

"In the correspondence between Kermode and Spender during the Encounter crisis," he said, "we can see the strength of their intellectual and ethical principles."

Skemer said that the acquisition complements Princeton's other holdings at the juncture of literature and legal issues, ranging from copyright problems associated with author  J.D. Salinger to the publication of banned or condemned books.

He said that researchers also will find Kermode's papers valuable for the background they provide through his extensive correspondence with other major authors, literary critics and scholars, including Al Alvarez, W.H. Auden, Denis Donoghue, William Empson, William Golding, Kenneth Koch, David Lodge, Muriel Spark, Allen Tate and Diana Trilling.

"Correspondence during the half century from the early 1950s almost to the present offers valuable insight into letters and thought during this era," Skemer said. "The papers include extensive original typescripts and drafts of Kermode's published work, from books to book reviews. There is documentation of many uncollected essays and lectures spanning the years 1969 to 2003, as well as transcripts of numerous radio broadcasts."

Although Kermode has no Princeton connections, he did visit the campus at least twice, according to records: once in the 1970s to lead a Gauss Seminar in Criticism; and again in 1996 to speak at a national conference on higher education as part of the University's 250th anniversary celebration.

The papers were acquired with support from the Friends of the Princeton University Library. To learn more about the contents of the Kermode papers, one may consult the finding aid available online.