A. O. Bell Papers

Scope and Content

Over 1300 items of correspondence, with numerous enclosures, relating to Anne Olivier Bell s research for the biography, and editing of the diary, of Virginia Woolf.

Administrative / Biographical History

(Anne) Olivier Bell was born in 1916, daughter of Arthur Ewart Popham (1889-1970), then an assistant, and later Keeper, in the Department of Prints &Drawings at the British Museum, and his wife Brynhild (ne Olivier). She was educated at St Paul s Girls School, London, and the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. During World War II she was in the Civil Service and afterwards on the Control Commission for Germany. While working for the Arts Council, she met the artist Vanessa Bell in connection with the Council s 1951 art exhibition, and was invited, as a model, to Clive and Vanessa Bell s home, Charleston in Firle, East Sussex. In 1952 she married their son, Quentin Bell (1910-1996). Vanessa was the sister of the novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). Quentin, latterly founding Professor of the History of Art at the University of Sussex, wrote a life of his aunt which was published as Virginia Woolf: a biography , 2 vols (London: Hogarth Press, 1972). Olivier Bell acted as her husband s researcher and organised the papers which Virginia s husband Leonard (1880-1969) made available (now in SxMs 18, Monks House Papers). She went on to edit with Andrew McNeillie The diary of Virginia Woolf , 5 vols (London: Hogarth Press, 1977-84). She received two honorary doctorates (from the University of Sussex and the University of York) and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984 in recognition of her work. This collection comprises the correspondence generated by her research and editorial work and, after the publication of the diaries, by approaches from Bloomsbury admirers, detractors and researchers.

See: Alan &Veronica Palmer, Who s who in Bloomsbury (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1987), 6-7.


Arranged alphabetically by the name of Mrs Bell s correspondent and then by date. The card index formed by Mrs Bell's grandaughter, Kate Bell, in organising the collection has been retained within the correspondence files.

Access Information

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Anne Olivier Bell, 1999.


Prepared by John Farrant, July 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website .

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, digital copies can be made.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.

Related Material

This collection is closely paralleled by SxMs 61, Nicolson Papers, being correspondence relating to the editing by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann of The letters of Virginia Woolf , 6 vols (London: Hogarth Press, 1975-80).

The other collections at the University of Sussex relating to the Woolfs and to the Bloomsbury group are:

SxMs 13 Leonard Woolf Papers

SxMs 18 Monks House Papers (papers of Virginia Woolf and related papers of Leonard Woolf)

SxMs 56 Charleston Papers (Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant)

SxMs 58 Birrell Papers (Francis Birrell)


Anne Olivier Bell published an account of her editorial work in Editing Virginia Woolf's diary (Oxford: Perpetua Press, 1989; reprinted London: Bloomsbury Workshop, 1990).