Papers of Willa Muir

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of manuscript writings, notebooks, miscellaneous papers and correspondence. It is representative of her working and private life with items dating from her time at university, throughout her career and marriage to Edwin Muir, until her administration of Edwin's work after his death.

Willa Muir kept journals, and wrote poetry (much of it humorous), articles, essays, radio scripts and novels. Her work as a translator of Kafka and Broch is also represented in the collection. Willa Muir's papers reveal her to be an inveterate note maker; shopping lists jostle for position alongside notes on the superiority of women, and scraps of poetry are jotted onto the backs of envelopes. For her subject matter Willa Muir often drew on her own experiences. She was a sharp eyed observer of human nature and expert in describing social situations. Willa Muir was always eager to experience the many different cultures in which she lived, approaching each new country with pragmatism and an open mind. At the same time she showed a deep appreciation of her own national heritage as a Scotswoman. The central relationship of her life, her marriage to Edwin Muir, is also represented in personal letters sent when they were parted and poems written for each other.

Administrative / Biographical History

Willa Muir (1890-1970) was born Wilhelmina Anderson in Montrose, Scotland. She studied Classics at the University of St Andrews between 1907 and 1910, graduating with a first class honours degree. She entered a career in education, achieving the position of vice-principal of Gypsy Hill Training College, London in 1918. The same year she met Edwin Muir (1887-1959), who was then a clerk in a Glasgow shipping office and was to become one of the most important Scottish poets of the twentieth century. They married the following year and embarked on a somewhat peripatetic life together, living on the continent in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, France and Italy, as well as in America, England and Scotland, for a time returning to St Andrews. Their son, Gavin, was born in 1927. Willa and Edwin made a living teaching, writing freelance and translating. Later Edwin was appointed Director of the British Institute in Prague and Rome, Warden of Newbattle Abbey College in Scotland and Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University. After Edwin's death Willa continued writing until her death in 1970.

Willa Muir's published works include two novels: Imagined Corners and Mrs Ritchie published in 1935 and 1933. Mrs Grundy in Scotland, a social and historic commentary was written during the Muir's time in St Andrews and published in 1936. Living with Ballads (Hogarth Press, 1965), an exploration of traditional Scottish oral poetry, and Willa Muir's autobiographical, Belonging: A Memoir (Hogarth Press, 1968) are both represented in the collection.

Arrangement

Boxes 1-2 contain miscellaneous material: poetry, essays, articles, radio broadcasts, a translation and novels; work by Willa Muir both published and unpublished. Of particular note is the annotated typescript of Living with Ballads dated 30 April 1964 [published by The Hogarth Press, 1965].

Boxes 3-4 contain 17 hand written notebooks and other material relating to Willa Muir's autobiography, Belonging: A Memoir [published by The Hogarth Press, 1968].

Boxes 5-6 contain notebooks and miscellaneous items. Amongst her other writing Willa Muir's early years as a mother are carefully recorded in her Journal of 'Marmeduke's' [Gavin Muir's] development. The Prague Journals describe the years 1946 - 1948, including the Muir's experiences of the Communist putsch in 1948. Various items in these boxes relate to Edwin Muir, for example a binder of correspondence relating to the honorary doctorates he received from the Caroline University of Prague and the University of Edinburgh.

Box 7 contains 3 printed books, poems by Karen Gershon (1923-) and a copy of the University of St Andrews student magazine College Echoes. Willa Muir contributed to and edited College Echoes while an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews.

Box 8 contains correspondence with many of the friends and fellow writers with whom Willa and Edwin maintained contact throughout a lifetime of travel and literary activity.

Box 9 contains a collection of miscellaneous items including photographs, radio scripts and reviews of the work of both Willa and Edwin Muir. Included are various articles on the work of Edwin Muir.

Conditions Governing Access

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to ms38466 and accessioned in 2000.

Note

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist, based on text prepared for the departmental manuscripts database by Minna Jones.

Other Finding Aids

Handlist available; full list in preparation for Manuscripts Database.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

The material was originally deposited by Mrs Muir for storage and was accessioned as msdep9 in 1969.

Bibliography

Kirsty Allen, The Life and Work of Willa Muir 1890-1955, (University of St Andrews unpublished PhD thesis, 1996).Willa Muir, Belonging: A Memoir, (London, 1968).

Geographical Names