Literary and personal papers of Janice Elliott

Scope and Content

Janice Elliott (1931-1995), novelist: letters and postcards found in Elliott's private library, mid-late 20th c; uncorrected proof of 'The King Awakes' (1987).

Administrative / Biographical History

Janice Elliot (1931-1995) was born in Derbyshire and brought up in wartime Nottingham, where her father worked as a commercial artist. She was educated at Nottingham High School for Girls and later St Anne's College, Oxford, where she read English. She started her writing career by producing experimental blank verse dramas, which she forced student friends to read. She had no idea what career to pursue after graduating, but was sufficiently offended when she was advised by Oxford's appointments board to train as a secretary on the basis that it was a woman's vocation to serve, to become a journalist instead. She found a job as sub-editor on 'House and Garden', then a writing position on 'House Beautiful', and later a post on 'The Sunday Times' women's pages.

However, she left journalism to become a full-time writer in 1962 and then her career really began, with the publication of her first novel 'Cave With Echoes' (1962). This was received enthusiastically - Anthony Burgess wrote that it had style, was genuinely constructed and the characters excellent. Her fourth novel, 'The Buttercup Chain' (1967), in which four people change sexual partners with bewildering rapidity, was her one work not to receive good reviews, but Elliott had the satisfaction, three years after publication, of seeing it turned into a film under the same title. 'Secret Places' (1981), which used her experiences of her childhood in Nottingham during the war, was also made into a film in 1984.

Elliott lived in Partridge Green, Sussex, for many years with her husband Robert Cooper, an oil executive and transatlantic sailor. She worked methodically, from 10am until 2pm every day, taking around nine months on average to write each novel. For the last few years, from the mid 1980's onwards, she lived in Cornwall, where she continued to write, until her final novel, 'Figures in the Sand' (1994) was published shortly before her death.

In total she wrote twenty two novels, five childrens books and a collection of short stories ranging in subject matter from the bizarre and magical ('Dr Gruber's Daughter', 'Magic' and 'The Sadness of Witches') to the social realism of the 'England Trilogy' ('A State of Peace', 'Private Life' and 'Heaven on Earth').

Despite the fact that Elliott won consistently high praise from reviewers and steadily gained readers she found it hard to make a viable living from writing fiction. A regular slot as a reviewer for 'The Sunday Telegraph' gave her some measure of independence, but she owed her financial security to her husband. When she was asked for advice, Janice would tell young women writers only partly in jest that they should get married.

She would have been the first to spot the irony in this. Many of her novels looked at hostile marriages, where infidelity in thought and deed was the norm, and where men emerged as the weaker sex. Women in Elliott's novels fall back on the therapeutic nature of daily chores ''cooking being an orderly process, a gesture, in a small way, against chaos'' and on female friendships, which were shown as a great source of strength.

Despite the similarities running through some of her characters, Elliott did not lack imagination, and on those occasions when she turned from domestic situations, she could invent truly disturbing scenarios. 'Dr Gruber's Daughter' (1986), for instance, described Adolf Hitler hiding in an attic in Oxford in 1953, while his daughter roamed the streets outside looking for victims. 'Life on the Nile' (1989) told of a woman's search for her great aunt, murdered in Egypt in 1924.

Her published works are as follows:

Figures in the Sand (1994)

City of Gates (1993)

The noise from the zoo: and other stories (1992)

Necessary rites (1991)

Life on the Nile (1990)

The King awakes (1989)

Dr Gruber's daughter (1989)

The sword and the dream (1989)

The sadness of witches (1988)

The empty throne (1988)

The Italian lesson (1987)

The incompetent dragon (1984)

Secret places (1984)

Magic (1984)

The country of her dreams (1982)

Summer people (1980)

The honey tree (1978)

The birthday unicorn (1977)

A loving eye (1977)

Heaven on earth (1975)

Private life (1974)

A state of peace (1973)

Alexander in the land of Mog (1973)

The kindling (1970)

Angels falling (1969)

The buttercup chain (1967)

The godmother (1966)

The Somnambulists (1964)

Cave with echoes (1962)

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the Library in 2005 alongside books belonging to Elliott.

Other Finding Aids


Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 2 Jun 2006.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Related Material

Other papers of Elliott are also held at Exeter University Library at EUL MS 279.


It is not known whether publication has resulted from use of this collection.