William Gerhardie: Correspondence and literary papers

Scope and Content

The collection consists of around eight thousand items of correspondence and more than forty boxes of drafts, notes and other working material, personal and financial documents, press cuttings, many of them annotated, and photographs. The majority of Gerhardie's surviving literary papers date from his most productive period, from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s. His earlier and later work is less well represented. His letters include significant correspondence with fellow writers, in particular Hugh Kingsmill and Morchard Bishop (the pen-name of Oliver Stonor), both of whom wrote frequently to Gerhardie about their own lives and work. Gerhardie also corresponded at length with Katherine Mansfield and Edith Wharton, and photocopies of these letters are in the collection. There is a large set of letters to and from members of the public, prompted by Gerhardie's novels and newspaper articles. A considerable part of his writing and correspondence reflects his interest in paranormal phenomena and ideas about survival after death, and the collection provides an insight into the widespread public interest in these subjects, especially during the 1930s. Gerhardie's correspondence with his family reflects many aspects of recent European history, as his family was dispersed throughout Europe after the Russian Revolution. The First World War in Russia, the Stalinist period, and the Second World War in Britain, France and Russia are well represented in this respect.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Alexander Gerhardie (1895-1977), novelist and critic, was born in St Petersburg, Russia, on 21 November 1895, where he attended the St Annen Schule and Reformierte Schule. He moved to London, with the intention of training for a commercial career, but joined the Royal Scots Greys at the outbreak of the First World War. He was posted to the British embassy in Petrograd, 1916-1918, and in 1918 was attached to the Scots Guards. After the war, Gerhardie travelled the world before attending Worcester College, Oxford, where he obtained a B.A. in Russian in 1922. His first two novels, Futility (1922) and The polyglots (1925), were well received, and he became a prolific writer of novels and short stories. Gerhardie travelled widely before settling in London in 1931, where he remained for the rest of his life. During the Second World War, he worked for the B.B.C. He published his last novel in 1940, and thereafter lived in increasing obscurity, involving himself in a little broadcasting and essay-writing. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1975. He died in London on 15 July 1977.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Bertram Rota Ltd, 30 October 1981.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on William Gerhardie in Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls, eds, Dictionary of national biography, 1971-1980 (Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 335-336.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Related Material

Cambridge University Library holds other papers relating to William Gerhardie, MSS.Add.8841 and 9598. His collection of books, some of which are annotated, is held in the Rare Books Department.


An account of Gerhardie's life can be found in Dido Davies, William Gerhardie: a biography (Oxford, 1990).