Farr, Florence

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Correspondence to and from Florence Farr, photographs of Florence Farr, reviews of Modern Women , flyers of plays, performance programmes. There are photographs, some signed, showing her in acting roles and in her time in Ceylon. Amongst the remaining items there are performance programmes and posters.

Administrative / Biographical History

Florence Farr was born in 1860. She was the youngest daughter of Mary Elizabeth Whittal and Dr William Farr, a sanitary reformer and advocator of equal education and professional rights for women. She was educated at Queen's College London (1877-1880), received good reports but had no inclination to prepare for higher education. After an unsuccessful attempt at teaching (1880-1882), Farr gravitated to the theatre, appearing in minor parts and adopting the stage name, Mary Lester. In 1883 her father died, leaving her a sufficient amount to live on modestly. Her first novel The Dancing Fawn was published in 1894. That same year she became theatre producer at the Avenue Theatre, producing modern plays. Farr preached about parity for women in employment, wages etc. amongst her intellectual circle of acquaintances. George Bernard Shaw wrote that she reacted vehemently against Victorian sexual and domestic morality and was dauntless in publicly championing unpopular causes such as campaigning for the welfare of prostitutes. Farr had a fascination for the occult, Egyptology and theosophy. She conducted hermetic studies and belonged to an order of like-minded folk, The Hermetic Order of Isis-Urania Temple of The Golden Dawn of London. She published her first philosophical tracts, A Short Inquiry concerning the Hermetic Art by a Lover of Philatethes in 1894. In 1901, Florence, with a friend of Yeat's, collaborated in the writing and production of two one act plays, both recounting Egyptian magical tales. Farr later quit The Golden Dawn and joined the Theosophical Society of London. Farr cultivated friendships with 'clever men'. Among her friends and correspondents were William and May Morris, George Bernard Shaw, John Quinn, Henry Paget, Dr John Todhunter and W B Yeats. In 1884 she married an actor, Mr Edward Emery (b 1863). They separated in 1888 when Mr Emery immigrated to America, according to Shaw, on account of 'some trouble (not domestic)'. Shaw wrote that Florence (who used her own surname more often than her husband's) was quite content with this situation and considered it of little importance. In 1895 she finally divorced Edward Emery on Shaw's advice. In the 1890s, Yeats used Farr's 'golden voice' as part of his quest to encourage the rebirth of spoken poetry. In 1898 made her the stage manager for his Irish Literary Theatre and she became a regular contributor to the performance of his metrical plays. She was also involved in the performance and musical composition of a number of plays at the Lyceum and Court Theatre and New Century Theatres in London, 1902-1906. In 1912, Farr sailed from England for a life in Ceylon. She had been invited by Sri Ponnambalam Ramanthan, a fellow theosophist, to teach at his newly founded College for Girls in Ceylon. As Lady Principal she supervised the teachers, care of sick children, servants and general administration. In 1917, Florence Farr died in Colombo General Hospital at the age of 56. Her body was cremated at the home of Ramanathan. In 1912 she left some of her correspondence with Clifford Bax in a locked black box only to be opened after her death. They were later published in Florence Farr, Bernard Shaw and W B Yeats by C Bax (ed.), The Cuala Press (1941). In preface to these letters Bax wrote that they 'show that she had too much personality to become a good actress' and were testament to her good humour. He described her as 'a woman who could inspire remarkable men' and predicted that she would be remembered primarily on account of her private friendships with eminent intellectuals of the time.

Arrangement

Arranged into the following classes: Correspondence to and from Florence Farr Reviews of books written by Farr and promotional material Flyers, performance programs and articles Photographs Artefacts

Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Uncatalogued material may not be seen. Please contact the University Archivist for details.

Acquisition Information

Purchased at auction from Sotheby's 15 July 1998 (lot 262).

Other Finding Aids

Handlist available. This collection has been fully listed and is included in the ULRLS on-line catalogue, http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/default.aspx.

Archivist's Note

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Custodial History

Nothing is known of the archival history of the papers prior to their sale although they may have been collected by Dorothy Paget, Florence Farr's niece.

Related Material

Material relating to Farr may also be found in the University of London Library Autograph Letters (Ref: AL 203, 235 and 333).

Geographical Names