James Hanley manuscripts

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Holograph manuscripts of novels, with some correspondence.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hanley, James (1901-1985), novelist and playwright, was born in Dublin in 1901, the son of Edward Hanley, a ship's stoker. The only school Hanley attended was St Alexandra's Roman Catholic primary school, near his home. At the age of twelve he left school and joined the merchant navy, serving in a submarine during the First World War. Three years later he jumped ship at New Brunswick to enlist in the Canadian Black Watch and eventually saw action in France. Invalided out of the army suffering from the effects of gas, he returned to the sea, working as a stoker on troop carriers, which he featured in some of his novels. He continued to educate himself, mainly by reading Russian literature, and having come ashore in the late 1920s earned a precarious living in a variety of jobs in docks, on the railway, and for a while at Aintree racecourse. Many of his early stories were published in the Liverpool Echo, the editor of which, E. Hope Prince, became his mentor.

Hanley's first novel, 'Drift' (1930), and his first volume of stories, 'The German Prisoner' (1930), were published shortly before his move to Wales, where he settled first at Glan Ceirw, Ty-nant, near Corwen in Merioneth, and then, in the autumn of 1941, at Bodynfoel Lodge and Tan-y-ffridd in the village of Llanfechain, Montgomeryshire. His second novel, 'Boy' (1932), was originally published in an edition of 145 copies for subscribers only. An expurgated trade edition followed, but when in 1934 it was issued in a cheap edition, copies were seized by the police and the book was successfully prosecuted for obscenity. The publisher was fined 400 and copies of the book were burnt. Hanley forbade republication of the novel during his lifetime and it was not reissued until 1990.

The first of Hanley's novels about the Furys, a Liverpool Irish family, appeared in 1935 and a volume of autobiography, 'Broken Water', in 1937. On the outbreak of the Second World War he found work with the BBC and later with the Ministry of Information, but his home remained in Llanfechain until 1963, when he and his wife moved to London. During the war he wrote three novels of the sea which are among his best work: 'Hollow Sea' (1938), 'The Ocean' (1941), and 'Sailor's Song' (1943). He also wrote the autobiographical 'No Directions' (1943). Many of his stories and radio plays were broadcast on the BBC Third Programme during the 1940s. During his long residence in Wales, Hanley wrote four books: a collection of essays, 'Don Quixote Drowned' (1953), and the novels 'The Welsh Sonata' (1954), Another World (1971), and 'A Kingdom' (1978). His 'Selected Stories' appeared in 1947 and 'Collected Stories' in 1953. Hanley of bronchial pneumonia died in November 1985.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to the conditions outlined at fonds level