Researching the life of Pamela Frankau

This week’s blog post looks at two literary figures who are the subject of a recently catalogued collection in Special Collections.

Pamela Frankau
Pamela Frankau was born on 3 January 1908. She was the younger of two daughters of the novelist Gilbert Frankau (1884-1952) and his first wife Dorothea Frances Drummond Black. After Gilbert left the family in 1919, Pamela and her sister, Ursula, were sent as boarders to Burgess Hill School for Girls in Sussex. While initially keen to pursue the stage, her gift for writing soon took over.

Photograph of Pamela Frankau [MS 412 A4104/3/1/3]

Photograph of Pamela Frankau [MS 412 A4104/3/1/3]

Pamela’s paternal grandmother, Julia Frankau (1859-1916), was also a successful novelist, writing under the name ‘Frank Danby’. According to Pamela’s cousin Diana Raymond, it was through her grandmother that she inherited a strong Jewish literary inheritance. Pamela published her first novel, Marriage of Harlequin (1927), at the age of nineteen at which time she was recognised as the “talented daughter of a famous father”. Over the years, however, her success would match that of her father and by the time she was thirty she had already written twenty novels.

In 1931 she met the poet Humbert Wolfe, with whom she had a long term relationship which lasted until his death in 1940. In the years following Wolfe’s death she spent much of her time in the States and didn’t publish another novel for almost a decade. It was during this time that she converted to Roman Catholicism. She married Marshall Dill (1916–2000), an American naval intelligence officer, in 1945 but the marriage foundered, and ended in divorce in 1951. She also had a number of intimate relationships with women throughout her life, including theatre director Margaret Webster, which began in the mid-1950s.

In 1949, she published her most successful novel, The Willow Cabin, which was partially based on her relationship with Wolfe. While many of her novels received high acclaim during her lifetime, A Wreath for the Enemy, first published in 1954, remains arguably her most enduring work. It tells the story of a young couple whose paths cross one summer on the French Riviera. However, Diana Raymond notes that Pamela’s favourite of her own works was The Bridge, published in 1957, which examines the imperatives of the Roman Catholic faith.

After a long struggle with cancer, Pamela Frankau died on 8 June 1967, at the age of fifty-nine.

Diana Raymond
Diana Raymond was Pamela’s cousin and the two women had a strong personal relationship. Born on 25 April 1916, Diana started writing at the age of sixteen. While her first novel, ‘The Lovely Travellers’, was turned down by publishers, Pamela encouraged her to continue writing. Her second novel, The Door Stood Open, was published when she was nineteen. During her long career, she wrote more than twenty novels, as well as an autobiography and the play John Keats Lived Here.

Photograph of Diana Raymond [MS 412 A4104/2/1/4]

Photograph of Diana Raymond [MS 412 A4104/2/1/4]

In 1940 she married the novelist Ernest Raymond. While initially overshowed by his reputation, over time she developed her own distinct voice with her obituary in the Independent describing her novels as being “infused with wit and metaphysics”. Her novels include Are You Travelling Alone, a political novel published in 1969; The Dark Journey, a haunting romance published in 1978; and her most popular novel, Lily’s Daughter, a social satire published in 1988. The latter novel tells the story of a young woman’s coming of age in 1930s England and contains many biographical elements.

After Pamela’s death in 1967, Diana completed and provided an introduction to her final novel Colonel Blessington, a thriller, published in 1968. Diana also provided the introduction for a reissue of Pamela’s novel The Winged Horse and, in 1988, was commissioned to write a biography titled ‘Pamela Frankau: A Life’. However, as her research progressed Pamela’s popularity was on the wane and the project was eventually abandoned.

The collection
The material in MS 412 primarily relates to Diana Raymond’s research for her biography of Pamela Frankau. In addition to research notes, the collection contains a range of correspondence. This includes correspondence between Diana and Timothy D’Arch Smith, the son of Pamela’s older sister Ursula. Timothy is a bibliographer, author and antiquarian bookseller. After her death, he became Pamela’s literary executor and was a strong supporter of Diana’s research. There is also a selection of earlier correspondence between Pamela, Diana and others, primarily concerning the publication of Pamela’s novels.

The collection also contains a number of works by Pamela Frankau. These include scripts for Ask Me No More, The Duchess and the Smugs, Time to be Going and To The Moment of Triumph. Stories include ‘The Giant-Killer’, ‘Shakes the Stars’, and ‘Marriage of Minds’, alongside a number of pieces written by Pamela’s sister Ursula, including ‘The Clausewitz Report’, an unfinished novel.

Other collections relating to Pamela Frankau can be found at the BBC Written Archives Centre, Boston College, and the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

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2 responses to “Researching the life of Pamela Frankau

  1. A WordPress search brought me to your blog. I love Pamela Frankau and I am currently reading A Wreath for the Enemy. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Diana Raymond though. I am naturally intrigued.

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