British Library Beats US Bid To Save Laurie Lee Archive For Nation

By David Prudames | 16 May 2003
Shows Kathy Lee, widow of Laurie Lee, and her daughter Jessy, with the trunk containing the manuscript of Cider with Rosie.

Left: Kathy Lee, widow of Laurie Lee, and her daughter Jessy, with the trunk containing the manuscript of Cider with Rosie.

Fending off substantial overseas interest, the British Library has saved for the nation the original manuscripts, letters and diaries of Laurie Lee.

Acquired from Lee's widow, the archive provides a personal link to one of the twentieth century's most celebrated British authors.

While an exact figure for the purchase has not been revealed, it is known that the British Library was able to beat off interest from overseas, which included Yale University in the USA.

The much-loved author who died in 1997 is perhaps most famous for his semi-autobiographical novel, Cider with Rosie. However, his literary output was huge and included numerous volumes of poetry, several other prose works, filmscripts and plays.

Shows a manuscript by Laurie Lee.

Right: although the exact figure paid for the archive has not been revealed a spokesperson at the British Library said, "it reflected its worth."

“We are thrilled to have acquired the papers of Laurie Lee, a writer who occupies such an important place in the nation's literary consciousness,” enthused Dr Chris Fletcher, a Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts at the British Library.

“In Cider with Rosie, of which we have the complete manuscript together with tin trunk, he gave us the ultimate enduring picture of rural life in a rapidly changing world. The Laurie Lee archive makes a perfect addition to the Library's existing holdings of manuscripts by British twentieth century authors.”

As well as the original manuscripts of his work, the archive contains diaries, notebooks and correspondence from a wide variety of figures in British twentieth century cultural life.

Lee was born in Slad, Gloucestershire in 1914, where he would spend most of his life and where his widow Kathy still lives.

Shows the archive of Laurie Lee arriving at the British Library.

Left: not just any bundle of papers - the archive of Laurie Lee arrives at the British Library.

In 1937, like many young thinkers of the era, he joined the International Brigade to fight in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). His time in Spain, both before and during the civil war, is described in the works, As I walked out one Midsummer Morning and A Moment of War.

After spending the Second World War making documentary films for the General Post Office, Crown Film Unit and Ministry of Information, Lee embarked on a literary career publishing several volumes of poetry including The Sun My Monument (1944) and My Many Coated Man (1955).

Inevitably, however, he will be best remembered for the touching account of his childhood and early adult life in the Gloucestershire countryside, Cider with Rosie.

The archive will be made available for consultation by scholars later this year, while the Library has plans to put some of its highlights on public display in the near future.

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