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Elizabeth Jennings papers

Collection MS-2007-018: Elizabeth Jennings papers


  • Creation: 1957-1996, undated

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the Elizabeth Jennings papers is composed of original poetry manuscripts dating from 1957-1996. The manuscripts feature both published and unpublished works of adult and children's poetry. The poetry notebooks also contain personal information which begins to appear in the material from 1982 and includes notes regarding colleagues and friends, finances and taxes, items purchased and sold, and information about moving.

The remainder of the collection features manuscripts of prose work (including books, reviews and biographical essays), signed typescripts of poems (including "Art of Verse" and "A May Morning"), personal and professional correspondence, and printed materials and ephemera. Significant among the prose manuscripts are the unpublished A Brief Study of T.S. Eliot and His Life and Jennings' autobiography Without Whom. The correspondence features letters from Sir Alec Guinness and Priscilla Tolkien Cyen, as well as a letter from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood regarding a reception of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note: Elizabeth Jennings

Elizabeth Joan Jennings was born on July 18, 1926, in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, to Henry Cecil Jennings, a medical officer of health, and Helen Mary Turner. Raised as a Roman Catholic, she attended Rye St. Antony School and later Oxford High School. When Jennings was thirteen years old she discovered poetry, first struck by Chesterton's The Battle of Lepanto. She found early encouragement in teachers and an uncle, himself a poet. Jennings studied English at St. Anne's College, Oxford from 1944-1949 where she was first published in 1949 in the annual anthology, Oxford Poetry. By 1953 she also published Poems through Oscar Mellor's Fantasy Press. Jennings and a number of friends from Oxford, including Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, and Thom Gunn were the main contributors to Robert Conquest's anthology New Lines in 1956. This established the "Movement," a literary movement that was anti-romantic and focused on themes of rationality and sobriety.

A Way of Looking garnered Jennings the Somerset Maugham Award in 1956. The award was established for young writers to enrich their craft by traveling abroad, and Jennings did so by means of a three month stay in Italy. Those three months influenced Jennings throughout the rest of her life and work. In 1961 Jennings published Song for a Birth or a Death, a book of religiously inspired poetry, and, in 1962, she was featured in the first volume of the Penguin Modern Poets. At this time she was hospitalized for mental illness, during which time she wrote poems like "Sequence in Hospital," appearing in Recoveries (1964).

Upon her release, she published prolifically, often returning to and revising her previous work, which appeared in successive editions of her Collected Poems (1967). She also published the book Growing Points in 1975 which featured dominant themes of destruction and rejuvenation, as well as children's poetry with advice to children.

Jennings earned financial success with the titles Selected Poems (1979) and Collected Poems (1986); the latter earned her a W.H. Smith Award in 1987. Yet, she seems to have experienced financial difficulty later in life despite being one of the most well-known and respected poets of the time. Many considered her eccentric and she was criticized by the press for receiving the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E) at Buckingham Palace in 1992 looking like a "bag lady."

Her poems and letters reflect her many friendships as well as her interest in the arts with various collections of books, music boxes, and doll house furniture. Jennings died of heart failure in Oxford on October 26, 2001.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "Elizabeth Joan Jennings" Accessed 19 October 2007.


8.5 Linear Feet (18 containers)

Language of Materials



These papers concern the life and work of twentieth-century British writer Elizabeth Jennings. Materials include published and unpublished manuscripts and poetry, poetry notebooks, prose, reviews and essays, printed material, ephemera, and correspondence.


Arranged into eight series: I. Correspondence; II. Manuscripts of published books; III. Manuscripts of unpublished work; IV. Poetry typescripts; V. Poetry manuscripts; VI. Poetry notebooks; VII. Printed material and ephemera; VIII. Reviews and essay.

Series I. Correspondence is divided into three subseries: A. Financial; B. Personal; and C. Professional.

Series V. Poetry manuscripts is divided into two subseries: A. Adult poetry and B. Children's poetry.

Series VI. Poetry notebooks is divided into two subseries: A. Adult poetry and B. Children's poetry.


This collection was acquired through purchases from Bertram Rota, Ltd. (1990), David J. Holmes Autographs (1992-1996), and Michael Laird Rare Books (2021), as well as through a gift of Philip C. Garber (1992). This collection also includes some materials received prior to 1986, when the current accessioning system was established. It is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time.

Elizabeth Jennings Papers
1957-1996, undated
Carolyn Han, 2007-2008; Revised by Amy Braitsch and AnneMarie Anderson, 2008; Revised by Ray Hartley in 2018; Revised by Molly Ogrodnik
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022 December: Incorporated small accrual of 13 poems.

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States