Elizabeth Jennings was born on July 18, 1926, in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, the daughter of a physician, Henry Cecil Jennings. She attended Oxford High School, afterwards reading English at St. Anne's College, Oxford where she earned an M.A. with honors (1945-1949).
Jennings discovered poetry at the age of thirteen, with G.K. Chesterton's, "Battle of Lepanto," followed by S.T. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," as well as the odes of John Keats. From the beginning, her interest gravitated to lyric poetry. As a young adolescent, she was encouraged by teachers and an uncle, who was himself a poet. It was at Oxford, however, that she found her artistic niche. Here, she "found the most congenial kind of atmosphere in which a poet can write - friends who were themselves poets and who also seemed to be interested in my work as they were in their own. I received ruthless criticism, certainly, but I always felt that the people who criticized my work really wanted me to write better, really believed in and cared about me..." (Dictionary of Literary Biography, 27, p.165). These friendships were the beginning of what J.D. Scott, in an article in "The Spectator" (October 1, 1954), would term "The Movement."
The "angry young men" usually referred to as comprising The Movement, were Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Donald Davie, D.J. Enright, Thom Gunn, John Holloway, Philip Larkin, John Wain, and Jennings. Having already been published in "Oxford Poetry 1948," Jennings found that her work suited the taste of the new editors for 1949, namely Amis and James Michie, who called for toughness and modernity. Blake Morrison, now the main source of information on The Movement, notes that "Jennings' part in the Movement has sometimes been disputed" (Dictionary of Literary Biography, ibid.). Robert Conquest recalls that "someone once described her association with us as comparable to that of a schoolmistress in a non-corridor train with a bunch of drunk marines - slight slander on both sides." However, Morrison concludes that "it is doubtful whether her work would have developed as it did had it not been for her exposure to the Oxford climate of the later 1940s and early 1950s." Jennings had become a permanent resident of the Oxford environs since her unversity days.
From 1950 to 1958, Jennings worked at the Oxford City Library. She then joined Chatto and Windus publishers as a reader from 1958 to 1960, after which she would work independently as a free-lance writer and full-time poet based in her home in Oxford. Jennings contributes many articles and reviews, as well as poetry to periodicals including, the "Daily Telegraph," "Encounter," "New Statesman," the "New Yorker," "The Scotsman," the "Spectator," "Vogue," and others.
In 1974, Jennings was Guildersleeve Lecturer at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York. She is a member of the Society of Authors, and has been recognized by the following awards and honors: Arts Council award, 1953 for "Poems"; Somerset Maugham Award, 1956, for "A Way of Looking"; Arts Council bursary, 1965 and 1968; Richard Hillary Memorial Prize, 1966, for "The Mind has Mountains"; Arts Council grant, 1972; and the W.H. Smith Award, 1987, for "Collected Poems."
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The Elizabeth Jennings Papers consist of two parts: correspondence and manuscripts. The description and indexes for each are bound in two separate volumes and are designated Series 1 and Series 2, respectively.
Correspondence is organized by individual name and arranged alphabetically. Also included is correspondence from cultural organizations, museums, and publishers, as well as fan letters.
Notable correspondents include many contemporary poets and writers such as, John Betjeman, Charles Causley, Cecil Day-Lewis, Margaret Drabble, Roy Fuller, Laurie Lee, Peter Levi, Ruth Pitter, Anne Ridler, A.L. Rowse, Stephen Spender, Anthony Thwaite, and John Wain. Internationally acclaimed actors Sir John Gielgud and Alec Guinness are also represented by lengthy correspondence. Of special interest is the extensive correspondence from long-time friend, Dame Cicely Veronica Wedgewood, the well-respected historian and writer. Dating from early 1969 to the end of 1971, the letters were sent when Jennings was going through a long period of depression.
Series 2 (manuscripts), consists of notebooks of autograph first drafts of poems by Jennings dating from 1972 to 1983.
BULK DATES: 1969 - 1989
SPAN DATES: 1957 - 1989
EXTENT: 2 boxes