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Letter, 24 January 1959, to Vernon Watkins from Willa Muir

Identifier: Coll-1488

Scope and Contents

The letter in Muir's own hand, and signed, is dated 24 January 1959, Priory Cottage, Swaffham Prior, Cambridge, and is addressed to 'Dear Vernon Watkins'. The letter is responding to Watkins' correspondence on the death of her husband, Edwin Muir. She writes that the letter 'will be a comfort to me later, when Edwin's presence in this cottage will have ceased to emphasise his absence, as it surely must do'. She has 'been half demented [...] with grief and exhaustion'. She ends by saying that the 'time for comfort is not yet, but I do thank you'.

The letter is accompanied by the stamped and postmarked cover, Cambridge7.15 pm. 25 January 1959, addressed to Vernon Watkins Esq. / The Garth / Pennard Cliffs / near Swansea


  • Creation: 1959


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Biographical / Historical

Willa Muir was born Wilhelmina Johnston Anderson on the Shetland island of Unst in 1890. She was brought up in Montrose, Angus, before studying at St. Andrews - one of the first women to study for a University degree. In 1910, she graduated with a degree in Classics. She became Vice-Principal of a teacher training college in London, but left in 1919 when she married the critic and poet, Edwin Muir (1887-1959) who became one of the central figures of the modern Scottish cultural renaissance. During the First World War years, Willa Muir undertook postgraduate study in psychology and was interested in the then relatively recent work of Freud and Jung into the unconscious mind and the interpretation of dreams. The inter-war years saw the Muirs travelling Europe - the then new Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria and Italy - absorbing developments in European literature and translating more than forty novels, the best known being works of Kafka. The more able linguist of the two, she was probably the main translator in these projects, also translating many books herself, under the name of Agnes Neill Scott.

Willa Muir wrote only two novels: Imagined Corners (1931); and, Mrs Ritchie (1933). Both explored the conventions of small town Scottish life, and the effects of Calvinism, and the limitations experienced by women in these settings. In 1936 she wrote two extended essays: Mrs Grundy in Scotland and Women in Scotland, and these examined the roles open to women in contemporary Scotland. After the death of Edwin Muir, she wrote an account of their life together, Belonging: A Memoir (1968). She also wrote a study of oral poetry, Living with Ballads (1965).

Willa Muir died on 22 May 1970.

Vernon Phillips Watkins, born at Maesteg, Glamorgan, on 27 June 1906, was a British poet, translator and painter. He went to Swansea Grammar School, the preparatory school of Tyttenhanger Lodge, Seaford, Sussex, and to Repton School, Derbyshire. He briefly studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge, reading French and German, but did not continue, and worked in banking instead. Always, from a very early age, Watkins had been devoted to the English Romantic poets, and he himself emerged as a poet. He would become one of the very few metaphysical poets of the twentieth century and probably the most distinguished. He was a close friend of Dylan Thomas. During the Second World War he served in the R.A.F. Police and in Intelligence (1941-1946). He married a colleague of his from Intelligence in 1944. Watkins lived all his adult life in Gower, and after his marriage he lived at 'The Garth' on Pennard Cliffs. He received many literary prizes, and was awarded a D.Litt. by the University of Wales in 1966 and became a Gulbenkian Scholar at University College, Swansea. Vernon Watkins died in Seattle on 8 October 1967 during his stay as Visiting Professor of Poetry at the University of Washington.


1 letter

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Material acquired February 2013. Accession no: E2013.58.

Related Materials

Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, also has a 'Collection of papers relating to Edwin Muir', maintained at Coll-445.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Graeme D. Eddie 16 August 2013

Letter from Willa Muir (1890-1970) to Vernon Watkins (1906-1967), 24 January 1959
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

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