Laura Riding Jackson (1901-1991) was an American poet, critic, and editor. She was closely associated with the Fugitive group, a cluster of American Southern writers centered at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, which included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. She had a long partnership with Robert Graves; together they co-founded the Seizin Press, published several volumes of poetry, and co-edited the literary journal Epilogue. Jackson is generally acknowledged to have influenced the work of Graves, the New Zealand filmmaker Len Lye, and the writers James Reeves, Norman Cameron, T. S. Matthews, Jacob Bronowski, and W. H. Auden. The collection consists of correspondence between Jackson and Robert Nye, a British author, editor, and playwright, as well as manuscripts, newspaper and magazine clippings, and photographs. Subjects discussed include writers and writings, Martin Seymour-Smith, Robert Graves, and Nye.
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The papers of Laura Riding Jackson consist primarily of her correspondence, postcards, and notes to British writer Robert Nye. They also include manuscripts of two essays, seven photographs chiefly of Laura and Schuyler Jackson, and several clippings. The main topics include poetry, writing, language, and the pursuit of self-knowledge. Other subjects include her personal activities and observations on Martin Seymour-Smith, Robert Graves, and Nye himself. The correspondence also includes comments on several poets and writers, in particular, James Joyce, Hart Crane, Arthur Rimbaud, James Reeves, and George Buchanan.
Laura Riding Jackson (1901-1991) spent her life in pursuit of truth through poetry and her language work. At the beginning of her career, she associated with the Fugitives, a group of Southern poets and critics, who supported and encouraged her poetry; later she became a close collaborator and intimate of the British poet Robert Graves. But her desire to express absolute truth led her to renounce poetry and turn instead to the study of language. Because of her compulsive individualism, Laura became a controversial figure, considered a madwoman by her detractors or a prophet by her supporters.
She was born Laura Reichenthal on January 16, 1901, in New York City. An Austrian immigrant, her father Nathan Reichenthal was a failed businessman and active Socialist. Laura was the daughter of his second wife, Sadie Edersheim, a German-Jewish sweatshop worker. Laura rejected her father's socialism and, though aware of her Jewish heritage, did not practice Judaism. After graduating from Girls' High School in Brooklyn, she received a scholarship and attended Cornell University. Although she never completed her degree at Cornell, she did meet Louis Gottschalk, then a graduate history student at the university, whom she married in 1920.
During their marriage, Louis Gottschalk taught at the University of Louisville, enabling Laura to meet Allen Tate and other members of the Fugitives. The group encouraged her poetry, and, beginning in 1923, she began to publish under the name Laura Riding Gottschalk. Her first book of poetry, The Close Chaplet, appeared in 1926. Fugitive member John Crowe Ransom sent her poems to his friend Robert Graves who then invited Laura to visit him in England. Meanwhile, she alienated the Fugitives by attempting to claim leadership of the group. During this period, her marriage was unravelling as well; it was dissolved on the basis of incompatibility in 1925.
In 1926, Laura Riding, as she now called herself, took Graves's offer and moved in with him and his wife, Nancy Nicholson. Laura and Graves collaborated on a number of projects; the first, A Survey of Modernist Poetry, published in 1927, concerned their views of contemporary poetry and set forth a method of textual analysis. Other joint projects were A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928) and No Decency Left (under the pseudonym Barbara Rich). They also co-founded the Seizin Press (1927-1938) and co-edited the Epilogue, a literary magazine.
However their relationship, which had become more a friendship, was plagued with controversy. In 1929, Laura jumped out of a fourth-story window during a heated argument with Graves and two others; she broke her back and suffered complications from her injury the rest of her life. Laura and Graves then left England for Deia in Majorca because of a scandal involving the poet Geoffrey Phibbs. Phibbs, with whom Laura was having an affair, left her for Graves's wife, and Laura attempted suicide. Graves and Laura moved Seizin Press to Majorca as well and collected around them a small group of poets and artists, including film-maker Len Lyle, and writers James Reeves, Norman Cameron, T. S. Matthews, and Jacob Bronowski.
Until forced to leave Deia by the Spanish Civil War, Laura and Graves were involved in an intense and compelling relationship. During this period she published poetry, essays, and fiction. Full length works include fiction--Progress of Stories (1935), A Trojan Ending (1937), and Lives of Wives (1939)--and collections of poetry--Poems : a joking word (1930), Twenty Poems Less (1930), and Collected Poems (1938).
In Under the Influence , T. S. Matthews describes Laura:
I had never met anyone who worked as hard as Laura did. She wrote for most of the day and often late into the night--stories, poems, criticism, letters. She always had two or three books going on at a time. Besides her own work, and collaboratives with Robert (Graves), she had a hand in many other pies, helping, advising, "straightening out the muddle" in someone else's poem, picture, sculpture, novel.
The material is organized into four series:
The papers of Laura Riding Jackson were purchased by the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in 1974.
When the collection was originally arranged and described in 1979, it was organized into one series of five categories arranged alphabetically: "Clippings + Notes," "Correspondence," "Robert Frost," "How to Think of Women," and "Martin Seymour-Smith." There were separate folders for Laura's essays, a letter mentioning Robert Frost, and clippings. When the collection was reprocessed in 1996, the letters were arranged into one series, and the letter mentioning Robert Frost was interfiled with the other letters in its proper chronological sequence. Undated notes, gift cards, and a postcard were separated from the "Clippings + Notes" and filed with the correspondence. A second series was created for the essays. The clippings became a third series and were photocopied onto acid-free paper, and the originals discarded. Individual documents comprising more than one page were clipped together with plastic fasteners. The photographs, formerly housed in a separate miscellaneous photograph collection, were reunited with the remainder of the collection to form the fourth series. When the photographs were processed in the 1970s, they were dry-mounted onto archival matte board and identification was recorded on the matte boards. In 1996, these matte boards were placed in Mylar sleeves and then in acid-free folders. The entire collection was then rehoused in new archival acid-free boxes.