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Hope Mirrlees papers

 Collection 0045-LIT

Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978) was an author of novels, poems, and translations. However, she is most remembered for her circle of literary friends, which included T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Lady Ottoline Morrell. She published two novels, Lud-in-the-Mist and Counterplot, and a book of poetry, Moods and Tensions: Poems. She began, but never completed, a biography of seventeenth-century British antiquarian Sir Robert Bruce Cotton; part of this was published as A Fly in Amber in 1962. With Jane Harrison, she produced two translations of Russian literature, The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself and The Book of the Bear. Her papers consist solely of correspondence; significant correspondents include T. S. Eliot, Ottoline Morrell, Virginia Woolf, and Leonard Woolf.


  • 1920-1960

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The papers of Hope Mirrlees, which cover the period 1919 to 1974, consist primarily of correspondence, both letters and postcards, to Hope Mirrlees and her mother, Emily Moncrieff Mirrlees. T. S. Eliot is the primary correspondent, but the collection also contains letters from Leonard and Virginia Woolf and Lady Ottoline Morrell. The major topics include writing, mutual acquaintances, social events, family and personal affairs.


Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978), author of novels, poems and translations, is also remembered for her distinguished literary friends, including T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Her 1926 novel, Lud-in-the-Mist, has been recognized by science fiction critics as an outstanding example of English fantasy writing. Her work, however, has been overshadowed by the great literary men and women of post-World-War-I Britain with whom she associated.

Helen Hope Mirrlees was born in England in 1887, the daughter of William J. Mirrlees, a wealthy sugar merchant, and Emily Lena Moncrieff. Her elder sister, Margot, married into the landed gentry of Oxfordshire, and her younger brother, William, was a professional soldier who later became a major general. Mirrlees spent part of her childhood in South Africa and received her early education from a French governess. She returned to England to finish her education at St. Leonard's School in St. Andrews, Scotland. Mirrlees abandoned her early theatrical ambitions to study classics at Newnham College of Cambridge University. Jane Harrison, a Greek scholar and lecturer in classical archaeology at the college, became Mirrlees's friend and mentor, and together they travelled to Paris in 1915 to study Russian. Also at Newnham College, Mirrlees met Karin Costelloe, later studying French with her in Paris. Costelloe married Virginia Woolf's brother, Adrian Stephen, in October 1914. Through this association, Mirrlees became acquainted with Woolf.

Woolf and Mirrlees met in 1917 and remained acquaintances through the 1930s. Woolf described Mirrlees in a March 22, 1919, diary entry:

[Mirrlees is] a very self conscious, wilful, prickly & perverse young woman, rather conspicuously well dressed & pretty, with a view of her own about books & style, an aristocratic & conservative tendency in opinion, & a corresponding taste for the beautiful & elaborate in literature. . . . She uses a great number of French words, which she pronounces exquisitely; she seems capricious in her friendships, & no more to be marshalled with the long goose wand which I can sometimes apply to people than a flock of bright green parrokeets.

Woolf asked Mirrlees to correspond with her; Mirrlees responded, "O no. I can't write to people" ( Diary, March 22, 1919). In a January 1919 diary entry, Woolf included Mirrlees on a list of those she considered friends, and Mirrlees spent a weekend with the Woolfs at their country home, Asheham, in September 1919.

Woolf seems to have had ambivalent feelings about Mirrlees's writing. In 1919, she reluctantly reviewed Mirrlees's first novel, Madeleine: One of Love's Jansenists, for the Times Literary Supplement. The review disappointed Mirrlees who had spent several years working on the book and had difficulty getting the work published. However, Leonard and Virginia Woolf requested a story from Mirrlees to be published by their own house, Hogarth Press. Mirrlees produced a poem, Paris, which Virginia Woolf pronounced, "obscure, indecent and brilliant" ( Letters of Virginia Woolf, 385), and in May 1920 the poem became one of the first works published by Hogarth Press.

Mirrlees also was acquainted with one of the foremost literary hostesses of the early twentieth century, Lady Ottoline Morrell. Lady Morrell's circle of friends, including Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley, were known as the Bloomsbury Group. As early as 1919, Mirrlees visited the Morrell home during her stays in London and remained a close acquaintance of Lady Morrell for almost twenty years.

In 1922, Mirrlees moved to Paris with Jane Harrison. Together, they produced two Russian translations. The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself (Hogarth Press, 1924) was the first English translation of the earliest autobiography written in the Russian language. Their second collaborative translation was The Book of the Bear (1926), a collection of Russian folk tales about bears. Leonard and Virginia Woolf visited Mirrlees and Harrison in Paris in 1923, and Mirrlees continued to make frequent trips back to England to visit her friends and family. She produced two other novels, Counterplot (1924) and Lud-in-the-Mist (1926), both of which received generally favorable reviews. Mirrlees returned to England after the death of Jane Harrison in 1928 and rented an apartment in London.

Lud-in-the-Mist was Mirrlees's last novel. Shortly after its publication she began researching what was to become her lifework, a biography of seventeenth-century British antiquarian, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. One volume of this work, entitled A Fly in Amber, was published in 1962 by Faber and Faber. T. S. Eliot, a director of Faber and Faber, took close interest in Mirrlees's progress. Their relationship grew from a professional acquaintance into a close personal friendship. Eliot boarded at Shamley Green, the Mirrlees family home near Surrey, to escape London during World War II and corresponded regularly with Hope and her mother even after the war. Eliot wrote to Mirrlees that "it may be that I did there what will be regarded as my best work" (December 7, 1952).

After her mother's death in the late 1940s, Mirrlees travelled to Paris, Egypt and eventually Cape Town, South Africa. She lived in Cape Town for the next eleven years and continued to work on A Fly in Amber. In the biography, Mirrlees digresses into a survey of seventeenth-century British society, science and culture. Mirrlees never completed a proposed second volume to this work. Instead, her last work was a small book of poems entitled Moods and Tensions: Poems (1965). Mirrlees returned to England sometime before 1974, where she died in 1978.


The collection is organized as four series:

Series 1
Correspondence from T.S. Eliot
Series 2
Correspondence from Lady Ottoline Morrell
Series 3
Correspondence from Virginia and Leonard Woolf
Series 4
Miscellaneous Correspondence

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The papers of Hope Mirrlees were purchased by the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in June 1974.

Related Material

The University of Maryland Libraries' Special Collections holdings include T. S. Eliot materials that were acquired from various sources, now organized as the T. S. Eliot Collection.

The papers of Lady Ottoline Morrell, also maintained by the department, contain correspondence from Lady Ottoline to Siegfried Sassoon, one of the members of the Bloomsbury group, from 1919 to 1934. The correspondence addresses the countryside, World War I, literature, poetry and travel.

Processing Information

The correspondence in this collection was originally arranged by recipient and secondarily by sender. The papers have been rearranged and divided into series structured alphabetically by sender. Items within the series are in chronological order. Letters have been removed from envelopes and flattened. Envelopes have been retained and attached to their original contents. Metal paper clips have been replaced with plastic clips. Newspaper clippings have been enveloped in acid-free paper. The materials have been placed in acid-free folders.

Guide to the Hope Mirrlees papers
Processed by: Janet Saunders.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742