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Viola Baxter Jordan papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 175
Scope and Contents

The Viola Baxter Jordan Papers document Jordan's friendships with the poets Ezra Pound, H.D., and William Carlos Williams. The papers span the dates 1905-1951 and have been organized into three series: I. Correspondence; II. Writings; and III. Other Papers.

Series I, Correspondence , is housed in Boxes 1-3 and is organized into two alphabetically arranged subseries. The first, Viola Baxter Jordan Correspondence, primarily consists of letters received by Jordan from Ezra Pound; H.D. and her companion Bryher; and William Carlos Williams.

Jordan's letters from her earliest literary friend, Ezra Pound, are located in folders 48-90. Pound's first letter to Jordan, written shortly after their meeting in July 1905, notes that he recently read "Browning's 'Columbe's Birthday' and destroyed a bushel or two of my archives..." These early letters are filled with remarks on books read and classes taken; music and art; student life at the University of Pennsylvania; and comments on Pound's own poetry. In 1906 he boasts that "incautious editors are beginning to return it with encouraging remarks instead of kuss words." He also offers jocular advice on dating and marriage.

Even in letters from his first years in Europe, Pound continued to discuss literature and the arts in general: folder 61 contains a lengthy attempt by Pound to explain the troubadours, "animal passion," his work in Provença, and his own strong opinions about artistic truth: "The rottenest morality that an artist can have is that sniveling "idealism" which tries to pretend that life is something more prudish than god made it." Gradually Pound began to describe the European scene to his American friend. His letters from London in 1914 and 1915 detail the authors and artists he is meeting; his impressions of London society; and his increasing irritation with Jordan's "provincial nonsense" about art and literature. The final letter in this portion of their correspondence, dated April 1915, compares her mind to "slightly hardened putty."

The correspondence lapsed for almost twenty years at this point, but in 1933 Jordan contacted Pound in Italy and their exchange resumed. Pound's letters from the 1930s and early 1940s are filled with news of his family and his political and economic opinions; disparaging commentary on the state of American politics and culture; and repeated thanks for presents of magazines, tea, coffee and a coffeemaker. Pound also defended his Rome Radio broadcasts, insisting in his last letter before America's declaration of war on the Axis powers: "IF you ever listened to my charming voice you wd realize that I dont despise America" (Box 2, folder 77).

In 1945, Pound wrote to Jordan four days after arriving at the Washington D.C. jail: "First chance I have had to write as was incommunicado at Pisa." He sent news of his families in Italy and concluded, "send me yr news. Eliot, Mencken, cummings all sendin' moral support."

Pound's letters from St. Elizabeth's Hospital fill folders 78-90. Mostly brief, these notes thank Jordan for presents of food, newspapers, cigarettes and flowers; send news of his daughter Mary and of Olga Rudge; and remark on the dullness of his daily routine at St. Elizabeth's. He repeatedly asked for news of mutual friends and other literary figures, and urged her to continue writing to him. Pound also gave Jordan advice about requests by scholars and universities for access to their correspondence: "Strongly object to yr giving anything to universities....they shd be made to pay thru nose..." (folder 84). There are no letters from Pound later than 1950 in the collection, although he and Jordan continued to correspond.

In contrast to Pound's early letters, those of William Carlos Williams were flirtatious and introspective. He addresses Jordan as "charming creature of transparent contradictions" and asserts that "you love me very desperately." Many of the early letters contain speculation on the nature of love, the emotional differences between men and women, and their own characters. In a letter of December 5, 1911, Williams informs her that "Virginity is a myth .... To be alive means you are committed against virginity."

Williams' first letter to Jordan after his 1912 marriage expresses concern at her recent silence: "I presume you are silent out of discretion, surely not out of desire?" But by 1914 the correspondence resumed on a friendly footing. In addition to invitations and plans for social occasions, the letters contain family news and display Williams' irritation at Jordan's taste for traditional poetry. "All the gush and sentiment in the world will not take the place of accurate observation," he wrote in an early 1920s letter. Williams was still remarking on this in 1937: "you'd like to ride a beautiful white horse through fields of lily of the valley till you swooned."

There are also occasional humorous comments on "Ezry." But a letter written in December 1945 describes Williams' anger at Pound's radio broadcasts from Rome. "He seems to be getting out of it the modern way--by pretending madness. Why doesn't he....acknowledge his guilt and take it in the neck?"

Williams often asked Jordan for news of their mutual friend H.D., whose own letters to Jordan fill folders 24-44. H.D.'s early letters describe travel in Europe and in the United States and repeatedly assure Jordan that her letters are welcome, She describes her film ventures and her work on Close Up with Kenneth MacPherson, and thanks Jordan for American "movie magazines" and reviews of current films. H.D. also comments on their experiences of motherhood and frequently touches on their shared interests in astrology, numerology and other occult topics, sending an elaborate Tarot reading for Jordan in February 1930 and encouraging her to record her own occult "experiences."

There are a few comments on H.D's own writing throughout the correspondence. A 1928 letter discusses her irritation with her own literary persona: "No one really much likes my own prose but I can't be held up by what the critics say H.D. ought to be like....I say WHO is H.D.? They all think they know more...than I." Jordan's dislike of modern poetry is noted: "My book of poems is announced...You will prob. not like it." (Box 1, folder 37)

H.D.'s wartime letters are filled with thanks for numerous packages from Jordan; descriptions of living conditions, the public mood in England, and her life with Bryher; news of her daughter Perdita's war work and social life; and her attempts to continue writing. There are also frequent allusions to Pound and to their lack of information about his activities. H.D. reports rumors that he has gone to Berlin to work directly for the Nazis, as well as her own belief that he has been "foolhardy."

Folders 40-42 contain letters written from Switzerland after H.D's breakdown and hospitalization in 1946. These contain nostalgic descriptions of old friends and college life; reports on Perdita's work and marriage; comments on psychoanalysis and literature; her growing friendship with Norman Holmes Pearson; and remarks on the refugee situation in Switzerland and Bryher's political opinions.

Bryher's own letters to "Dear Mrs. Jordan" (Box 1, folders 3-19) began with a thank-you note for a parcel of cigarettes written in H.D.'s absence and an explanation of her name, apparently at Jordan's request: "it is not unusual over here as a name but it is actually a surname." Her letters contain descriptions of wartime privations, rationing, blackouts, air raids and censorship: "We have V2 quite a bit but we must not write anything about it" (Box 1, folder 12). Her references to Pound and his arrest for treason are more negative than H.D.'s; in 1946 she remarks that "maybe he was crazy, I hope he was" but observes that "he should think himself very lucky to be an American....the two British were hung" (folder 14). Bryher's letters from Switzerland after the war contain detailed discussion of H.D.'s condition and extensive comments on recent European politics.

Third Party Correspondence consists of brief letters from Ezra Pound to Jordan's sister Gwendolyn Baxter and is located in Box 3, folder 108.

Series II, Writings , is located in Box 3, folders 110-141 and is organized into two subseries, Writings by Ezra Pound and Writings by William Carlos Williams. Each subseries is arranged alphabetically by title of work.

The majority of the Ezra Pound writings are early poems that Pound sent to Viola Jordan, some annotated with requests that she retype them and submit them to various magazines for him. "Christopher Columbi Tumulus," "Joachim du Bellay Loquitur," and "Purveyor's General" are accompanied by Jordan's typed copies and by rejection letters from Harper's and Scribner's. Many of these early typescripts are signed and dated by Pound. Folder 126 contains a typescript carbon of "More Jazz," a 1935 satire on Roosevelt's banking policy.

Folders 137-41 hold typescript copies of poems and two short prose pieces by William Carlos Williams. One of the prose pieces, "About Movie Tempo," is signed and dated by Williams.

Series III, Other Papers , is housed in folders 142-48 and includes two dance cards, a brochure for the Albergo Rapallo annotated by Pound, a calling card, and newspaper clippings.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 4: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Viola Baxter Jordan Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchases from and gift of Viola Baxter Jordan, 1957-1968. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Associated Materials

Ezra Pound Papers, YCAL MSS 43 Susan Cordelia Jordan, Scrapbook Relating to Ezra Pound, YCAL MSS 107

1.04 Linear Feet (4 boxes)
Related Names
Jordan, Viola Baxter, 1887-1973
Language of Materials