Scope and Contents
The Eric Knight Papers document aspects of the life and literary career of author Eric Knight. The papers span the dates 1908-1944, but the bulk of the material dates from between 1930 and 1942.
The collection consists of two series: Writings, housed in Boxes 1-13, and Personal Papers, located in Boxes 14-15. Oversize material is located in Boxes 16-18.
Between 1930 and 1942, Eric Knight published six novels, a novella, a collection of short stories, and dozens of uncollected stories, articles, and reviews. Series I, Writings , holds typescripts, galleys, and other materials related to these works. The series is divided into two sections, the first devoted to full-length works (Books) and the second to shorter works. Material in Books is arranged alphabetically by title, while Shorter Works have been subdivided into "Articles," "Motion Picture Originals," "Plays," and "Short Stories," with each section alphabetically arranged.
Folder 46 contains the only two items in the collection to mention Knight's first novel, Invitation to Life, a work with an American setting published in 1934. Folders 88-121 contain typescripts, galleys, and a magazine condensation of Song on Your Bugles, which appeared in Great Britain in 1936. The novel was also published in the United States in 1937, with some alterations in the dialect passages.
In his next novels, Knight drew on his experiences of Hollywood. Box 9, folders 186-95 contains the setting typescript of You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, which appeared in 1938 under the pseudonym Richard Hallas and was marketed as "hard-boiled" and in the "style of James M. Cain." The typescript of the never-published Rose Without Warning also dates from this period; the novel concerns a young girl's climb from marathon dance halls to stardom and her complex relationship with her mother. A corrected typescript is located in Boxes 3-4, folders 73-82.
Knight returned to his Yorkshire subject matter in his next two works, The Happy Land (published in Great Britain as Now Pray We for Our Country), and Lassie Come-Home, both of which were published in 1940. The Happy Land details the disintegration of a mining family under the pressures of unemployment and the British dole system, which Knight despised. Typescripts of various drafts and the setting typescript are located in folders 1-43.
Knight's most famous work is Lassie Come-Home, which first appeared in a shorter version in the Saturday Evening Post in December of 1938. (See Box 16, folder 362.) It also is set in impoverished Yorkshire. The collection contains a variety of materials related to this work, including typescripts of what appear to be several drafts, the setting typescript for the longer version, and three folders of fan mail, mostly from schoolchildren. The book was a selection of the Junior Literary Guild, translated into thirteen languages, and made into a successful motion picture starring Roddy McDowall. (See Box 18, folder 387.)
Knight's most popular novel was also his last. This Above All (1941), a tragic love story set during the Battle of Britain, also explores the ambivalence and bitterness of its working-class hero toward English society. It was a Book of the Month Club Main Selection, sold over 35,000 copies in Great Britain alone by the end of 1941, and was translated into several languages. Boxes 6-8 contain various drafts, carbons, and the setting typescript of this work. Box 16, folders 364-65 hold two publicity articles for the film version of This Above All, which mention the changes in plot requested by the Hays Office of movie censors.
The fan letters found in folders 182-85 demonstrate the enthusiastic response of Knight's readers, many of whom referred to "the approaching war" and stressed their support of the British cause. Several English readers praised the novel's "frank criticism" of the worst elements of English life.
Knight's last full-length publication was a collection of stories about his popular Yorkshire hero Sam Small. The setting typescript for Sam Small Flies Again is located in Box 4, folders 83-87.
The shorter works of Eric Knight can be found in Boxes 10-13. The subsection "Articles" consists of nonfiction magazine pieces, alphabetically arranged. These include miscellaneous pieces on travel, writing, and the movie industry. "Britain's Black Ghosts," published in 1938, describes Knight's firsthand look at the results of the dole in Yorkshire, an experience that led to his novel The Happy Land. The typescript of an interview with Leopold Stokowski, accompanied by a Stokowski letter, is located in Box 10, folder 212.
At least eight articles reflect Knight's strong support of the Allied cause during World War II. Box 10, folder 215, for example, contains the text of "They Don't Want Swamps or Jungles," an extremely popular talk first given by Knight on the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Research files for his article on the Polish general Sikorski can be found in folder 216.
"Motion Picture Originals" is Knight's own title for a file of scenarios and fully developed scripts. All are undated, but they were probably written during his tenure in Hollywood in the mid-1930s. The scripts, all apparently unpublished, have been placed in alphabetical order in Box 10, folders 217-26.
Knight spent much of his early career as a movie reviewer, and this aspect of his work is partially documented in Box 11. The collection contains a complete run of his reviews for the Town Crier between February and September 1930. In addition to criticism of specific films, the columns discuss a variety of related subjects, including his dislike of poorly written dialogue in the new "talkies," favorite actors and actresses, and the arbitrary ways of the Pennsylvania movie censors.
Knight published numerous short stories throughout his career. HIs first story, "The Two-Fifty Hat" (Box 13, folder 292), appeared in Liberty in June of 1930. By the late 1930s his stories were appearing frequently in popular fiction magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and Collier's, sometimes after first being published in the little magazine Story. Typescripts, printed copies, and adaptations of these works can be found in Boxes 12-13, folders 260-95.
Many of these stories are also set in Yorkshire, and several involve the "typical Yorkshire hero" Sam Small. Knight's first major success as an author was the publication of his Sam Small novella, "The Flying Yorkshireman," in a 1938 anthology. In addition to several serializations of the work, the collection contains a copy of the Reader's Digest condensation, a high school parody, and a typescript of "Things Is Lookin' Up." Located in Box 12, folder 266, "Things" is a proposal for a musical comedy version which would present the Smalls "just as Eric Knight made them, except that they are now residents of East Sebago, Maine, instead of Yorkshire, England." "The Flying Yorkshireman" was also filmed by Hollywood.
Other stories of interest include "The Marne," which was included in the O. Henry anthology for 1936, and "Never Come Monday," which was broadcast as a radio play in the United States, Great Britain, and South Africa.
Series II, Personal Papers , fills Boxes 14-15 and contains a variety of materials, including artwork, certificates, interviews, lecture notes, and photographs. There are two folders of correspondence, consisting almost entirely of brief personal notes received by Knight during spring and summer of 1941. One letter from Knight to "McCormick," located in folder 315, includes a discussion of Knight's novels and his personal aesthetics.
Knight had planned to become an artist, and examples of his sketches and cartoons are found in Box 14, folders 297-310. These include an early sketchbook, self-portraits and portraits, sketches of Yorkshire characters, and animal studies. Box 14, folder 296 contains architectural drawings by Knight of the house he designed and built in Southern California.
Photographs are located in folders 328-42. In addition to ten folders of photographs of Knight himself, there are portraits of his uncle E. Vernon Creasser, his brothers Edmund and Frederick Knight, and film personalities Joan Fontaine, Roddy McDowall, Lassie, Peri, Mary Pickford, and Anna Mae Wong.
Box 15, folders 343-61 contain material related to Knight's service during World War II. Most of these papers were found in Knight's musette bag after his death in Dutch Guiana in January of 1943. They include five folders of orders, beginning with his initial rejection by the Selective Service in early 1942; a report on "Morale and Special Services"; two folders of notes on Africa; and examples of the pocket guides on which Knight worked. Folder 344 holds Paul Horgan's text of Knight's Citation for the Legion of Merit.
Oversize material is located in Boxes 16-18. The papers have been arranged in series order, and include oversize copies of Knight's writings, memorial scrolls for his two brothers, and large-format photographs.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Box 24 (record album storage): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.
Conditions Governing Use
The Eric Knight 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
Gift of Jere Knight Lindtner, 1948, 1986, 1990.
Organized into four series: I. Writings, 1930-1944, undated. II. Personal Papers, 1908-1943, undated. III. 1986 Acquisition, circa 1940. IV. 1990 Acquisition, 1920-1990, undated.
15.25 Linear Feet ((24 boxes) + 1 art, 1 record album storage)
Language of Materials
The papers contain writings and other papers documenting the literary career of Eric Knight, as well as personal papers, many of which concern his support of the Allied cause in World War II and his military service.
ERIC MOWBRAY KNIGHT (1897-1943)
Eric Mowbray Knight was born on April 10, 1897 in Leeds, the third son of Frederick Harrison and Hilda Creasser Knight. Frederick Knight, a wholesale jeweller, died in the Boer War, leaving his family in poverty. Hilda Knight went to St. Petersburg as governess to the children of Princess Xenia, and later to America, while her sons were distributed among various relatives. Eric Knight was raised by an uncle and aunt in Yorkshire.
Knight began work at twelve, as a bobbin doffer in a Leeds mill, and over the next three years was employed in mills, an engine-works, a sawmill, and a glass factory. In 1912 he joined his mother and his two remaining brothers in Philadelphia, where he became a copy boy for the Philadelphia Press. Soon, however, he was sent back to school, first to Cambridge Latin, then to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design.
During World War I, Knight went to Toronto, joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and served in France as a signaler. Both of his brothers, enlisted in the Pennsylvania 110th Artillery, were killed in France on June 30, 1918. Hilda Creasser Knight died not long after.
Knight served as a captain of artillery in the U. S. Army Reserve until 1926, attempted to paint, and reported for several newspapers in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania. Between 1926 and 1934 he was drama critic and movie critic for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, and during 1930 reviewed movies for the short-lived Town Crier magazine.
He sold his first short story, "The Two-Fifty Hat," to Liberty in 1930, and began contributing to various popular magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, MacLean's, and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1934 his first novel, Invitation to Life, appeared, and he moved to Hollywood as a script writer. His contract was not renewed. Determined to write full time, he designed and built a house in Southern California with the help of his second wife, Jere. In 1936 he published his second novel, Song on Your Bugles, which is set in a poor mining area in Yorkshire and describes the adolescence of an artistic young man.
In 1937 the Knights returned east, settling on a farm in Croton-on-Hudson. Knight's first real success was the publication of his novella, "The Flying Yorkshireman," in an anthology by the same title in 1938. During the later 1930s Knight also taught at the Boulder Writer's Conference and traveled again to Yorkshire, where his observation of the misery among the unemployed inspired his next novel, The Happy Land, a critical but not a popular success. Impoverished Yorkshire was also the setting for his most famous book, Lassie Come-Home (1940), which was a Junior Literary Guild Selection.
At the outbreak of World War II, Knight volunteered his services to the British Ministry of Information. His last novel, This Above All, was set in the Battle of Britain and acclaimed as "the first great novel to come out of the Second World War." It was an immediate best seller in both the United States and England and was made into a 1942 movie starring Joan Fontaine and Tyrone Power.
Knight arrived in England in October 1941 to begin work on the Ministry of Information's film World of Plenty. He also lectured and delivered radio talks on America for the British audience. In 1942, he returned to the United States, became an American citizen, and was commissioned as a captain in the Special Services Division. Knight contributed to many war information films and worked on the military pocket guides to several countries.
In January 1943 Knight was promoted to major and ordered to proceed to Cairo for "temporary duty." On January 13, 1943, he was killed when his transport plane crashed in Dutch Guiana. He received the Legion of Merit posthumously.
Eric Knight was married on July 28, 1917, to Dorothy Hall of Boston. The couple had three daughters: Betty Knight, Winifred Knight Mewborn, and Jennie Knight Moore. They were divorced in 1932.
On December 2, 1932, Knight married Jere Brylawski, herself a writer and story editor, in Philadelphia.
- Audiovisual materials
- Dogs in literature
- Dogs in motion pictures
- England, Northern
- Film criticism
- Great Britain -- Economic conditions -- 1918-1945
- Great Britain -- Social conditions -- 20th Century
- Knight, Eric, 1897-1943
- Motion pictures -- Reviews
- Moving-picture critics
- United States. Army (History World War, 1939-1945)
- United States. Army (Information services)
- World War, 1939-1945 -- England
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Literature and the war
- Guide to the Eric Knight Papers
- by Diane J. Ducharme, Brooke McManus
- May 1989. Revised: September 2021
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- 2010-02-10: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.
- 2007-08-13: beinecke.knight.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
- 2007-03-08: PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[ERIC KNIGHT PAPERS ])//EN" "knight.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.