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Donald Davie papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 439

Scope and Contents

The Donald Davie Papers document the work of the British poet and literary critic, Donald Davie (1922-1995). The papers consist of correspondence; manuscripts and notes for articles, books, lectures, poems, and reviews; clippings of reviews of Davie's books; journals and notebooks; biographical materials; and subject files. The collection spans the years 1926 to 1995, but the bulk of the material is from the 1970s to the 1990s. The collection is organized into four series: Correspondence, Writings, Journals and Notebooks, and Other Papers. It is housed in 32 boxes.

Series I, Correspondence , mainly contains letters to Davie, although there are also some drafts of letters from him. The letters are from poets, literary critics, and publishers. The letters discuss the literary world, the academic environment, Davie's writing, and the writing of others. Correspondents include Michael J. Alexander, Massimo Bacigalupo, Martin Dodsworth, Reginald Gibbons, Thom Gunn, Eva Hesse, Angela Livingstone, Samuel Menashe, George Oppen, Robert Pinsky, Michael Schmidt, C. H. Sisson, and Clive Wilmer, among others. Some of the letters (for example, those from Janet Lewis) are also addressed to Doreen Davie. There are three files of correspondence regarding the Yeats International Summer School.

Series II, Writings , is organized into seven subseries: Articles, Books, Lectures, Poems, Reviews, Other Writings, and Writings of Others. The first subseries, Articles, contains holograph and typescript drafts, as well as printed versions, of articles by Davie. Topics range from poetry and literary criticism to memorials of other authors and comments on Davie's role in society. The second subseries, Books, contains research materials, drafts, and clipping of reviews for books by Davie. Included are drafts for Essex Poems, 1963-67, Kenneth Allott and the Thirties, The Psalms in English, Purity of Diction in English Verse, and Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, among others.

The third subseries, Lectures, contains holograph and typescript drafts of lectures that Davie gave on poetry and literary criticism from 1969 to 1992. Most of the lectures were given at universities; there are also two lectures from the Yeats International Summer School, and one lecture for radio. The fourth subseries, Poems, contains holograph and typescript drafts of poems by Davie. They are arranged alphabetically by title (there is one file of untitled poems); most are undated. There is also a scrapbook that contains clippings of poems published by Davie. Any poems that were arranged by Davie as a draft for a book of poetry are filed in the subseries, Books.

The fifth subseries, Reviews, contains reviews by Davie of books by other poets and literary critics. If the review has a title, it is filed under that title; if there is no title, it is filed under the last name of the author of the book being reviewed. Some of the reviews are holograph and typescript drafts; others are printed versions. The sixth subseries, Other Writings, contains six letters to editors of newspapers and journals; Davie's doctoral dissertation, "The English Idea of Russian Fiction Since 1828"; translations by Davie of poems by others; and editorials that Davie wrote for Poetry Nation Review from 1977 to 1981. The seventh subseries, Writings of Others, contains writings by other poets and literary critics, including Geoffrey Hill, Michael Schmidt, Charles Tomlinson, and Yvor Winters, among others. Some of the writings are typescript drafts; others are printed versions.

Series III, Journals and Notebooks , is arranged chronologically. The journals and notebooks are all written in Davie's hand in volumes; most were given volume numbers and were dated by Davie. Some of the volumes contain drafts of writings by Davie, such as poems and articles. Other volumes contain Davie's notes for his writings (for example, on Ezra Pound), as well as his notes on the writings of others. The series spans the years 1947 to 1995.

Series IV, Other Papers , is organized into two subseries: Personal Papers, and Subject Files. Personal Papers contains biographical material about Davie, including clippings, two interviews, an article he wrote for Contemporary Authors, and a photograph of members of the Davie family. There is also some information about a photography exhibition in 1985 by Doreen Davie. Subject Files contains a few files of clippings, notes, and printed versions of articles, mainly about literary people. There are also files about the Poetry International conference in 1967, and the Yeats International Summer School. (Correspondence for the latter is located in Series I, box 8, folders 366-368).


  • 1926 - 2005
  • Majority of material found within 1970 - 1990


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 30 (correspondence from Charles Tomlinson): Restricted during the lifetime of Charles Tomlinson.

Boxes 31-32: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Box 45 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Donald Davie 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

Purchased from Anthony Garnett, 1984-1996.

June 2013 Acquisition: purchased from Anthony Garnett on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 2013.


Organized into five series: I. Correspondence, 1957-1995. II. Writings, 1946-1995. III. Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1995. IV. Other Papers, 1926-1992. V. June 2013 Acquisition, 1940-2005.


24.68 Linear Feet ((45 boxes) + 5 broadside folders)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence consists mainly of letters to Davie from poets, literary critics, and publishers discussing the literary world, the academic environment, Davie's writings, and the writing of others. Writings include research materials, drafts, and clippings of reviews for books by Davie; drafts of articles, lectures, poems, and reviews by Davie; and writings by others. The collection also includes journals and notebooks by Davie that contain notes and drafts of writings. There are some personal papers, such as biographical clippings, as well as a few subject files on literary people.

Donald Davie (1922-1995)

Donald Davie, a poet, literary critic, and teacher, was born in Barnsley in Yorkshire, England on 17 July 1922. His service in the Royal Navy during World War II, which sent him to Russia, sparked an interest in Russian literature; he later wrote his doctoral dissertation and other works on that subject, including Slavic Excursions: Essays on Russian and Polish Literature. Davie married Doreen John in 1945; they later had three children. He received his bachelor's degree in 1947 and his doctoral degree in 1951, both from the University of Cambridge. His teaching career began at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1950. He went on to teach at the University of Cambridge from 1958 to 1964, and at the University of Essex from 1964 to 1968. That year, Davie left England for the United States, where he taught at Stanford University for ten years. He then taught at Vanderbilt University until 1988, when he retired and returned to England. Davie's work includes poetry collections, such as Brides of Reason, Essex Poems, 1963-67, and To Scorch or Freeze, as well as literary criticism, such as Purity of Diction in English Verse and Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor. Davie died on 18 September 1995 in Exeter in Devon, England.

Guide to the Donald Davie Papers
Under Revision
by Miriam B. Spectre
September 1998
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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