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MS 909

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MS 909


Anne Ridler papers



Administrative / Biographical history

From the ODNB: "Ridler, Anne Barbara [née Bradby] (1912–2001), poet and writer, was born on 30 July 1912 at School Field, Rugby, Warwickshire, the only daughter and youngest of the four children of Henry Christopher Bradby (1868–1947), a housemaster at Rugby School, and his wife, Violet Alice, née Milford (1871–1956), writer. Her mother, who wrote many popular children's books, including The Enchanted Forest (1921) and The Crimson Ramblers (1922), was a sister of Sir Humphrey Sumner Milford, publisher to the University of Oxford, and Anne's cousins included Robin Milford, the composer, and David Sumner Milford, seven times British amateur rackets champion. On the day of her birth, her mother recorded that from the bathroom window she saw her first aeroplane ‘winging its way across the [School] Close like a bird of ill omen’ (Ridler, Memoirs, 7). War and its consequences came to be a regular theme in Anne's poetry, which reflected an age of anxiety. The eldest of her three brothers was killed in the First World War, when she was four. Her father, himself a writer and poet, had succeeded Rupert Brooke's father as housemaster of School Field, and Anne loved the garden that Brooke had loved. In childhood Anne Bradby was surrounded by influences that fed her imagination and intellectual inquisitiveness. At home there was white wallpaper and William Morris chintzes, a picture (attributed to Canaletto) of the Campanile at Venice and a Broadwood piano—and in playing it she experienced the joy which she later remembered Yehudi Menuhin describing as the essential ingredient for the education of any player. In Rugby School there was architecture by William Butterfield and in his style. In the community there were dramatized scenes from Shakespeare that her mother produced for the children of various families. A favourite place at home was the midway ledge of the double bookcase in the hall, in which was stored a mass of books. ‘Reading to myself’, she wrote, ‘began to be my greatest resource … and the basis of my imaginative life’ (Memoirs, 15). She was precocious in her novel-reading; love of poetry came later. Her secondary education was at Downe House, Newbury. Despite various illnesses she flourished there. Some forty years later she published a life of the headmistress, Olive Willis and Downe House: an Adventure in Education (1967). Shortly after she left school came the week, which she later said had changed her life, when she met the poet, novelist, and theological writer Charles Williams. Enchanted by his personality, she was profoundly affected by his writing and lecturing. Her poem in his memory described him ‘kindling in each the spark / Of passionate joy’ (Collected Poems, 213). It was his affirmative streak that attracted her—the same that she, and he, had found in Thomas Traherne. Three months in Florence and then a spell in Rome were important in her education. The artistic treasures and the language embedded themselves in her. Visits to Assisi and Verona helped her to appreciate the Roman Catholic liturgies. Back in England, Anne Bradby moved to London to take a course in journalism at King's College. Living in the capital gave her a new range of social contacts. There were theatres, galleries, and concerts at which she heard some of the great musicians of the day, including Artur Schnabel and Fritz Busch. She gave help too for one evening a week at a Settlement in Bermondsey. With some secretarial training behind her, she was offered a post with Faber and Faber, and later an appointment as secretary to one of its directors, T. S. Eliot. His influence upon her was enormous. ‘I should go on’, he once said to her, after she had shown him some of her own poems (Memoirs, 122). Not that she adopted his style or idiom. Indeed, Eliot had at first made her despair of becoming a poet. It was W. H. Auden—and Thomas Wyatt (c.1503–1542)—whose writings helped her to see that she could. In 1937 Anne met Vivian Hughes Ridler (1913–2009), son of Bertram Hughes Ridler, naval officer; he was then the manager of a printing business, and later printer to the University of Oxford. They were married on 2 July 1938 in the parish church of Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire. Memorably, and contrary to custom, she sang out loud the verses of the opening hymn as she walked down the nave for the ceremony. It was the start of a notable partnership. They brought up two boys and two girls; they often co-operated at the professional level, as when in 1939 Oxford University Press brought out Poems, Anne Ridler's first collection, printed by Vivian; and they survived war-time separation. Apart from her work—her literary vocation—the cornerstones of Anne Ridler's life were her family, her Christian faith, and music. The frequent references in her poems to family development show what her four children all meant to her. She was a devoted Anglican. She neither trumpeted nor concealed her religious faith. After moving to Oxford she and Vivian were regular worshippers at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. The part she played there was later documented by her friend Marjorie Reeves in St Mary the Virgin University Church, Oxford (2003). Some of her plays were first produced in St Mary's, including The Trial of Thomas Cranmer (1956), written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of that archbishop's martyrdom, and The King of the Golden River (1975), for which she provided the text (based on a story by Ruskin) and another friend, Elizabeth Maconchy, wrote the music. A prolific writer, Ridler was aware of a ‘super-ego which drives me to yearn to reach the summit of any contingent hill’ (Memoirs, 119). Her work fell into three overlapping phases. There was editorial work: her collections of Shakespearian criticism, for example, were popular. Then there was poetry. ‘She had the clearest and best-balanced poetic intelligence I have ever met’, wrote Grevel Lindop (The Guardian, 16 Oct 2001). There were ten published volumes of her poetry besides Collected Poems (1994). And there were operatic libretti, some original, and many translated—the latter for musical scores by composers including Cavalli, Handel, Monteverdi, and Mozart. ‘As you grow older, the inspiration for writing poetry comes more rarely’, she said in an interview; ‘a libretto is a rewarding middle ground’ (The Independent, 4 May 1992). Her libretti were very singable, since she took the view that in such work ‘the musical line is always the leader’ (Memoirs, 211). In 1998 Ridler became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and received the Cholmondeley award for poetry. In 2001 she was appointed OBE for services to literature. She died from cancer of the pancreas at her home, 14 Stanley Road, Oxford, on 15 October 2001. She was survived by her husband and their four children. On 9 March 2002 a service of memorial and thanksgiving was held in St Mary's, Oxford, with readings, music, and prayers of the utmost appropriateness. She will be remembered above all as a poet who, in the words of Jon Stallworthy, ‘movingly articulates the inner experiences of women, writing of love, married love, faith and having children, in a manner complex, witty and of great lyrical intensity’ (The Independent, 16 Oct 2001). Poems of hers were included in a number of anthologies, among them Helen Gardner's Oxford Book of English Verse (1972) and Christopher Ricks's version of that book published in 1999. In 2004 her Memoirs were published. They made a delightful story, searchingly told, and provided a mine of information about the context in which many of her literary works arose." Ronald Gordon, ‘Ridler, Anne Barbara (1912–2001)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2005; online edn, Jan 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/76404, accessed 12 May 2015]


20th century

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1 box

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Papers consist predominantly of autograph poetry manuscripts and typescript drafts. There are also four autograph and typed letters signed from Anne Ridler and a collection of greetings cards from Anne and Vivian Ridler (1913-2009), printed by Vivian Ridler.


Papers given by Anne Ridler to Eton College Library.

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