Absent Friends…


I was thrilled to ind this in a bookshop in Norwich a few weeks ago.

I was taken immediately by the name – not of the subject – but of the author: Lovat Dickson.

Lovat ‘Rache’ Dickson, himself a Canadian, was an incredible force in the London publishing world, running a series of literary magazines and reviews before landing at Macmillan in 1938.

A larger than life figure, he published the work of Walter de la Mare, H.G. Wells, V.S. Pritchett, D.H. Lawrence and, of course, Storm Jameson.

I came across him in his lively and entertaining letters to Jameson during World War Two, which form part of her correspondence file at the Harry Ransom Centre and I really warmed to Rache.

Like Hermon Ould, A.D. Peters and countless others who have populated the archival materials I’ve examined and whose lives I’ve traced through their letters and friendships, Rache was someone who I felt I’d got to know, recognising his handwriting, his style and his sense of humour.

This sort of familiarity with figures of the past is one of the huge highs and enormous lows of archival work. As letters are often in chronological order, it is possible to follow the history of a friendship over decades before getting, with trepidation, to the point where one party dies.

After a while, these dates are etched on your mind, and, moving toward the inevitable in a different set of correspondence is still a saddening process.

I wouldn’t like to comment on the amount of times I’ve gone home feeling almost tearful having “lost” Hermon Ould again. Odd though that may sound.

Spending hours with these correspondents everyday in the archive, they become almost like colleagues; their life dramas, illnesses, observations and jokes punctuating the day and leading to a weird sense of affection, friendship even.

So it was endlessly exciting to recognise Rache’s name and to pick up this study on Wells.

Almost like buying a friend’s book, I wanted less to read about Wells and more to see how Rache represents him and how he writes. At the very least, Rache, I already know, was somewhat wise to Wells’ idiosyncrasies!

Interesting though, to see how easy it is with archive work to develop odd relationships not only with the direct subjects of research but often with their friends and acquaintances as well!


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