RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 397
Date19th-21st century
Extent7 bays, 2 plan chest drawers
TitleRonald Duncan Collection
DescriptionThe collection is the largest source of Duncan documentation in existence. It provides a resource for research on mid 1900's literary culture, the cultural heritage of the South West, including Duncan's farming experiments, the establishment of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, the composition of opera, modernist poetry, artistic connections, literary criticism and literary/artistic relationships. It consists of manuscripts, librettos, letters, artworks, an extensive book collection and personal papers, including photographs and diaries. The collection also includes the archive of Ronald Duncan's wife Rose Marie Duncan (nee Hansom) and the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation.
Admin HistoryRonald Duncan (1914-1982) was born of Austro-German parents in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1914. When World War One broke out Duncan came to South London with his mother and sister. His father was due to follow, but died of an illness before he could join them. As a boy Duncan holidayed in Welcombe, North Devon and aged 18 rented a cottage there with the hope of settling one day. In 1933 he went up to Cambridge University to read English under F.R. Leavis at Downing College. After graduating Duncan worked briefly in a mine in Holmewood, Chesterfield and became sympathetic with the strikersÂ’ cause and the politics of peaceful protest. This led to him writing a pamphlet for the Peace Pledge Union in 1936, later released with a foreword by the pacifist leader Dick Sheppard. Such connections prompted an invitation to visit the Mahatma Gandhi in India in 1937. On his way back the young traveller called in on Ezra Pound in Italy. The exiled poet became a long time friend as did the British writer and Hispanist Gerald Brenan. During the Second World War Duncan ran a community farm near Bideford in North Devon. His wife Rose Marie was an artist and their son and daughter were born during the war years. His main home was based at West Mill from 1937 and during that time visitors included Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, the singer Kathleen Ferrier, Lord Harewood as well as actresses Virginia Maskell and Anna Proclemer. Duncan farmed, rode, fished, wrote and welcomed friends from both near and far to Welcombe including Henry Williamson, a close neighbour, who had himself farmed in Norfolk and who was a regular visitor in the 1940s [EUL MS 43]. Duncan died on 3 June 1982, in Barnstaple, at the age of 68.

Ronald Duncan is perhaps best known for preparing the libretto for Benjamin Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia, first performed in 1946, but also had an extremely productive literary career encompassing fiction, poetry, film scripts, plays, journalism and autobiography. Duncan wrote the film script for Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968) and several plays including This Way to the Tomb (1946) and Abelard and Heloise (1961). Duncan also published the epic poem 'Man' (five books, published as Man: The Complete Cantos, 1981) and three controversial autobiographies, All Men are Islands (1964), How to Make Enemies (1968) and Obsessed (1977), which describe his relationships with contemporaries in literature and theatre, and his personal life.
LanguagePrimarily English. Some items in German, French, Italian, Polish, Turkish, Dutch, Spanish and other languages
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialFurther Duncan materials are available at the Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas, Austin [see their online finding aid for more information]
See also related collections:
EUL MS 433 - Powys family archive - for correspondence between Powys family and Gerald Brennan & Gamel Woolsey who were also close friends of Ronald Duncan
EUL MS 43 - Henry Williamson Archive. Henry Williamson was a close friend of the Duncan family
Access ConditionsUsual EUL conditions apply. Some items hold specific access conditions.
ArrangementThe collection had passed through several iterations prior to arrival at University of Exeter. The archive bears remnants of several different numbering systems and was found to be physically arranged in a continuous sequence of file numbers on its arrival at Exeter with little indication of original associations. Original order has been re-established where identifiaible and the collection arranged into sections reflecting the origin of the material and the major activities of the creators. See archivist's notes in individual sections for more detail.
Creator_NameDuncan, Ronald Frederick Henry (1914-1982); author, poet and librettist
Duncan, Rose Marie Theresa (nee Hansom), (1916-2001); artist
Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation (1973-2018)
Mgt_GroupLiterary papers
Performing arts papers
Visual culture papers
DS/UK/283Duncan; Ronald Frederick Henry (1914-1982); author, poet and librettist1914-1982
DS/UK/284United Kingdom; Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation; 1973-20181973-2018
    Powered by CalmView© 2008-2024