Elizabeth Coxhead (1909-79)

Quotations

Life
[Eileen Elizabeth Coxhead;] b. Hinckley, England of [Irish] parentage; dg. of G. E. S. Coxhead, headmaster of the Hinckley Grammar School; ed. at Hinckley and afterwards at Somerville College, Oxford; worked as a journalist and literary critic; issued One Green Bottle (1951) a classic novel of British mountain-climbing, centred on 18 yr-old. working-class Cathy Canning from Birkenhead, which was condemned for explicitness by Douglas Henry Crick, the Anglican bishop of Chester;
 
issued The Midlanders (1953), set in Alney, a hosiery manufacturing town like the Hinckley of the 1920s; she also wrote The Figure in the Mist (1955), and The Friend in Need (1957) - which was filmed as A Cry From The Streets with Max Bygraves in the lead; her Daughters of Erin (1965) consisted in biographical studies of Maud Gonne, Countess Markiewicz [Constance Gore Booth], Sarah Purser, Sara Allgood, and Máire O’Neill [Molly Allgood];
 
she published a Literary Portrait of Lady Gregory (1961) and wrote on J. M. Synge jointly with Lady Gregory a year later in Longman’s “Writers and Their Works” series; she lived at Chalfont St. Peter, in Buckinghamshire, and committed suicide efficiently on the train track at Gerrards Cross, having carefully ordered her papers and affairs shortly before; a blue plaque was unveiled in her honour by her nephew Robert Chesshyre for the Hinckley Civic Society at Mount Grace High School, occupying the site of her father’s former school, in March 2009. IF2

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Works
Biography
  • Constance Spry: A Biography (London: Luscombe 1975), ix, 177p, [12]pp of pls.;
  • Daughters of Erin: Five Women of the Irish Renascence (London: Secker & Warburg 1965), 236pp.; Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Four Square Books 1968), 158pp.; Do. [another edn.] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), 236pp., ill. [4 lvs. ills.; port.], 23cm. ; 1979), 236pp., ill., pls., ports.;
  • Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge [Writers and Their Work; No. 149; Nat. Book League] (London: Longmans, Green 1962; rev. edn. 1969), 32pp., ports.;
  • Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait (London: Macmillan 1961; 1962), xii, 241pp., and Do. [2nd edn. rev. & enl.] (London: Secker & Warburg 1966), 227pp., 8 pls., incl. ports.;
  • One Woman’s Garden (London: Dent 1971), xii, 140pp., 16 pls.;
  • Ed. & intro., Selected Plays of Lady Gregory, chosen by Elizabeth Coxhead, with a foreword by Sean O’Casey (London: Putnam 1962), 269pp.; Do. [2nd edn.] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1975), 269pp.
  • intro., Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland collected and arranged by Lady Gregory, with two essays & notes by W. B. Yeats [The Coole Edition of Lady Gregory’s Works, Vol. 1] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1976), 365pp., ill. [pl., 2 ills.], 23cm.
  • Women in the Professions (1961), ill., pls.;
Fiction
  • The Street Of Shadows (London: Cassell 1934), 316pp.;
  • June in Skye: A Novel (London: Cassell & Co. 1938), 292pp.;
  • A Wind in the West (London: Faber & Faber 1949), 290pp., and Do. (Bath: Chivers 1977); *
  • One Green Bottle (London: Faber & Faber 1951), 281pp., and Do. [rep.] (Bath: Chivers, 1973; 1976), 393pp.;
  • A Play Toward (London: Faber 1952), 239pp., 8º, and Do. [rep.] (Bath: Chivers 1976), 3-239pp.;
  • The Midlanders (London: Collins 1953; Bath: Cedric Chivers 1976), 256pp.;
  • The Figure in the Mist (London: Collins 1955), 256pp., and Do. (Bath: Chivers 1977), 256pp.;
  • The Friend In Need (London: Collins 1957; Bath: Chivers 1978), 256pp.;
  • The House in the Heart (London: Collins 1959), 256pp.;
  • The Thankless Muse (London: Secker & Warburg 1967), 253pp.;
[*Chivers - viz., Cedric Chivers Large Print Edns.]

Note: One Green Bottle, or The Fragile Summit, a screen-play based on the novel by Elizabeth Coxhead, is in the papers of Alison Fell [listed as items 67-74; circa 1993?]

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Commentary

Colin Smythe - Words of appreciation which were read out by the organisers on the occasion of the unveiling of a plaque to Elizabeth Coxhead at the former Grammar School (now Mount Grace High School) in Hinckley, March 2009.
 

I greatly appreciated Elizabeth’s enthusiasm and the support that she gave me when I started to republish Lady Gregory’s works (1970-), and was delighted to discover from Lady Gregory’s grandson Richard that she lived within walking distance of my home. I never knew anyone who spoke so fast as she did, yet every word was perfectly enunciated. She was a fascinating conversationalist.
The description of the poet Thomas Laker, in her novel The Thankless Muse (1967), was largely based on what Edith Shackleton Heald had told her about her relationship with W. B. Yeats, when both women had worked at The Lady. It was Elizabeth who had suggested the title Cold Comfort Farm to Stella Gibbons, who was also on its staff.
Her death so soon after we’d republished Daughters of Erin in September 1979 was a tragedy, but not one that could have been prevented, I suspect. She'd viewed three score years and ten as being the appropriate length of life, but when I heard her mention this, I never thought she'd actively ensure it was. When I arranged to deliver copies of the new edition of Daughters to her home, I could not have imagined that I would be writing an appreciation of her life for the local paper a few weeks later.

 
—Kindly supplied to RICORSO by Colin Smythe, with related information, 12 July 2010.

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Quotations
Yeats the Snob: ‘Yeats was a snob by his own nature, with the unpleasnt snobbery of those who feel themselves to be not quite out of the top drawer; it was a weakness from which his delightful father and brother were completely free.’ (Letter to the Editor, Dublin Evening Herald, 14 Sept 1965; quoted by William Michael Murphy, in Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839-1922, Cornell UP 1978, Notes, p.596 [to pp.264-66 - available online.)

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References
Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction, Part II (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists The House in the Heart (1959), about financial calamity for a returning Anglo-Irish family at Kilrannon [but see under Notes, infra].

Note: There are numerous reviews of her novels and works of criticism - the latter in Irish studies journals. For a copy of a letter that she sent to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) requesting books on the Irish literary revival for Russian lady-scholar in 1973, see attached under RIA, in Notes, infra. Also included in the file is correspondence from Colin Smythe, the publisher of her reprint Daughters of Erin reprint (1979) and a Buckinghamshire neighbour. Both of these are kept under password in the “Reserve” area of RICORSO.

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Notes
Royal Irish Academy: a letter from Elizabeth Coxhead inquiring as to whether the Secretary of the Committee for the Study of Anglo-Irish Language and Literature might give any available works on the Irish Renascence [sic] to a Russian lady-scholar whom Coxhead’s Geoffrey brother and his wife had met on a trip to the Soviet Union. A cover-letter circulating hers to the RIA membership is signed by Terence Brown, the Acting Secretary. For the text of the letter, see in RICORSO, Library > Reserved > Coxhead [attached].

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One Green Bottle (1951): A hardback copy of One Green Bottle by Elizabeth Coxhead, First Edition, Second Printing (signed and inscribed ‘To Mr and Mrs S. Cross, happiest memories of Langdale Sept 1953, Elizabeth Coxhead’ on the free front endpaper, was posted on Kirkland Books [online; 12.07.2010] at £226 and sold. The bookseller’s notice includes the information that Sidney Harold Cross was one of one of the leading Lakeland rock climbers best known for his first ascent of Great Eastern on Scafell, mountain-rescue leader and hotelier at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale.

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The other Kilrannon: In Impeccable People (London: Gollancz 1971), Elizabeth Fenwick writes of the Robertsons, living in English banishment, who return each year to enjoy the hospitality of Uncle Francis at their former Anglo-Irish home, an unpretentious white house at Kilrannon. (See book notice by J. & A Woolley, South Chailey, Essex, UK; Abebooks [online]; accessed 12.07.2010.) [Note: There is no Kilrannon in Irish topography but there is a Irish round tower Kilbannon, Co. Galway.]

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