Royde-Smith, Naomi Gwladys play typescript

Royde-Smith, Naomi
Naomi Gwladys Royde-Smith play typescript.  - 1929.

2 cm of textual records.


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Naomi Gwladys Royde-Smith (1875–1964), literary editor and writer, was born on 30 April 1875 at Craven Edge, Halifax, Yorkshire, the eldest of six daughters and two sons of Michael Holroyd Smith (1847–1932), an electrical engineer responsible for the electrification of the City and South London Railway, as well as an inventor of a helicopter and a boomerang, among other things, and Anne (Daisy), née Williams (1848–1934), the daughter of the Reverend Ebenezer Williams of Penybont, Wales, and ‘a zealous student of the Bible’ (private information, M. Royde Smith). Matthew Smith, the painter, was a cousin. In the Wood, a novel written in 1928, was in part a description of her Yorkshire childhood. When the Holroyd Smith family moved to London (the children all taking the surname Royde-Smith), Naomi and her sisters attended Clapham high school; her education was finished in Switzerland at Geneva, and she then began to earn her living, becoming a well-respected reviewer. She also wrote poetry but did not publish any.

From 1904 onwards Naomi lived in London with her sister Leslie (b. 1884) in rooms in Oakley Street, Chelsea (later she also had a cottage at Holmbury St Mary, near Dorking, Surrey) and worked at the Saturday Westminster Gazette, both reviewing and writing the ‘Problems and prizes page’. By 1912 she had become literary editor, the first time a woman had held this position, publishing early work by, among others, Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence, and Graham Greene. Her large circle of friends included J. C. Squire, William Beveridge, Hugh Walpole, and Middleton Murry.

    "Miss Royde-Smith had risen entirely through her own ability and drive. She had a forceful personality, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted; she was extremely well read and, while quite able to tackle men on their own terms, she was also fair-haired, feminine and a successful hostess" (Whistler, 173) wrote the biographer of Walter de la Mare, the poet, who met Naomi in the spring of 1911 and was to be in love with her for the next five years (writing her nearly 400 letters). On Naomi's part she ‘felt a great need to be artist's Muse. She wanted the men she loved to be men of genius … Her chief usefulness was the confidence she gave him’ (ibid., 178, 187); she was, however, ambivalent towards men sexually. A close friend at this period was the novelist Rose Macaulay; in the years after the First World War ‘she and Rose, acting jointly as hostesses, received such diverse authors as Arnold Bennett, W. B. Yeats, Edith Sitwell and Aldous Huxley’ (Smith, 100) at Naomi's flat, 44 Prince's Gardens, Kensington, where, Mary Agnes Hamilton remarked, ‘everybody in the literary world, the not yet arrived as well as the established, was to be met’ (Emery, 191) and where Naomi ‘dressed à la 1860; swinging earrings, skirt in balloons … sat in complete command. Here she had her world round her. It was a queer mixture of the intelligent & the respectable’ (Diary of Virginia Woolf, 5 June 1921). Rose Macaulay was to satirize Naomi at this period of her life in Crewe Train (1926), where she appears as Aunt Evelyn, ‘a fashionable, meddling, arch-gossip’ (Emery).

It was only after Naomi had given up her job in 1922 that she began to write fiction: The Tortoiseshell Cat, which was in some ways her best novel, appeared in 1925, and over the next thirty-five years she went on to publish nearly forty more novels, several biographies (for example of Mrs Siddons and of Maurice de Guérin), and four plays. The novels are admired by some but others are of the opinion that "in spite of a good style, intelligence and frequent touches of truth to character, her novels have no great imagination. Too often the romantic parts suffer from wish-fulfillment studies in masculine Genius that remind one uneasily of many inferior passages in her letters to de la Mare." (Whistler, 342)

Lovat Dickson wrote that ‘none of her novels … is likely to survive’ (The Times, 30 July 1964) but Betty Askwith responded by saying that The Delicate Situation (1931) should be remembered and deserved comparison with Alain-Fournier's Le grand Meaulnes. She observed that ‘any writer might be proud to have written just one book on that level’ (The Times, 4 Aug 1964). Other novels that are admired are For Us in the Dark (1937) and The Altar-Piece: an Edwardian Mystery (1939).

On 15 December 1926, at Lynton parish church, Devon, Naomi married the Italian-American actor Ernest Gianello Milton; she was fifty-one, fifteen years older than her husband (but pretended to twelve). She gave up her hectic social life, although continuing to review and being for a period art critic of Queen magazine, and settled into a surprisingly successful marriage—‘a triumph over unlikeliness by the strong-minded, romantic woman she was, and the histrionic, highly-strung, generous-minded actor. He placed her, for life, on a pedestal of admiration, though not by temperament drawn to her sex’ (Whistler, 342).

The Miltons lived variously in Hatfield in Hertfordshire, Chelsea in London, Wells in Somerset (during the 1930s), and then (during the 1940s and 1950s) in a house in Winchester once lived in by Nell Gwyn, 34 Colebrook Street in the shadow of the cathedral, and later on nearby at Flat 4, 43 Hyde Street. In 1942 both became Roman Catholics. At this period of her life Naomi Milton was, according to her niece, Jane Tilley, ‘hugely amusing, chain-smoked, was large and uncorseted, and wore large patterns’. ‘The sheer luxuriance of Naomi's discourse is what stays with me’ was the impression of her nephew, Michael Royde Smith. She continued to write in spite of increasing blindness. At the end of her life she and Ernest went to live in London at Abbey Court Hotel, 15 Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead. She died from renal failure at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, Marylebone, on 28 July 1964 and was buried in Hampstead cemetery. Her husband survived her.

(Nicola Beauman, ‘Smith, Naomi Gwladys Royde- (1875–1964)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2014 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/56910, accessed 13 March 2015]).

Contents

Fonds consists of a ts. play written by Royde-Smith titled "Mafro: A Comedy in Three Acts." The play is dated March 1929 and was apparently unpublished. An inscription on the cover page reads "To W. Graham Robertson from Naomi Royde-Smith."

Notes

  • Title from content of the fonds.
  • Extent is measured in linear metres of shelf space as occupied by the fonds.
  • Photocopies are available for researchers.
  • Purchased from Sims Catalogue #92 Item,g #329, E15, May 10, 1976.

Call number: WA33