2 May 2007
When Harriet Edgeley (left) was asked to set up an exhibition in Oxford University’s English Faculty Library where she is the Graduate Trainee, she chose Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) as the subject. He was her grandfather.
In the small exhibition are items from the Library’s collections (two of the poet’s beautifully hand-written poems and a letter, and printed matter relating to his life and work) as well as photographs owned by the family, one of them showing Harriet’s mother Lucy, the Blundens’ second daughter.
The romance of Edmund Blunden and Claire Poynting in Oxford in the 1940s caused something of a stir: he was a Fellow of Merton College and she, 22 years younger, was an undergraduate, studying English at St Hilda’s College. The affair was kept secret at first (Blunden was still married to, although separated from, his second wife); he and Claire married in 1945. They shared a love of literature, and of cricket. They were to have four children and remained together for the rest of Blunden’s life.
In 1953, the Blundens went to Hong Kong where Edmund took up the post of Professor of English at Hong Kong University. While he was there he celebrated his 65th birthday. In the exhibition is the book printed for that occasion; the Library’s copy is signed by Blunden and his wife. Blunden retired in 1964 aged 67 and returned to England. In 1966 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were performing in Oxford at the time, helped support his candidacy.
Blunden edited fellow-poet Wilfred Owen’s poems and was instrumental in getting them published. A copy of one of his letters on the subject written to Harold Owen, Wilfred’s brother, and now part of the Library’s Wilfred Owen Archive, is included in the exhibition. In the letters one can see the development of the friendship between Edmund and Harold.
Harriet never met her grandfather, though she has heard a great deal about him from her mother and grandmother. He was known in the family as a kind man who faithfully kept up his correspondence with his friends.
The small exhibition (one case) is in the English Faculty Library, Manor Road, Oxford, during Trinity Term (until mid-June).
Information on the Library: www.efl.ox.ac.uk
Wilfred Owen Archive: www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/jtap
More on Edmund Blunden: www.edmundblunden.org