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Farr, Florence: correspondence, 1891-1911

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0096 AL203
Held at: Senate House Library, University of London
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Full title: Farr, Florence: correspondence, 1891-1911
Date(s): 1891-1911
Level of description: fonds
Extent: 25 items
Name of creator(s): Farr | Florence | 1860-1916 | actress and author


Administrative/Biographical history:

Florence Farr was born in 1860. She was the youngest daughter of Mary Elizabeth Whittal and Dr William Farr, a sanitary reformer and advocator of equal education and professional rights for women. She was educated at Queen's College London (1877-1880), received good reports but had no inclination to prepare for higher education. After an unsuccessful attempt at teaching (1880-1882), Farr gravitated to the theatre, appearing in minor parts and adopting the stage name, Mary Lester. In 1883 her father died, leaving her a sufficient amount to live on modestly. Her first novel The Dancing Fawn was published in 1894. That same year she became theatre producer at the Avenue Theatre, producing modern plays. Farr preached about parity for women in employment, wages etc. amongst her intellectual circle of acquaintances. George Bernard Shaw wrote that she reacted vehemently against Victorian sexual and domestic morality and was dauntless in publicly championing unpopular causes such as campaigning for the welfare of prostitutes. Farr had a fascination for the occult, Egyptology and theosophy. She conducted hermetic studies and belonged to an order of like-minded folk, The Hermetic Order of Isis-Urania Temple of The Golden Dawn of London. She published her first philosophical tracts, A Short Inquiry concerning the Hermetic Art by a Lover of Philatethes in 1894. In 1901, Florence, with a friend of Yeat's, collaborated in the writing and production of two one act plays, both recounting Egyptian magical tales. Farr later quit The Golden Dawn and joined the Theosophical Society of London. Farr cultivated friendships with 'clever men'. Among her friends and correspondents were William and May Morris, George Bernard Shaw, John Quinn, Henry Paget, Dr John Todhunter and W B Yeats. In 1884 she married an actor, Mr Edward Emery (b 1863). They separated in 1888 when Mr Emery immigrated to America, according to Shaw, on account of 'some trouble (not domestic)'. Shaw wrote that Florence (who used her own surname more often than her husband's) was quite content with this situation and considered it of little importance. In 1895 she finally divorced Edward Emery on Shaw's advice. In the 1890s, Yeats used Farr's 'golden voice' as part of his quest to encourage the rebirth of spoken poetry. In 1898 made her the stage manager for his Irish Literary Theatre and she became a regular contributor to the performance of his metrical plays. She was also involved in the performance and musical composition of a number of plays at the Lyceum and Court Theatre and New Century Theatres in London, 1902-1906. In 1912, Farr sailed from England for a life in Ceylon. She had been invited by Sri Ponnambalam Ramanthan, a fellow theosophist, to teach at his newly founded College for Girls in Ceylon. As Lady Principal she supervised the teachers, care of sick children, servants and general administration. In 1917, Florence Farr died in Colombo General Hospital at the age of 56. Her body was cremated at the home of Ramanathan. In 1912 she left some of her correspondence with Clifford Bax in a locked black box only to be opened after her death. They were later published in Florence Farr, Bernard Shaw and W B Yeats by C Bax (ed.), The Cuala Press (1941). In preface to these letters Bax wrote that they 'show that she had too much personality to become a good actress' and were testament to her good humour. He described her as 'a woman who could inspire remarkable men' and predicted that she would be remembered primarily on account of her private friendships with eminent intellectuals of the time.


Scope and content/abstract:

25 letters, mainly written to Florence Farr/Emery, 1891-1911. Correspondents include: William Archer, J M Barrie, Annie Besant, Edward Carpenter, Arnold Dolmetsch, Richard Le Gallienne, John William Mackail, Edward Martyn, George Robert Stow Mead, Gilbert Aimé Murray, Sir W M Flinders Petrie, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, the Princess Royal (HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife), Charles Ricketts, Robert Baldwin Ross, Charles Haslewood Shannon, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Symons, John Todhunter, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, W B Yeats. All letters are autograph, with signatures. Many of the letters relate to plays, theatrical performances and drama criticism; other topics covered include theosophy, Indian religion and Egyptology.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Chronological, with undated letters filed at the end of the sequence.

Conditions governing access:

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Access to individual items in Senate House Library archives collections may be restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Please contact the University Archivist for details. 24 hours notice is required for research visits.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Finding aids:

Typescript catalogue available in the Library's Palaeography Room.

Archival Information

Archival history:

See archivist

Immediate source of acquisition:

Gift from Miss Harriet Cohen CBE.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Anya Turner.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July 2008

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