A researcher’s story: utilizing the Robert Aickman Archive on the British Library

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by R.B. Russell, researcher, writer and author, who consulted the Robert Aickman Archive on the British Library and writes right here of his experiences. 

Black and white photograph of Robert Aickman posing in front of bookshelves at Gledhow Gardens in 1980

BL Add. MS 89209/3/5. Robert Aickman at Gledhow Gardens, London. 1980

I first got here throughout Robert Aickman (1914-1981) because the writer of ‘strange stories’ (his personal time period), psychological tales that up to date the standard ghost story to the necessities of a extra ‘knowing’ late twentieth century. I quickly found that Aickman’s literary actions (he was additionally an editor of ghost story anthologies and wrote two volumes of autobiography) had been only one a part of his life. Another was his campaigning, largely profitable, for the restoration of the inland waterways of Britain.

I used to be fortunate sufficient to first see Aickman’s literary archive in 2014 after I visited his literary executor in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. At that point, Aickman’s manuscripts and typescripts had been being saved in a spare bed room. With my accomplice, Rosalie Parker, we produced a list of what was within the archive and we borrowed materials to publish The Strangers and Other Writings (Tartarus Press, 2015) gathering collectively beforehand unpublished fiction and non-fiction. The Guiseley archive was finally acquired by the British Library in 2017. There are additionally collections of Aickman’s waterways papers on the National Archive in Kew and on the National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

The extra I discovered about Aickman, the extra I grew to become within the man, and in 2020 I made a decision to jot down his biography. I realised there have been a number of obstacles, nevertheless, and that anyone of them would possibly trigger there to be a significant shortcoming within the completed guide. Until I began my analysis, although, I couldn’t be sure whether or not they had been surmountable.

Typescript of We Are For The Dark: Six Ghost Stories with annotations

BL Add. MS 89209/1/70. Revised typescript for We Are For The Dark: Six Ghost Stories. The guide, revealed in 1951, contained three tales by Elizabeth Jane Howard and three by Robert Aickman. Note Aickman’s modification discarding the pseudonym ‘Robert Vigo’ in favour of his actual identify. The short-lived pseudonym was taken from the lead character in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1932 movie The Blue Light. Reproduced by the sort permission of the Estate of Robert Aickman.

The first drawback was one shared by all researchers—the pandemic. I couldn’t seek the advice of any of the archives I needed to go to, meet up with anybody who knew Aickman, or go to any of the websites related to him. However, for the reason that Nineteen Nineties I had amassed extra analysis materials than I realised, and now I had the chance to learn it! If something, being confined to residence was a blessing in disguise. As for interviewing Aickman’s previous associates, they had been very useful they usually now had the time to share data with me. Those who would possibly in any other case have been cautious of utilizing trendy know-how had been comfortable to make Zoom and Skype calls.

I needed to look forward to the archives to re-open right here within the UK, however there was one other small assortment of essential materials at Bowling Green University in America. Even if I may journey there at some unspecified time sooner or later, I wasn’t sure I may justify the expense. When I contacted them, I found the librarians had been in a position to make pdf copies (for a modest charge) of all that I wanted to see.

After a 12 months of intensive and productive analysis from residence, I used to be assured that many gaps in my information can be crammed when the British Library re-opened. There had been solely two main lacunae that involved me.

The first was my incapability to learn Aickman’s letters to his American agent, Kirby McCauley. This mine of helpful data was within the fingers of a uncommon guide vendor within the US.

The second was any concrete data regarding Aickman’s declare that he had been a conscientious objector within the Second World War, exempted from any type of battle work. This appeared out of character, and his previous associates instructed a number of various theories, none of which may very well be verified. It appeared unlikely I might ever clear this up as a result of nearly all of official information regarding conscientious objection have been destroyed.

Black and white photograph of Robert Aickman reading in 1960

Robert Aickman 1960

In June 2021 Covid restrictions had been lifted considerably and Rosalie and I had been lastly in a position to journey from North Yorkshire to go to the British Library on the Euston Road in London. After our casual expertise in Guiseley, I need to admit that it appeared like an imposition to have to affix the British Library prematurely (in Wakefield), then to guide tables within the studying room, and to must guide the fabric we wished to see from the net catalogue. Pandemic restrictions meant that the variety of objects we may seek the advice of at anyone go to was restricted.

Photograph of R. B. Russell and Rosalie Parker smiling at the camera

R.B. Russell and Rosalie Parker

However, over three days Rosalie and I regarded by way of every part we requested for, and due to the pleasant effectivity of the workers, we had been in a position to see a little bit extra in addition to. Despite the restrictions, the environment within the studying room was relaxed and cozy, and it was introduced residence to me how essential it’s to have this very important materials publicly accessible (not saved in bedrooms, or abroad, owned by uncommon guide sellers). So a lot was nonetheless unsure on the earth at the moment, however there was one thing reassuring about being contained in the British Library with the background sounds of murmuring voices, pages turning, and pencilled notes being made. I crammed in all of the gaps in my information that I had been conscious of, and found extra essential materials, in addition to.

My preparation for the go to to the British Library (which felt very long-delayed) meant that I extracted essentially the most out of the three days. And I additionally found within the numerous information of Aickman’s correspondence carbon copies of all his letters to his agent. They had been as essential as I had anticipated.

This left simply that one unanswered query—Robert Aickman’s obvious conscientious objection. I felt I knew Robert Aickman’s beliefs and motivations properly by this time, and it didn’t ‘fit’ along with his character. It was out of character in the identical method that one merchandise within the British Library catalogue appeared misplaced. Tucked away in a folder, in accordance with {the catalogue}, was an utility by Aickman to work for the Civil Service. I known as up this folder to find that the merchandise had been mis-described (it has since been corrected). Rather than an unlikely utility to work for the Civil Service, it was Aickman’s utility to be thought of a conscientious objector, and the choice that had been made.

Image of Robert Aickman's completed conscientious objection application

BL Add. MS 89209/3/3. Robert Aickman’s conscientious objection utility choice

The biography got here collectively at that time, though I nonetheless have no idea what to make of the assertion Robert Aickman submitted in assist of his utility for conscientious objection. He claims spiritual beliefs he doesn’t profess anyplace else, and seems to contradict different statements he made. Whatever I’ll consider his justifications, he did obtain the very uncommon judgement that he was exempt from any type of battle work.

My biography of Aickman was revealed in early 2022, as Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography, by Tartarus Press It comprises in depth acknowledgements in alphabetical order, but when I had listed them so as of significance, together with Rosalie Parker, the British Library would have been in the direction of the highest.

6. RA Biog

Robert Aickman, An Attempted Biography by R.B. Russell, Tartarus Press 2022

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