Edmund Blunden was born in London in 1896, the eldest of nine children. The family moved to Yalding in Kent in 1900 and the rural life and countryside he encountered there inspired much of Blunden's writing throughout his life. He was educated at the local grammar school and Christ's Hospital School in Horsham. In 1915 Blunden was due to go up to Oxford to read Classics, but, against the backdrop of the First World War, he volunteered for the army. He spent two years on the front line in France, winning the Military Cross. In 1918 Blunden met and married Mary Daines. A year later tragedy afflicted the marriage with the death of their new born daughter. The death of the child, together with the pain and suffering Blunden witnessed during the war, haunted him for the rest of his life.
In 1919 Blunden took up his place at Oxford. However, literary interests and financial considerations curtailed his studies. He found work on the journal The Athenaeum (later The Nation) and also published his own poems, winning the Hawthornden Prize for poetry in 1922. He also published edited works of other poets, notably John Clare. Blunden's success brought him into contact with many well known literary figures, including Siegfried Sassoon, Walter de la Mere, Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves. Sassoon would remain a close friend until his death.
In 1924 Blunden accepted the post of Professor of English at Tokyo University, where he remained for three years. His wife did not accompany him and their relationship deteriorated, eventually leading to divorce in 1931. Returning to England Blunden once again worked for The Nation until 1931 when he took up a fellowship and lectureship at Merton College, Oxford, where he remained until 1944. He continued to publish both poems and prose, including Undertones of War, an account of his war experiences, and other literary works. In 1933 Blunden married Sylva Norman, a novelist and critic who wrote for The Nation. However, in 1939 he began an affair with one of students, Claire Poynting, whom he eventually married in 1945. They had four daughters, the first being born in 1946.
In 1947 Blunden accepted the post of cultural advisor to the UK liaison mission in Japan, staying until 1950. His return to the UK was short-lived, returning to the Far East in 1953 to take up the Chair in English at Hong Kong University. Whilst there, Blunden made two trips to China, both times meeting the Chinese premier Chou en Lai. During his time in Hong Kong, Blunden's published output did not diminish, his last volume of poetry appearing in 1962. In 1964 Blunden retired and moved back to Long Melford, Suffolk. Two years later he reluctantly stood for election to Professor of Poetry at Oxford, which he won, but stepped down in 1968 due to ill health. Blunden died in 1974.
Blunden's contribution to literature was recognised in 1956 with the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and he was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.
Douglas Grant (1921-1969) was an authority on nineteenth-century American and eighteenth century English literature. He met Edmund Blunden at Oxford University prior to the Second World War which he spent as an officer in the commandos. He published his war experiences in The Fuel of the Fire in 1950. Grant was a member of English department of University College, Toronto, from 1949 until 1960 when he went to Leeds University to be Professor of American Literature, the first such post in the UK. During the 1950s and 60s he published edited editions of a number of poets' works, wrote biographies and literature studies. He also wrote extensively for the Times Literary Supplement. He died in Singapore in 1969.
Letters from Edmund Blunden to Douglas Grant, with related printed and manuscript material
Purchased by the Library in 2010.