Scope and Contents
The papers comprise Kay Clay's Sicilian writings: four pieces from the period 1946-47 when she taught in Palermo having taken a post as a Lecturer in English with the British Council in Italy in the autumn of 1945. With the writings are two covering notes from Kay Clay's son, John Gittings, one is a brief biography of his mother, the other a description of the Sicilian writings (summarised below).
1. 'Sicily'. A vivid sketch of the island.
2. 'Tannina'. Tannina was the maid employed by KC soon after arriving in Palermo. Her story is a vehicle for KC to tackle her own deteriorating relationship with her first husband, Robert Gittings.
3. 'Sicilian life sentence'. A dramatic, typically Sicilian, tale of passion and betrayal.
4. 'African escape'. A story, probably as told to KC by a young ex-prisoner.
Biographical / Historical
Kay Clay (Katharine Edith Cambell) grew up in a doctor's household in Southsea, an only daughter with three brothers. She was educated at Portsmouth High School and came to Girton in 1932 to read Modern Languages (BA 1936). Italy soon became her first and lasting love: she visited Rome in the summer vacation of 1933. There she met Trilussa, the Roman dialect poet, whose poems she translated, and Giulia Fea who became a close friend, and with whom she collaborated on translations of children’s books.
While at Girton, she met Robert Gittings, whom she married in 1934, and her first son was born the following year while she was still studying (a second son was born in 1938). She became a secretary to her husband, helping him with his literary, academic and theatrical ventures in Cambridge and London.
After the war, she returned to Italy to work for the British Council as a Lecturer in English. She spent two years in Palermo before moving to Turin and later Milan. Palermo fired her imagination: she was both intrigued and moved by the Sicilian character and wrote sketches, short stories, and later an unpublished children's book, ‘Sicilian Adventure’.
In Palermo, she met lieutenant-commander, Richard Clay. By this time her first marriage had broken down, and she and Clay were married in Portsmouth in 1949. She continued working in Italy where she staged a production of her friend Christopher Fry's ‘A Phoenix Too Frequent’ in Turin, became friends with the conductor Mario Rossi and the Sicilian writer Elio Vittorini. She also organised a Women's Study Group in Turin to consider women’s position in the post-war world.
She left the British Council in 1952 and spent the next two decades with her husband on his postings at home and in Malta, Egypt and Aden, teaching (mainly languages) wherever they went.
They returned to England in 1963 and she became Head of Languages at Mary Datchelor School in 1966, leading the department for the next 11 years. She also chaired an ILEA working party which produced a series of language text-books for use in schools. After her husband’s death in 1991, she joined the Labour Party and became a governor of Old Palace and Stebon Primary Schools. She was a home-based reader for the RNIB for 20 years, recording books which ranged from history to religion, including many in French and Italian. She went regularly to the theatre and was an avid reader. She died in March 2007, aged 93.