Skip to main content

Cambridge University Libraries are providing a blend of online and controlled in-person services. Please see our website for more details.

The Papers of Claude Houghton

 Fonds
Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.7994-7997

Scope and Contents

The collection includes correspondence with and papers relating to Miss Marie Overton, manuscript and typescript novels and a bibliography of Houghton's works.

Dates

  • 1927 - 1960

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).

Biographical note

Claude Houghton Oldfield, known as Claude Houghton, was born at Sevenoaks on 20 May 1889, attended Dulwich College, and trained as an accountant. Poor eyesight caused him to be rejected for military service during the First World War, and he joined the Admiralty, where he was to remain until his retirement in 1955. He married in London in 1920 a young actress, Dulcie Helliwell, whom he called ‘Corinne’. She was born in Wakefield in 1895 and used the stage name Dulcie Benson). The couple appear to have been childless.

Claude Houghton had already published poems in the magazine New witness, three books of verse, two plays and a volume of essays before his first novel, Neighbours, appeared in 1926, to be followed by 22 further novels during the next three decades. His work was driven by his belief that civilisation was in a steep decline, which could only by reversed by profound alterations in the outlook and behaviour of the human race (hence the title of one of his novels: All change, humanity!). He was attracted to the teachings of theosophy, and wrote articles for the theosophist journal The Aryan path. He had a faithful readership on both sides of the Atlantic, and won the critical approval of many distinguished fellow-authors, but seems never to have achieved widespread popularity, and was unable to generate sufficient income from his literary work to enable him to live by his writing. He died on 10 February 1961.

Historical note about the collection

In the spring of 1949 Houghton received (through a third party) two papers on his novels written by a 32-year old Cambridge graduate on the administrative staff of the University of Cambridge, Marie Overton. He sent her a friendly letter on 19 May, beginning a correspondence which on his side runs to 1135 extant letters, often written two or even three a day [6]. Houghton decided that they were ‘twin spirits’ and came to rely on her as critic, reviser and typist of at least three of his later novels, and of short stories, essays and song lyrics; and as someone with whom he could discuss literature, art and his views on modern society and politics. Marie Overton (who was unmarried) appears to have welcomed his growing interest in her, and his readiness to encourage and forward her own literary aspirations. Their acquaintance developed into a passionate attachment, conducted largely through their letters (their meetings in London, and his visits to Cambridge, were infrequent and discreet). Although Houghton often expressed his love for Marie, he seems never to have considered a separation from his wife, for whom he clearly also had a deep affection and regard, and whose health was increasingly poor. Dulcie suffered from migraines and a troublesome back. It seems unlikely that she knew of the depth of her husband’s feelings for Marie. He usually wrote to Marie from his club, the Savage, rather than from his and Corinne’s London flat, and only occasionally did he write from their weekend cottage at Amersham. Her letters to him seem always to have been sent to the Savage, except when he was staying alone at a hotel in Devon. During the second half of the 1950s the friendship between Houghton and Marie became less close, and their correspondence grew more intermittent.

Extent

0.03 cubic metre(s) (3 archive boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Professor L. Lewitter, Department of Slavonic Studies, Cambridge in 1975.

Related Materials

Additional archival material is held by Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas and at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

General

Despite its immense size, the series of Houghton’s letters is incomplete. There is, for example, a gap between 4 December 1952 and 2 February 1953; and the series breaks off suddenly and for no obvious reason in August 1955, to be resumed with three letters during 1959 and 1960. While Marie Overton may herself have destroyed some items, it seems more likely that the larger gaps resulted from loss of bundles of letters between her death and the arrival of the correspondence at the University Library.
Author
Natalie Adams
Date
June 2019
Description rules
International Standard for Archival Description - General
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Contact:
Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom


The UK Archival Thesaurus has been integrated with our catalogue, thanks to Kings College London and the AIM25 project for their support with this.