Manuscript Collection: Frances Hubbert

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 5:39pm -- mfarias

Lady Winifred Fortescue to Frances Hubbert - March 27, 1936

While working as a librarian at the Redwood Library, Frances Hubbert (1894-1967) also passionately pursued another project: securing the United States publication of Perfume from Provence (1935), a book by Lady Winifred Fortescue (1888-1951). This project of hers is detailed in a collection of her correspondence held at the Redwood. Arranged chronologically, the letters she received tell a story of her growing friendship with Lady Fortescue, her network of librarians and bookselling acquaintances, and the ways that she used her connections to successfully see that the book was published in America. The collection begins in 1936 with the first response she received from Lady Fortescue, written March 27, 1936.


The first page in Lady Fortescue's letter from March 27, 1936

In this first letter, Lady Fortescue had been a widow for two years and was ready to move out of her home, which she called “Domaine.” In the early 1930s, Lady Fortescue moved to Provence, France from England with her husband, Sir John Fortescue (1859-1933). Sir John was a well-known British military historian and the Royal Librarian and Archivist at Windsor Castle from 1905-1926. He was almost thirty years older than her, but from her letters it is evident that she missed him dearly. After her meandering thoughts on his absence and her emotions, Lady Fortescue turned to answer a question that was clearly posed to her by Frances Hubbert: “Why has the book not been published in the U.S.A.? Because your publishers don’t want it!” According to Lady Fortescue, her book had been incredibly popular in England and she had been written by librarians in the U.S. who got it from England and were full of praise, but this had not translated into interest from American publishers.


 Ferris Greenslet to Frances Hubbert - April 24, 1936

Clearly not satisfied with this, Frances Hubbert corresponded with with a woman from a small bookshop in Boston and received advice on who to contact at publishing houses to see her ends met. The main name to come through this was Ferris Greenslet (1875-1959) at Houghton Mifflin Co. She contacted him early in 1936 and received a response in April that promised he would give the matter some thought and get back in touch with her. Over the next few years, she received multiple letters from Greenslet and his staff as they decided to publish the book, asked for her assistance in spreading the word about it, and confirmed that the publishing of the book in America had been a success. In 1937, not only were they planning on ordering more, but they were also going to publish Lady Fortescue’s second book in America, Sunset House (1937), which was a story about the new home that she found for herself in the area after leaving the home she had shared with her husband.

 Letters from Zeldee B. Vosper, ALA Booklist Editor (left) & Franklin F. Hopper, NY Public Library (right)

With the book’s publication secured, Hubbert continued to advocate for the book among her connections in the literary world. She contacted the American Library Association’s Booklist to recommend the title and received a response that thanked her for her help that ended: “I wish more librarians would help us with this matter.” Another response came from Franklin F. Hopper (1878-1950) at the New York Public Library who promised to acquire the book and recommend it to his wife as well. Her efforts ensured the success and positive reception of the book in America.

Envelope that carried 1941 letter from Lady Fortescue, label reads from back "Opened by Examiner 16.."

Lady Fortescue’s life became slightly more complicated, as did so many others, with the arrival of World War II in Europe. The last dated letter in our collection is from 1941 and explains Lady Fortescue’s connections to the war. She had to leave France behind with the invasion of the Germans and said that she left her heart behind there, but she said: “If we can crush this Power of Evil, NOTHING else matters, only PEOPLE and FREEDOM matter. What a glorious bonfire we’ll make of all our black-out curtains and WHAT a blaze of light that will be when the war is over and we have WON!” Lady Fortescue’s letter was read and opened by censors and she was forced to rewrite page three, but her letter is hopeful and determined and she became an active aid to the war effort. She ends with a note that her next book, likely Trampled Lillies (1941), will come out in November. Even in war she continued as an author and a faithful correspondent to Frances Hubbert, sending her letters to Frances to her address at the Redwood Library.


The final two pages from Lady Fortescue's letter of November 1, 1941

For more information on our manuscript collections, check out our finding aids here and contact our staff for a reference appointment if you are interested in doing any further research.