Textus: English Studies in Italy
In the nearly eighty years since Laura Riding and Robert Graves ceased their collaborative endeavors there has been much speculation as to the nature and extent of their literary partnership. Graves retold the past to his biographers, constructing Laura Riding as a queen yogi figure wielding an almost sinister influence. In response to these accusations Riding returned fire with volley after volley of “corrective” letters which she sent to Graves’s biographers as well as any magazine or student that she found to be sympathizing with Grave’s account of the creative partnership. At the time of her death in 1991, Riding was embroiled in multiple contentious epistolary exchanges of which the primary object was the restoration, perhaps better identified as the recreation, of “Laura Riding.” These exchanges with friends, enemies, and editors of little magazines demonstrate her efforts to dispel what she considered incorrect characterizations of her “collaboration,” “connection” or “association” with Robert Graves. If we settle too easily into the entrenched positions of the Riding-Graves conflict we put ourselves in danger of continuing to debate Riding’s role in terms of a model of authorship that strictly delineates between creation and revision, authors and editors, and which, in turn, demands that Riding’s contributions be either credited or discredited. But “collaborators” often do not share the same conception of authorship, nor do they have fixed roles or rigid definitions of their own creative work. By the 1960s, when Graves gave his papers to the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Collection, he espoused a far more traditional sense of authorship than the one he and Riding articulated in the 1930s. At that time, Riding and Graves appeared to be united in their attitude toward collaboration and also toward the “scientific” study of authorship. This essay reconsiders Robert Graves and Laura Riding’s collaborative practice and revision techniques and the ways in which their very different self-archivization practices shaped their reception, first, at the institutional level of the collections and access restrictions at the University of Victoria, Cornell University, and University at Buffalo, then, through forensic examination of manuscripts, diaries, and correspondence. Reading the conflict, this essay focuses on Graves and Riding’s sonnet collaborations, from the famous analysis of Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 129’ in Survey of Modernist Poetry, to the communal six-authored poem published in the Times Literary Supplement as a long lost poem of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, to various sonnets each authored during the latter half of the 1930s. Anxieties about authorship attribution and reception in the Riding-Graves archives, as they represent an expanded authorial corpus and a record of early twentieth-century collecting practices, demonstrates the ways in which modernist form, composition, revision, and self-fashioning techniques reveal the archive as the modernist scene.
Original Publication Citation
Konkol, M. (2015). Of sonnets and archives: Robert Graves, Laura Riding, and the erasure of modernist poetry. Textus: English Studies in Italy, 28(3), 37-56.
Konkol, Margaret, "Of Sonnets and Archives: Robert Graves, Laura Riding, and the Erasure of Modern Poetry" (2015). English Faculty Publications. 153.