Leigh Fermor archive

Major archive acquired by the National Library of Scotland

The archive of one of the most important travel writers of the 20th century, and a war hero whose exploits were made into a major film, has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who died last year at the age of 96, is regarded as a central figure in understanding and appreciating mid-20th-century culture.

To describe his life as colourful does scant justice to the reality. At the age of 18 he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, a year-long journey described in his books 'A Time of gifts' and 'Between the woods and the water'. 'The Independent' described the former as 'rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language.'

His war record is equally impressive. After the fall of Crete in 1941, he was sent back to the island to organise guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete. This was made into a film, 'Ill Met by Moonlight', in 1956 starring Dirk Bogarde.

The archive consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence with leading figures — including the poet Sir John Betjeman — photographs, passports, portrait sketches and personal papers, including visitor books and various honours awarded to Leigh Fermor. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe.

It offers an unrivalled insight into his life and writings and adds to the wealth of travel literature at NLS. Acquisition of this archive is seen as helping to establish NLS at the forefront of 20th-century travel literature research collections

'This is a fantastic collection which will be made available at NLS,' said David McClay, Manuscripts Curator. 'We hope it will excite people who know of Paddy and introduce him to a whole new generation of people who may not be aware of his work.'

Its arrival at NLS comes just before a new biography of Leigh Fermor entitled 'An Adventure', by the British writer and family friend Artemis Cooper, is to be published.

Leigh Fermor died before he could complete the third volume in his travel trilogy. [Along with Colin Thubron, another of Fermor's friends and literary executors,] Artemis Cooper has worked on the uncompleted manuscript and this third volume — entitled 'The broken road' — is expected to be published in 2013. This will all add interest in Leigh Fermor's life and in the NLS archive.

The archive has been bought with a grant from the John R Murray Charitable Trust which assists NLS in the care and promotion of access to the Library's John Murray Archive. Leigh Fermor was published by the Murray family.

The connection with the Murray publishing house was one of the reasons NLS was chosen by Leigh Fermor's executors as the home for his archive. He also knew the Library, having donated his wife's photographic collection to NLS just before he died.

NLS has also taken possession of the personal archive of Leigh Fermor's close friend Xan Fielding, an author, translator and traveller who also fought in Crete. This has been donated to the Library by Fielding's family.

13 August 2012




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