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Guide to the Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis papers, 1906-1982
Special Collections M0352  
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note : Yvor Winters
  • Scope and Content
  • Separated Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1906-1982
    Collection number: Special Collections M0352
    Creator: Lewis, Janet, 1899- Winters, Yvor, 1900-1968.
    Extent: 8.5 linear ft. and 1 oversize box.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.


    Gift of Janet Lewis Winters, 1959-1983.

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis papers, M0352, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Biographical Note : Yvor Winters

    Yvor Winters was born in Chicago on October 17, 1900, the son of a stockbroker. As a very young child he moved west with his family to California and Washington, returning later to Chicago where he spent three years in high school and four quarters at the University of Chicago.
    In his last year of high school he became interested in poetry and by age sixteen he subscribed to Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, edited by Harriet Monroe, the Little Review, and Others, all promoting the new Imagist poetry. At the University of Chicago, from 1917 to 1918, he joined the recently formed Poetry Club through which he met Harriet Monroe, Maurice Lesemann, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, and Glenway Wescott, among others.
    A diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1918 cut short his college study, and he went to the drier climate of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a three-year convalescence. During his enforced rest there, Winters had ample time for reading and correspondence. He sent poetry to Harriet Monroe for publication and continued to correspond with his Poetry Club associates. He also corresponded with Marianne Moore, then working at the New York Public Library, who sent him literary works that she admired.
    By 1921 Winters had recovered sufficiently to leave the sanatorium and paid a brief visit to Chicago where he met Janet Lewis, his future wife, at the lodgings of Elizabeth Madox Roberts. The following year Janet Lewis, herself ill with tuberculosis, entered the same sanatorium in Santa Fe that Winters had just left. Winters returned to New Mexico in 1921 to teach school in the coal camps of Madrid and Cerillos, south of Santa Fe. He also published his first books at this time: The Immobile Wind, 1921; and The Magpie's Shadow, 1922. In 1923 he entered the University of Colorado and received his B.A. and M.A. in Romance Languages from the university in 1925. From 1925 to 1927 he taught French and Spanish at the University of Idaho.
    Winters married Janet Lewis on June 22, 1926, in Santa Fe, but she was too weak to accompany him back to Idaho; therefore, they were apart for that first year of marriage. In 1927 they moved together to California where Winters entered Stanford as a graduate student and published The Bare Hills. In 1928 he became a full-time instructor in the English Department and started The Gyroscope Group, a dynamic group of young Stanford students who sought Winters' criticism, ideas and friendship. Winters, Janet Lewis, and Howard Baker edited a mimeographed journal, Gyroscope, in 1928-1929, which ran to four numbers. At the same time, he was Western editor of the Hound and Horn, in which, during its last couple of years, some of Winters' best uncollected critical writing may be found. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1934 and stayed on as a permanent faculty member in the English Department, being appointed to the Albert Guerard Professorship in 1962. During his forty years at Stanford, Winters continued to write, teach, edit, translate, and lecture.
    One of America's preeminent critics of poetry, Winters began his career as a poet, doing his important work in literary criticism later in his life. His early poetry was written under the influence of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore, among others. An adherent of the balance between reason and emotion in poetry, Winters is highly acclaimed for critical theory which is distinctly individual yet remarkably objective. It is his poetry which provides the strong foundation for his teaching and criticism and which was the most meaningful to him personally.
    In 1965 the cancer that eventually led to his death was diagnosed, and the first of two operations was performed. Despite his illness, Winters completed Forms of Discovery in 1966. He died January 25, 1968.
    Before he retired in 1966, Winters had taught and influenced many young writers who have since become known and respected in their own right. A partial list includes Steve Berry, Gus Blaisdell, J.V. Cunningham, Catherine Davis, Kenneth Fields, Lee Gerlach, Barbara Gibbs, Albert Guerard, Jr., Charles Gullans, Thom Gunn, Donald Hall, Philip Levine, Edward Loomis, (James McMichael), N. Scott Momaday, Raymond Oliver, Grosvenor E. Powell, Judith Roscoe, Ann Stanford, Don Stanford, Alan Stephens, Helen Pinkerton Trimpi, and Wesley Trimpi.
    Yvor Winters' publications include: The Proof, 1930; The Journey, 1931; Before Disaster, 1934; Primitivism and Decadence and Twelve Poets of the Pacific (editor), 1937; Maule's Curse, 1938; Poems (handprinted by his own Gyroscope Press), 1940; The Anatomy of Nonsense and The Giant Weapon, 1943; Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1946; In Defense of Reason and The Brink of Darkness, 1947; Poets of the Pacific, 2nd series (editor), 1949; Collected Poems, 1952; The Function of Criticism, 1957; The Early Poems, 1966; and The Quest for Reality, published in 1969, the year after his death. His publisher, Alan Swallow, became an important and close friend. Winters contributed to almost all the important American literary journals, among the Poetry, Dial, The New Republic, The Hudson Review, the New Mexico Quarterly Review, and Hound and Horn.
    Publications about Winters include:
    Davis, Dick. Wisdom and Wilderness. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1983. (Incl. Bibliog.)
    Isaacs, Elizabeth. An Introduction to the Poetry of Yvor Winters.
    Chicago: Swallow Press, 1981. (Incl. Bibliog.)
    McKean, Keith F. The Moral Measure of Literature. Denver:
    A. Swallow, 1961.
    Powell, Grosvenor. Language as Being in the Poetry of Yvor Winters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
    Sexton, Richard J. The Complex of Yvor Winters' Criticism.
    New York, Fordham University. Thesis. 1973.
    Powell, Grosvenor, 1932-. Yvor Winters, an annotated bibliography, 1919-1982. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1983.

    Biographical Note: Janet Lewis

    Janet Lewis was born in Chicago on August 17, 1899, the daughter of Elizabeth Taylor Lewis and Edwin H. Lewis, an English college teacher, novelist, and poet. From her father Janet received her basic education in English prose as well as the background and chief inspiration for her novel The Invasion, a narrative of events concerning the Johnstone family of St. Mary's. The year Janet was born her father built a cabin on an island in the St. Mary's River, at a spot called Sailor's Encampment, between Mackinac and Sault Ste. Marie. It was there the Lewis family spent their summers and there, also, that the grandchildren of the Johnstone family of The Invasion (John Johnstone and his Ojibway wife Neengay) became dear and lasting friends.
    Janet Lewis attended Oak Park High School in the prosperous suburb of Chicago, where she wrote for the student publications Trapeze and Tabula, later attended the Lewis Institute, and then entered the University of Chicago as a French major, receiving her Ph.B. in 1920. White at the University, she belonged to the Poetry Club, sponsored chiefly by Robert Morss Lovett, and contributed to Harriet Monroe's Poetry Magazine. Other members of the Club at that time included Maurice Lesemann, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Yvor Winters, Glenway Wescott (president), Pearl Andelson, Edward Sherry, John Toigo, and Kathleen Foster, among others. Immediately upon graduation she left for Paris where she worked at the U.S. Passport Bureau. On her return to Chicago she was for a short time on the staff of Redbook and she also taught at the Lewis Institute.
    Late in 1921 she met Yvor Winters, her future husband, in Chicago, at the lodgings of Elizabeth Madox Roberts. Earlier, not having yet met Lewis, Winters, as secretary of the Poetry Club, sent her notification of admission to the Club on the strength of her poem Freighters. In 1922 her first collection of poetry, Indians in the Woods, was published in Monroe Wheeler's Manikin I. It was also in that year she discovered she had tuberculosis.
    In the early fall of 1922 she went to Sunmount Sanatorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to tutor a boy, from a wealthy New York family, who had a tubercular knee. She received board and keep as well as the concerned supervision of a doctor there, although she was at that time an arrested case. After one academic year of tutoring her student, she returned to Everens Point on Neebish Island, in the St. Mary's waterway, for the summer, became ill in the autumn, and returned to Sunmount Sanatorium just before Christmas 1923 where she remained until the spring of 1927. While at the sanatorium, she tutored, without compensation, a couple of young boys who were also patients there.
    In 1926 she married Yvor Winters in Santa Fe and, upon her release from Sunmount in 1927, they moved to Stanford where she continued to write, combining the role of author with that of wife and mother of two children, Joanna and Daniel. Since the death of her husband in 1968, she has taught writing at Stanford and literature at the University of California in Berkeley. She and her husband had a mutually reinforcing effect on each other's work, sharing many critical standards. Together they gardened, raised goats, bred and showed prize Airedales. These daily life pursuits, together with her wide circle of close friends, provided the rich experience that is reflected in her writing. Janet Lewis still lives in the Los Altos home she and her husband, Yvor Winters, shared for many years.
    Among her published works are a children's story, The Friendly Adventure of Ollie Ostrich, 1923; poetry: The Wheel in Midsummer, 1927; The Earth-Bound, 1946; Poems, 1922-1944, 1950; The Ancient Ones, 1979; and Poems Old and New, 1918-1978, 1981; fiction: Against a Darkening Sky, 1943; Good-bye, Son, and Other Stories, 1946; historical fiction, cases of circumstantial evidence: The Wife of Martin Guerre, 1941; The Trial of Sören Qvist, 1947; and The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron, 1959; historical narrative: The Invasion, 1932, and After Father Allouez, 1970; and librettos: The Wife of Martin Guerre, 1958; The Last of the Mohicans, 1976; and The Birthday of the Infanta, 1979. She has also contributed to journals such as Poetry, The Lyric West, The New Republic, This Quarter, and Hound and Horn.
    For additional biographical material, see:
    Crow, Charles L. Janet Lewis. Western Writers Series, No. 41 Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1980. (Bibliography.)
    Peck, Ellen McKee. Exploring the Feminine: A Study of Janet Lewis, Ellen Glasgow, Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf. Stanford, Department of English. Ph.D. Thesis. 1974. (Bibliography.)

    Scope and Content

    The papers, covering 1906-1981, are divided into three major series: Winters papers, Lewis papers and related materials. Winters papers, which are subdivided according to genre, consists of personal correspondence (primarily in-coming), professional correspondence with colleagues and publishers, articles and essays, critical texts, poetry, fiction, photographs, and miscellany. The personal correspondence files include letters conveying opinions on the works of fellow writers or letters seeking Winters criticism of their works. In addition the papers document Winters involvement with topics of local interest such as the David Lamson murder case, the integration of Ravenswood High School, and Los Gatos community issues resulting from Winters' service as Zone Warden during World War II. His correspondence with his publishers, particularly Alan Swallow, trace the course of Winters publications; also documented is John Williams plaigarism of Winters' work.
    The Janet Lewis papers, also subdivided according to genre, include her personal and professional correspondence, articles, essays, lectures, novels, librettos, poems, and miscellany. In addition to the discussion of current literary ventures, letters from Lewis' friends often discuss the problem of balancing the responsibilities of motherhood with those of a literary career.
    Correspondents represented in the papers of Winter and Lewis include: Katherine Anne Porter, Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, F. R. Leavis, J.V. Cunningham, Theodore Roethke, William Saroyan, Hart Crane, Maurice Lesemann, Pearl Andelson Sherry, Bruce Bliven, Elizabeth Daryush, N. Scott Momaday, and others.
    The third series of the papers consists of related materials such as: works by friends and former students of Lewis and Winters, musical scores by William Bergsma and Malcolm Seagrave, interviews of Lewis, and miscellany. (cataloged separately)

    Separated Materials

    Materials transferred to Felton Collection

    • 1. (3 vols. of) The Gyroscope, ed. by Yvor Winters, Janet Lewis, and Howard Baker. Nov. 1929, Feb. 1930 (2 copies).
    • 2. Winters, Yvor. The Bare Hills. Four Seas: Boston, 1927.
    • 3. Winters, Yvor. The Brink of Darkness. The Swallow Pamphlets Number 15: Denver, n.d.
    • 4. Winters, Yvor. The Immobile Wind. Monroe Wheeler: Evanston, Ill., 1921.
    • 5. Winters, Yvor. In Defense of Reason. 3rd. ed. Alan Swallow: Denver,
      Date: 1947.
      (Kenneth Fields copy of the book with his margin notes, underlining, etc...)

    Materials transferred to Archives (from Lewis/Winters)

    Stanford Teaching Materials
    • Folder 1. Yvor Winters. Reading Lists:
      • English 18, 5pp.
      • English 190, Chief American Poets, 7pp.
      • English 251, The English Lyric, 6pp.
      • English 266, Chief American Poets, 12pp.
      • English 266, Chief American Poets, Winter 1966, 12pp.
    • Folder 2. Yvor Winters. Teaching Materials: Poems, 21pp.
    • Folder 3. Janet Lewis. Teaching Materials:
      • Narration 5, syllabus. 3pp. typewritten draft, 2pp. mimeo.
      • Narration 5, Winter 1970, syllabus. 1p. typewritten draft, 1p. mimeo.
      • Course outlines/syllabi in JL's hand, 2pp.
      • Notes on students, papers, student grades, 46 leaves
      • Notebook. Notes on students, papers.
    • Folder 4. Freshman English Program for 1966-7, booklet.