While The Day of the Triffids brought global literary acclaim, author John Wyndham was engaged in a passionate but frustrated affair revealed in love letters held by the University of Liverpool’s Special Collections and Archives (SC&A).
The SC&A, in the Sydney Jones Library, holds more than 350 letters written to Wyndham’s life-long partner, Grace Wilson including hand-made Valentine’s cards and notes describing scenes of war in the 1940s.
The pair had an unusual relationship. Grace was a school teacher and would have been forced to leave her job had she married Wyndham, so their love remained clandestine until her retirement in 1963.
Andy Sawyer is the SC&A’s Science Fiction Librarian. He said: “Wyndham was one of the major science fiction writers of the 1950s. He very much reinvented himself and started deliberately writing for a mass audience after the war, before which he had been writing for fairly obscure magazines. The Day of the Triffids was something he wrote to become a bestseller, and it did. A lot of people thought it was his first novel, and a lot of people read it that weren’t science fiction fans. He was very much the person who developed the idea of writing about something that was going on socially, in the form of a futuristic catastrophe.”
His love letters couldn’t be more different. Some use old English words and spellings, such as ‘myn swetyng’ whilst others include hand-made heart seals and tags. There is a sense of longing running through the documents, of yet unfulfilled promise. In one he writes, “the blossom never grew beside the way”, while another starts “Now spread the petals of another empty May”.
Andy Sawyer said: “Some come across a little bit cloying. He uses the term ‘sweet’ a lot. They are written in a personal style which sounds a bit old-fashioned these days, but in some places is quite charming and playful.”
Following publication of The Day of the Triffids in 1951, Wyndham went on to have further success with The Kraken Wakes (1953), The Chrysalids (1955) and The Midwich Cuckoos, also known as Village of the Damned, in 1957.
The John Wyndham Archive was acquired by the University in 1998. It also contains a large number of holograph manuscripts, corrected typescripts of novels and short stories – some unpublished – as well as non-fiction articles and scripts for radio, screen and stage plays.
SC&A Manager, Jenny Higham said: “The SC&A represents a unique opportunity for teaching, research and collaboration, and is accessible to all members of the University, the wider academic and cultural communities and to members of the public. A selection of highlights, covering areas as diverse as medieval manuscripts, Victorian children’s literature and the Spanish Civil War, can be found on our blog.”
Despite the unusual genesis to their relationship, John Wyndham and Grace Wilson remained married until the former’s death in 1969.