Sean Connery asked for Germaine Greer’s number( and other things we found in her repositories)

A group in Melbourne has sifted through 50 years of the writers records and correspondence including, bizarrely, from the man once known as James Bond

Between 1968 and 1969, ensconced in Londons legendary bohemian flophouse The Pheasantry, Germaine Greer wrote a volume that would change thousands of womens lives. Scrawled in pen across her statement of intent, under the title The Female Eunuch Editorial, is the sentence: My book on girls, for which I have not yet devised a title, will be a collection of essays about what it is like to be a woman in 1969.

Though its unlikely she knew it at the time, the publication of The Female Eunuch would give birth to a shadow work that would document the inner lives and experiences of women and men from across generations.

This shadow work would eventually become the General Correspondence series of the Germaine Greer Archive. From the initial avalanche of mail triggered by The Female Eunuch grew 50 years of letters, emails, faxes, telegrams and newsletters from academics, schoolchildren, radicals and housewives all over the world , now stored in 120 grey, acid-free boxes at the University of Melbourne Archives.

The collection offers a powerful, often amusing, sometimes perplexing glimpse into the lives of the women( and men) affected by her work and drawn into her orbit, as well as the many faces of Greer herself academic, feminist, provocateur, confidant.

Delving into these records is a daunting and often disorienting experience. Archivists dont simply collect records, they collect record keeping systems. One of the guiding principles of our profession is that of original order the concept that there is information and meaning implicit in the order and method in which records have been maintained.

Greers organising principle was egalitarian: correspondence is filed alphabetically by surname, organisation or project, irrespective of date, subject or implication. A system such as this has obvious practical benefits for someone as busy as Greer, juggling television appearances, publishing bargains and public lecturing as well as attempting to answer personal mail from a devoted audience. However, when we read the series as official documents as an archivist must in the process of cataloguing the effects is dizzying.

Grassroots feminists and gardeners

Letters from grassroots feminists hoping to bring about the sexual revolution in 1971 sit beside those from Essex gardeners advising on the best route to protect apple trees from rabbits.

A letter from Sean Connery in 1972 requesting Greers phone number as I have an idea for research projects which could be interesting and fun is sandwiched between theatre invitations and autograph requests. I like to imagine that the arrangement also has a touch of the diehard Marxist, dedicating equal prominence to noted author Margaret Atwood and Joe Public from Manchester.

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A postcard from Margaret Atwood. Photo: Nathan Gallagher/ University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Archive

Inside these files, day is displaced. There is a sense of disorientation while browsing through a folder and moving from published emails to rapidly fading thermal fax paper, to telegrams and carbon copies.

Decades of changes in addresses, administrative assistants and literary agents are mashed together as we jump from a basement flat in Gloucester Walk, to the Tulsa Centre for the Study of Womens Literature, to the rural solitude of Greers farmhouse in Essex and its legion of puppies, geese, doves and goldfish.

So, too, does Greers voice shift through these different periods. In the 1970 s, she often answers unsolicited letters at length, sometimes entering into detailed correspondence on issues such as womens liberation, abortion their entitlements and contraception.

To a 17 -year-old Australian girl called Penny, reeling from her encounter with The Female Eunuch, Greer writes:

There is a contribution which merely you can induce, and only which can give you happiness. Be true to yourself, dear Penny, and be assured of my consider for you.

Letters
Penny Gulliver wrote to Germaine Greer several times over two decades. Photo: Nathan Gallagher/ University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Archive

Penny went on to write a women self-defence handbook and has a black belt in kung fu.

A 54 -year-old man writes, asking Greer for suggestions of three to four volumes worth reading at his public library. She answers by indicating he put up a secondhand book exchange and sends him a parcel of her favourites, including Madame Bovary.

New York and Tuscany

To good friends, Greer often writes in a free association, beat-style ramble, breaking off to cook some bread in the massive stone oven that served as the foundation of her house in rural Tuscany. She returns in the evening with an anecdote about whatever particularly creative style her cat Boogaloo had courted death that week.

We are transported to the stone house Pianelli in Cortona where she beseeches friends to come and bide to escape the conservatism of Tory England during the Oz magazine obscenity trial in 1971 and, afterward, Thatcherism.

Greer tears around( and sometimes off) mountain roads in a Triumph convertible and reads The Thornbirds in between tapping what would become Sex and Destiny into an ancient, filthy manual typewriter borrowed from Newsweeks Rome office.

This was her fortress of solitude among the madness of the 70 s and 80 s. To a neighbour she writes 😛 TAGEND

This is what I came for the sereno, a kind of weather so clear that I can hear the shepherd singing to his sheep in a valley two miles back.

Her joy is palpable in these flimsy pink and yellow ochre carbon copies of her descriptions of the state of her garden and the assemble of wild herbs. Letters written during her whirlwind 1971 tour of the United States offer the other side of the picture, betraying a horrified fascination with American politics and cultural activities.

A letter to lawyer and civil rights activist Florynce Kennedy gives an account of staying at the Hotel Chelsea and having dinner in a singlet and clogs at La Grenouille with Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver.

To Richard Neville in 1971 she writes 😛 TAGEND

A rightwing revolution in America could mean the end of the world; can that be what Edward Heath is preparing for? Sterile screwnoses rule us all. I am deep afraid again like I was when I was a little girl and the war was only just out of sight.

From New York, she tells her publisher, Sonny Mehta 😛 TAGEND

Jerry Rubin was trying to persuade me to come and live “re coming” die more like.

A talismanic figure

From the 90 s onward, Greer determines less and less day for correspondence. She sends her thanks for different kinds term scrawled on a postcard of a kangaroo or a printout sort response apologising that she is unable to respond personally.

Despite this, she still treats it as something like a sacred duty to respond in some manner to those who have approached her.

Greers Country Notebook column in the Sunday Telegraph, begun in 1999, resulted in an extraordinary sum of mail from old metal workers keen to explain to her the process of forging a carbon steel knife and Essex gardeners sending snapshots of English Bluebells in the wild.

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Germaine Greer at home on her estate in Natural Arch, Queenland, in 2006. Photograph: REX Shutterstock

To many of her correspondents, Greer seems to have been a talismanic figure be permitted to bring scrutiny and justice to their own personal cause. One correspondent writes regarding the accused English witch Molly Leigh who died in 1746. When the person or persons believed her spirit continued to haunt their township she was reburied facing north-south, at a right angle to the other tombs in the cemetery.

Greers petitioner writes to recruit her to exhume and rebury Molly Leigh facing east-west( Greers response: Let Molly Lie ).

A woman who runs a private museum in Chelsea writes several times offering to let Greer try on Queen Victorias underpants.

The psychologist and novelist Timothy Leary, a human Nixon once was regarded as the most hazardous man in America, writes from Sweden in exile: Ive loved you long. Its about time we connected.

Each believes in a mythic Germaine Greer. Most often, though, she just wants to be left alone.

She maintained it all

The fascinating thing is that Greer has maintained it all. Every letter telling her to go back to Australia and leave the Queen alone, every handwritten unified theory, has stimulated its route into a carefully alphabetised file and been kept for posterity.

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Germaine Greer in 1970. Photograph: Bentley Archive/ Popperfoto/ Popperfoto/ Getty Images

At first, the drive to keep everything seems amazing given the sheer volume of material and bizarreness of some of such requests. And, in her newspaper columns in the Daily Telegraph and the Independent, Greer has written repeatedly about the stres of answering her mail. In a 1995 column, she declared that 😛 TAGEND

All those a requirement for my favourite poem, recipe, volume, colour, into my big new shiny black garbage bin. No more filing and cross-referencing.

But, of course, jogging letters from strangers continued to be filed, though the cross-referencing may have ceased.

Perhaps as an English scholar, well practised in the use of manuscript sources, Greer has an appreciation for another concept central to archival theory: integrity.

One of the modern patriarchs of archival science, Sir Hilary Jenkinson, has defined the role of the archivist as a calling: His Creed, the Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the Conservation of every scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge.

I can see more than a little of Greer in this definition. Across the archive we ensure retrospective attempts by her to complete the record, including applying an AV archivist at one point to document and source footage of the hundreds of television and radio appearances she has constructed over the years.

Coming together

The archive as a whole has become something of a labyrinth for we archivists as we attempt to capture the complexity of the interrelationship. While we have biographies and Greers published works to draw on, there is a lot that is undocumented beyond this archive, perhaps existing only in Greers own memory.

Cryptic monikers and references to places, people and events encountered early in records may be made clear 50 boxes afterwards. Red herrings constantly present themselves is Rennie Count Lorenzo Passerini or South African novelist Rennie Airth? Does Fed refer to Federico Fellini?

Attempting to describe the scope of topics of discussion within a single file use subject headings have contributed to complex chunks of text that read like concrete poetry.

The description for the folder Correspondence SIN reads:

Chelsea Flower Show; Apples; Charoset; Seder; Birds as pets; Terminal care; The Female Eunuch; Prohibited books–South Africa; Bumblebees; Feminist films; Portrait of the Artist as an Old Lady( documentary ); Paraskeva Clark; Women comedians; Sex and Destiny; Womens underwear; The Sunday Time; Vietnam War 1961 -1 975; Peoples Coalition for Peace and Justice; Taxicab drivers; Country Notebook( The Telegraph ); Animal welfare; Dogs; The Guardian; Man-woman relationships; Rape victims–Bangladesh; Bangladesh–History–Revolution, 1971; Abortion; Advertising; Alka-Seltzer; Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme; Homes and haunts; Travel.

In a column about her biographer Christine Wallace, Greer once stated that her repository will take five years of genuine commitment to read. One year in, I think this is a conservative estimate.

The Female Eunuch Editorial closes with a quote from Rainer Marie Rilke 😛 TAGEND

The great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed from all false feeling and repugnance, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbours and will come together as human being.

Perhaps its sentimentality but, having waded through the compressed evidence of so many lives, I feel that in some small, symbolic route Greers correspondence attains this. Her run can bring together novelists and gardeners, academics, captives and housewives, perhaps not always in agreement but in conversation.

The Germaine Greer Archive will be accessible to researchers from the 27 March. Digitised items is provided in The University of Melbourne Archives catalogue. To hear Greers guess on the repository, video of the public event Germaine Greer Meets the Archivists is available online. Such articles was republished from the Conversation

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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