Lynd, Sylvia (writer)

Reference: MS 5585Date: 1930-1989Extent: c.3 boxes

Sylvia Lynd (c. 1888 – 21 Feb 1952), née Sylvia Dryhurst, was a London-born Irish poet, essayist, writer and novelist. A prominent contributor to poetry and writing in her own right, she was also significant for her roles in various literary circles throughout the inter-war years.

Lynd was born in Hampstead, London, and grew up with strong feminist and socialist influences. Her Dublin-born mother, Hannah Anne Robinson (later going under the names of ‘Nora’ and ‘Nannie’), was known for her work as a suffragist writer, anarchist and anti-imperialist activist. Nora wrote regularly for the anarchist newspaper Freedom, later taking over as editor, and was a strong supporter of Irish and Indian independence. Lynd’s father, Alfred Robert Dryhurst, was an assistant secretary at the British Museum, and had ties to both the Garrett and Fawcett families. Along with writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Dryhurst was also one of the first members of the Fabian Society.

From 1904 to 1906, Lynd studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, later moving on to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Around this time, she was associated with the Inghinidhe na hÉireann, an Irish nationalist women’s organisation. In 1908 a monthly magazine was produced, Bean na hÉireann, which sought to discuss topics such as politics, the vote for women, language, and labour issues. Lynd edited the first issue before returning to England.

Sylvia married Robert Wilson Lynd in 1909 after they had met at the London Gaelic League four years earlier. Born in Belfast to a Presbyterian minister, Robert became a journalist, writing for The Northern Whig and later becoming a literary editor for the Daily News (later known as News Chronicle) and a columnist for The New Statesman. In 1910 and 1912, their children Sigle and Máire were born. Both Sylvia and Robert continued to be active in Irish nationalist circles, and regularly spoke in Irish to their daughters.

Lynd’s first novel, The Chorus: A Tale of Love and Folly, was published by Constable and Co.  in 1915, followed a year later by a set of essays and poems inspired by the countryside, The Thrush and the Jay. Lynd also worked as a literary advisor for Macmillan publishing in the early 1920s, and became the chief book critic for the left-wing feminist Time and Tide magazine in 1922, remaining in the position until 1929.

The Lynds were well-connected in the literary world, and at their home at 14 Downshire Hill they regularly hosted parties to which figures such as W. B. Yeats, H. G. Wells and Katherine Mansfield would attend. In 1924 they moved to 5 Keats Grove, Hampstead, further expanding their literary circle, where they met with several writers associated with The New Statesman such as Desmond McCarthy, along with prominent publishers such as Victor and Ruth Gollancz. On one particularly notable occasion, James Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle, held their wedding dinner at Keats Grove in 1931.

Another associate was the novelist and lecturer Hugh Walpole, who through his connection with the Lynds asked Sylvia to help form part of the judging panel for a newly created group called The Book Society. Beginning in 1929 and modelled on the American ‘book-of-the-month’ clubs, it was to be the first of its kind in Britain. Sylvia also received paid work as a reader and reviewer for the Book Society, and as the only female judge on the panel would often use her position to promote the work of other women writers. Other prestigious positions included roles as part of the committee of the Prix Femina Via Heureuse Anglais, where she was appointed President in 1929 and from 1938-9.

Lynd worked prolifically and would continue to write, read, judge, and review for publishers up until her death in 1952, including working as a publisher’s reader for John Lane at the Bodley Head in 1930 as well as producing a history of English Children in 1942, and a poetry anthology in 1945.  Lynd’s works appeared in several notable publications, including The Nation, the New Statesman, the Weekly Westminster, The Bystander, and Harper’s Bazaar.

This collection contains diary entries, original autobiographical writings, and papers relating to Marie Gaister’s editing of Sylvia Lynd’s autobiography.

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