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Ref No IE TCD MS 10408
Title Papers of James and Cynthia Stephens and their children Iris Wise (née Stephens) and James Naoise Stephens.
Creation Dates 1910-1991
Extent And Medium 60 standard boxes; 2 legal size boxes; 1 typewriter in case; 1 wooden chest
Level Of Description Collection
Author James, Cynthia, Iris and James Naoise Stephens
Admin Biographical History James Stephens ([?1880]-1950), novelist, poet and broadcaster, was born in Dublin, probably the second son of Francis Stephens, a vanman, and his wife Charlotte. Stephens himself claimed to have been born on 2 February 1882, a birth date shared with James Joyce. In 1886 Stephens was committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys for begging in the streets. After his departure from the Meath School in 1896 he led a penurious and precarious existence holding a number of short-term clerking jobs. Though he was of short stature Stephens was physically strong and agile: he was a member of the Dawson St Gymnastic Club which won the Irish Shield in 1901. In 1905 Stephens began to contribute stories to the journal United Irishman (later Sinn Féin) becoming a regular contributor from 1907. He worked as a clerk-typist at T T Mecredy & Son, a firm of solicitors on Merrion Sq, Dublin until his resignation in 1913. His writing brought him to the attention of George Russell ('AE') in 1907, forming a lasting friendship, and giving Stephens access to Dublin's literary circles. In 1907 Stephens began a relationship with his landlady, Millicent Kavanagh (née Gardiner), whose husband John Brannick ['Harry'] Kavanagh had decamped leaving her destitute and pregnant. They brought up her daughter Iris (b. 1907) and had one son, James Naoise (b. 1909); they married on 14 May 1919 after the death of Kavanagh.
Stephen's first book of poems Insurrections was published in 1909. In 1909-1911 Stephens acted in several Theatre of Ireland productions, which also staged his play 'The marriage of Julia Elizabeth' in November 1911. Stephens sat on the committee of The Irish Review (published March 1911-November 1914) which serialised his first novel The Charwoman's Daughter as Mary: A Story.
1912 was a turning-point in Stephen's life: The Charwoman's Daughter was published in book form; The Crock of Gold appeared to huge public acclaim winning the Edmund Polignac Prize of £100 the following year; his second book of poems The Hill of Vision was published; Stephens decided to become a full-time writer and he acquired a literary agent, James B Pinker. In 1913 The Nation (London) commissioned a series of short stories. Stephens moved to Paris with his young family in May 1913 where he remained until appointed Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland in 1915. The Stephens family retained the Paris flat, even after returning to Ireland, making frequent visits over the years. Their Dublin home was a flat at 42 Fitzwilliam place. Stephens's book Insurrection in Dublin (1916) was a personal eye witness account of events in Dublin during the 1916 Rising. In 1923 Stephens won the Taillteann gold medal for his novel Deirdre. He became a member of the Irish Academy of Letters on its foundation in 1932. It is unclear why Stephens resigned from the National Gallery in December 1925. He left Ireland moving to London where he lived for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. Even though most of his important prose works were written before 1925 Stephens continued to write poetry until 1938 when Kings and the Moon, his last collection of poems, appeared. Stephens went on a number of American lecture tours, the first in 1925, followed by another in 1926, and annually from 1929 to 1935. Stephens formed an important relationship with the American publisher and patron of the arts W T H Howe, whose house, 'Freelands', Kentucky was an important base for Stephens to work and meet American writers and artists. He was a gifted speaker charming audiences with his animated poetry reading. On his return to London after his first US tour in 1925 Stephens bought 'Eversleigh', Queens Walk, Kingsbury, London which remained the family home until his daughter Iris Wise's death. In 1927 Stephens friendship with James Joyce developed overcoming the instant antipathy that marked their first meeting many years previously in Dublin. For the last twenty years of his life Stephens's health was very frail. He underwent a series of operations for gastric trouble; his debilitating ill-health made him increasingly ill-tempered. He became paranoid about dealers exploiting him as the sales of his manuscripts achieved considerably higher prices than he ever received. For the last twenty years of his life he had no inclination to produce written work but his creativity found a new outlet as a regular BBC broadcastor from 1937. Stephens was famous as one of Dublin's greatest talkers but as a radio broadcaster he reached a wide and appreciative audience. Although an Irish nationalist Stephens declared himself an Englishman for the duration of the Second World War. In 1942 Stephens received a Civil List Pension for literature from the British Government. He was awarded an honorary D.Litt degree from Trinity College Dublin in 1947. Stephens died on 26 December 1950 and is buried in the parish church of St Andrew in Kingsbury alongside his son James Naoise who died tragically on Christmas Eve 1937.
His wife Cynthia (Mary Josephine , also known as 'Lily' or 'Millicent') Stephens was one of six children born to Thomas Gardiner and his wife Lucy Kelly. She married first John Brannick Kavanagh (1902) and then second James Stephens (1919). Cynthia died on 18 December 1960.
Iris Stephens was born 14 June 1907 and raised as James Stephens's daughter. Their son James Naoise Stephens was born 26 October 1909. Iris married her neighbour Norman Wise in 1937.
Scope And Content This collection documents the literary career of James Stephens and his later career as a BBC radio broadcaster. The manuscripts of several of James Stephens's important early prose works were sold during his own lifetime. The large body of correspondence gives a vivid insight into both the public and private lives of James Stephens and his wife Cynthia including individuals such as George Russell (AE), Thomas Bodkin, Padraic and Mary Colum, Oliver St John Gogarty, Lady Gregory, William T H Howe, S S Koteliansky, Stephen MacKenna, James Joyce, George Moore, Lady Ottoline Morrell and W B Yeats. James Stephens's wife Cynthia and then later their daughter Iris undertook the management of his literary estate. There are property, financial and legal papers relating to James and Cynthia Stephens, and Iris and Norman Wise. There is a small body of material relating to James Naoise Stephens.
Arrangement Literary papers of James Stephens (prose works, reviews, plays and film scenario, broadcasts, poetry); volumes relating to the Stephens family and others (notebooks, diaries, autograph books and accounts); literary works of others (prose works, broadcasts, poetry and music); family correspondence; general correspondence of James and Cynthia Stephens; personal and general correspondence of Iris and Norman Wise; papers and general correspondence of James Naoise Stephens; financial papers of James and Cynthia Stephens; property papers; newspaper cuttings; photographs.

Document Stephensindex.pdf
Access Conditions Please contact
Copyright Please contact
Mgt Group Literary & theatrical
Personal papers
Family & estate papers
Language English, French and Irish.
Related Material There are James Stephens manuscript materials in the National Library of Ireland; University College Dublin; British Library, London; Bodleian Library and Merton College Library, Oxford; Eton School Library; Brotherton Library, Leeds; University College, London; National Sound Archive, London; University of Birmingham; BBC Written Archives Centre, Reading; Tate Gallery Archive, London; North American institutions including Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin;Lilly Library, Indiana University; Colby College, Maine; Southern Illinois University Library.
Public Note Birgit Bramsbäck, James Stephens: a literary and biographical study, Upsala Irish Studies IV (1959).
Letters of James Stephens, ed Richard Finnernan (London 1974).
James, Seumas & Jacques: unpublished writings of James Stephens, ed Lloyd Frankenberg (London 1964).
Uncollected prose of James Stephens, ed Patricia Mc Fate, 2 vols (London 1983).
Augustine Martin, James Stephens: a critical study (Dublin 1977).
Hilary Pyle, James Stephens: his work and an account of his life (London 1965).
Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge 2010)
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