A Study in cooperation and scholarly generosity: Briggs and Langley Moore

by Anna Blanch on February 25, 2011

I’ve been reading quite a few academic tit for tats. Book reviews with prompt responses which in turn prompt a response to the response by the original reviewer. In the least they are petty, sometimes robust and healthy discussions, and in the worst vitriolic and all too personal attacks. However, I’ve come to see the relationship between Nesbit’s two major biographers as an example of cooperation and scholarly generosity.

Doris Langley Moore and Julia Briggs are of different generations. Neither are still alive. Neither wrote predominantly on Nesbit though their biographies of her represent the largest repository of biographical material that exists about her and both are relied upon extensively by critics.

What is significant for me about these two biographies and biographers is not just the finished biographies, but the generosity shown by Langley Moore towards Briggs whose second major biography was able to shed light on largely censored or unwritten portions of Nesbit’s life. In saying that portions were unwritten is not to offer criticism of Moore, for she herself lamented the social mores of the time that prevented her from more openly discussing aspects of Nesbit’s personal life because she was concerned about the feelings of her surviving children.

Indeed, Langley Moore handed over all of the papers and materials she had collected during her own writing of Nesbit’s biography in the hope Briggs’ biography would be able to go where hers was not able. The independent makes light of this extraordinary exchange in its obituary of Briggs:

The late Doris Langley Moore, who had known Nesbit, had a policy of refusing all requests, and it took months of cajoling before she relaxed her rule. Once they met, the two women instantly became friends, the boxes in Moore’s house were searched for the old papers and A Woman of Passion became possible.

It seems appropriate that Briggs, passionate and brilliant in her own write would write Nesbit. Her Guardian obituary from 2007 depicts a scholar forging a path through the wooded paths of Oxford, shining as a consequence of her bravery in approaching topics and authors others have not considered suitable for doctoral study.

Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland, where she’s presently writing her doctoral thesis on E.Nesbit . She is also a regular contributor to Transpositions.

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