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MS Thr 423

Lees, Dorothy Nevile. Dorothy Nevile Lees papers relating to Edward Gordon Craig and The Mask: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: b
Call No.: MS Thr 423
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Lees, Dorothy Nevile, 1880-1966
Title: Dorothy Nevile Lees papers relating to Edward Gordon Craig and The Mask,
Date(s): 1905-1963.
Quantity: 1 collection (27 linear feet (54 boxes and 14 volumes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Papers collected by Dorothy Nevile Lees to document the life and work of Edward Gordon Craig, especially their work together on the theater journal The Mask.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Purchased from David Lees, Florence, Italy; received: 1986.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Beth Carroll-Horrocks, with assistance from Maggie Lehrman, Ben Abrahams, Celeste Beck, Kathy Bencowitz, Kate McFarlin, Bharat Ramamurti, and Jackie Romeo.

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Dorothy Nevile Lees Papers Relating to Edward Gordon Craig and The Mask (MS Thr 423). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966), was the son of British actress Ellen Terry and designer and architect Edward William Godwin (1833-1886). His role as champion of all things connected with the advancement of the art of the theatre is well documented in this collection. Craig was the publisher, editor, designer, and main contributor to a journal called The Mask, which he titled a "journal of the art of the theatre." The Mask was published in Florence, Italy, from 1908 to 1929, with several changes of frequency and long gaps in publication dates, especially during the years of the first world war. In 1918 and 1919 he also published one volume (12 issues) of The Marionnette, which shared offices, staff, and subscription lists with The Mask.
Dorothy Nevile Lees, born in Staffordshire, England, in 1880, moved to Florence in 1903 and stayed there for the rest of her life. In her first years there she published numerous articles about the life and culture of Tuscany, and in 1907 she published two books: Scenes and Shrines in Tuscany (Dent) and Tuscan Feasts and Tuscan Friends (Chatto and Windus). At this time she met Craig, who had moved to Italy for a number of reasons, including a desire to found a school of theatrical art and to start a journal to disseminate his philosophy of the theater and its practical application. Lees devoted herself to Craig, and to his work, serving as a major contributor to The Mask (usually under a pseudonym), and as its main managing editor. She took care of all contacts with paper suppliers, printers, and binders; subscriptions; and the management of its meager funds (most of which came from her).
In September of 1917 Lees gave birth to a son by Craig, David -called Davidino throughout this collection— for whom she carefully saved the records of The Mask. Dorothy Nevile Lees kept as many documents as possible out of the hands of the Nazis when they seized the contents of her office. Lees especially treasured the letters in this collection from Craig which mention their son. (David Lees became an Italian citizen, served in the Italian military, and had a distinguished career as a photographer.)
After The Mask ceased publication and Craig left Italy Dorothy Nevile Lees continued to publish articles, serving as a correspondent to The Times and to The Christian Science Monitor. She worked for several departments of the British military during and after World War II, and in the 1950s she built a major collection of Craig-related books and publications for the British Institute in Florence. In the last few decades of her life Lees wrote countless letters to the British government, trying to obtain a pension for Craig. (Some of those letters are in this collection.) She continued to collect articles and books about Craig, and she and Craig remained correspondents until 1966, the year in which they both died.


Organized into the following eight series: The correspondence series are organized in chronological order, frequently using dates provided directly on the item or its envelope by Dorothy Nevile Lees, who had organized and annotated the letters many years after their creation. Other series are organized alphabetically by various indexing terms, depending on the nature of the material.

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this collection documents the publication of The Mask, a journal founded by Edward Gordon Craig to promote his philosophy of the theater. The largest part of it -Craig's letters to Dorothy Nevile Lees, who served as the Mask's managing editor and usually its only staff member— will tell researchers much about Craig: his philosophy of the theater; his opinions about Americans, Italians, Germans, and certain individuals involved in the theater; his feelings about women (in general) in the theater; his editorial style and working methods; his methods of raising money both for The Mask and to support his families. The correspondence is almost all from Craig to Lees, so half of the story is lost, though he frequently responds to specific questions or complaints from her. Lees rarely left Florence during the years of The Mask 's publication, while Craig traveled all over Europe and even the United States. Even while he lived in Florence or other parts of Italy he sent Lees frequent notes about Mask editorial issues, many of which are retained in this collection.
A frequent subject of Craig's letters is Lees' behavior: he thought she used far too many words and far too many emotions to get her work done. One of the notes that Lees kept from him that condenses this sentiment into three words: "One, not 20" (i.e. - use one word, not twenty words; see Series I-A, Item 4261). She especially treasured "personal" comments from Craig, even when they were critical, and frequently marked these letters "Save for Davidino." Lees took great care to document the relatively short time during their long acquaintance when she and Craig were involved enough for her to become pregnant. Series I-A (Letters between Edward Gordon Craig and Dorothy Nevile Lees) and VIII-A (Personal Records of Dorothy Nevile Lees) contain the most documentation of their relationship, which remained a source of both conflict and pride for Lees for the rest of her life.
Craig's other family members are rarely mentioned in this collection, though a few Craig letters mention the illness and death of his mother, Ellen Terry, in 1928. The death of two of Craig's children (Deirdre, his daughter with Isadora Duncan, in 1913; and Peter, a son by his wife, May Gibson, in 1923) are noted more by Lees than by Craig. It is possible that Lees destroyed the more personal letters in her possession when she was preparing the Mask office files to be confiscated by the Nazi government.
Lees saved much of the correspondence she received after The Mask ceased publication; these letters are in Series I-B, and will be a good source for anyone studying her life and career after Craig left Florence.
We do not know exactly how much of The Mask's business records were taken by the Nazi government in 1944, but what remains in this collection leaves only a partial documentation of The Mask's history. Contributions from authors besides Craig and Lees are almost non-existent here; financial information is incomplete; and a full history of Mask subscriptions will be hard to reconstruct from these documents.

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