Eavesdropping on Someone's Life - Norman Nicholson

NN's papers offered at auction
Writing this on the train back from Manchester, across the frozen, snow-bound Pennines.  I’ve been in the John Rylands Library all week, locked in the Special Collections unit, with the Norman Nicholson archive.

It’s a thrilling, but strange experience, reading the letters of the long-dead - people you didn’t know.
Rather voyeuristic.  The past is a time-capsule you can wander about in, finding tantalising snippets of a life - bus tickets, postcards, receipts, newspaper cuttings, letters and appointment diaries.  And you wonder just how true your impressions of people are, taken from the random, everyday trivia they preserved, and what they chose to reveal of themselves to others.  We’re all selective when it comes to what we want to disclose, depending on who the other person is and the impression we want to make.

At the moment, in his late teens and early twenties, Norman is coming across as rather callow and just a touch arrogant.  But maybe it’s all a pose, from a young man who lost all his chances of university life and a glittering academic career, by contracting TB and being shut up on his own in a sanatorium for 2 years.  He has a lot to prove and he doesn’t want people to think him an uneducated, working-class write-off.  It will be interesting to watch him develop.  Because that’s one of the plus-factors of biography - you get to watch your subject grow up.

I had a long chat with Dr David Cooper over lunch - he’s the unchallenged expert on Norman Nicholson’s poetry.  There’s very little critical material on Nicholson, so it’s good to be able to discuss it with someone who’s spent years studying it.  David Cooper has deliberately avoided the biographical aspect to focus on the text, so his opinion is going to be interesting.

Now it’s back to the Mill to write it all up.


  1. what a fascinating process researching a biography must be.
    Hope the Spring is being better behaved than it has recently up your way.


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