Thursday, October 8, 2020

'Not India'

So, thanks to Denis B. and Jessica Y  I was able to read a little article ("Tolkien at the Crossroads") by Bodleian Tolkien Archivist Catherine McIlwaine that had appeared in the February 2020 issue of LITERARY REVIEW (p. 64).

In it McIlwaine reports her discovery of a single index card that throws light on JRRT's decisions during the period when he was being demobilized from his military service and looking around for a postWar job. Visiting Oxford in December 1918 he stopped by the Oxford University careers service to fill out "copious forms"; the index card represents the career service's summary of the results. 

The interviewer noted that he [Tolkien] would take anything 

either at home or abroad (but 'not India') and that 

although his preference was for a lectureship

at Oxford, he would consider teaching at

a public school or working for the government

or the civil service. 

The job service's conclusion shows that they must have been pretty good at their jobs:

Despite Tolkien's willingness to consider any job on offer in 1918,

his academic achievements marked him out as a prime candidate

for a university position. The careers services advised him to remain in

Oxford and use his personal contacts to find an academic appointment. 

Doing just that, he soon secured a job as a lexicographer at the New

English Dictionary . . . but continued to pursue an academic career

by working part-time as a tutor for non-collegiate students at the 

university. He was appointed reader in English language at the 

University of Leeds less than two years later.

This relic of Tolkien's post-war job hunt* is, as McIlwaine points out, of interest because it shows a point at which Tolkien's plans were all in flux and that a career path that seems to us inevitable was by no means determined. Things cd have gone quite differently.**

The most interesting detail to me is the passing reference to "not India") --cryptic because it lacks context what might explain the why behind this note. We do know that at one point a few years later Tolkien seriously considered taking up a post in South Africa.

It's also interesting that the interviewer described Tolkien as "tall slim fair with good manners . . . capable & energetic" -- which again shows a different side of him than the weary grieved soldier of other accounts.

--John R.

--current reading: DEVIL'S TOR (resumed), Murderbot novel (re-read)

*Dunsany's play MR. FAITHFUL casts a comic light on the dilemma of so many surviving officers trying to find any job in the postWar era: his hero takes the job of a human watchdog.


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