March is Women’s History Month and we’re taking the opportunity to highlight Sherriff’s connection with Velona Pilcher (1894–1952), an Anglo-American journalist, playwright and theatre director, who lived for a time near Haslemere. Like Sherriff, she had served during the war (based at the American base hospital at Bazeilles-sur-Meuse from 1918 to 1919) and her experiences, although very different to Sherriff’s, led her to write a play called The Searcher (1929). The play was performed in the USA and Britain in 1930 and was described by one American newspaper as the ‘female Journey’s End‘. However, whilst Journey’s End caught the attention of critics and commentators to such an extent that it rapidly became a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic, The Searcher virtually disappeared into obscurity.
The newly catalogued RC Sherriff papers contain a letter from Velona Pilcher to Sherriff, dated 11 May 1929, clearly the second that she had written to him. The first seems to involve a Swedish literary connection and Curtis Brown (who acted as agents for both Sherriff and Pilcher) to which Sherriff obviously responded favourably. However, from Velona’s surviving second letter to Sherriff her tone is conciliatory and she gives an interesting personal insight into Journey’s End against her own play. She writes:
“That you have a copy of my play with you – and like it – is the happiest news I have had in a long time. Because, since writing you, I have read your play – and it has made me very humble. Also very proud that mine has been compared to it at all. I think “Journey’s End” is beautiful. So moving that I am not going to see it – ever. That such a play is such a success, shews [sic] to me one of the most hopeful signs in this warring world – & also in the theatre world. – I feel ashamed, now, of my facetious postscript to you about it – and I should like to take that foolishness back. I really had no idea, ever from your Press, that your play was so beautiful, and true.
Charlotte Purkis, Principal Lecturer in Drama at the University of Winchester, has used the Sherriff collection to research her article ‘The Mediation of Constructions of Pacifism in Journey’s End and The Searcher, two Contrasting Dramatic Memorials from the Late 1920s’, which was recently published in Journalism Studies. The article covers new ground by examining the ways in which journalism in Britain and the United States shaped understanding of the First World War through the promotion and reception of Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Velona Pilcher’s The Searcher. We are grateful to Charlotte that her article is on open access and can be freely downloaded here http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1461670X.2015.1135753. A copy is also held in the library collections at Surrey History Centre.
The Sherriff travelling display goes to the Surrey Performing Arts Library!
The RC Sherriff travelling exhibition will be on public display at the Surrey Performing Arts Library, Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6AA (Tel: 01306 887509), from 1 – 29 April 2016, during normal opening hours. For further details please see www.surreycc.gov.uk/people-and-community/libraries/surrey-performing-arts-library or download as a pdf () document.