Catherine Carswell Collection

A collection of letters to and from Catherine and Donald Carswell.

About Catherine Carswell

Catherine Roxburgh Carswell (née Macfarlane; 27 March 1879-18 February 1946) was born and educated in Glasgow and become a journalist for the Glasgow Herald. She lost this job in 1915 after reviewing favourably D.H Lawrence's book "The Rainbow". In the same year, she married her second husband, fellow journalist Donald Carswell. Her first marriage had ended disastrously after her husband tried to kill her and was declared insane. Catherine subsequently made legal history by having the marriage annulled in court on the basis of his insanity.

Her first novel "Open the Door" was published in 1920, with her second book "The Camomile" appearing in 1922.

Her most famous work, "Life of Robert Burns", was published in 1930. This biography encountered a great deal of criticism from many traditional Burnsians, but also produced support from many who admired her work and whose letters are included in the collection.

Apart from her journalism, Catherine continued to write biographies, such as those on D.H. Lawrence and the Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio.

Catherine stayed in London for most of her adult life and, when Donald suddenly died in a street accident during the blackout in 1940, she chose to remain there until her death in 1946 at the age of 67. Her son, John, published her autobiography "Lying Awake: An Unfinished Autobiography", which includes essays, letters and poems she had started to write before her death.


About the collection

The Catherine Carswell collection was donated to the Mitchell library by members of her family, and consists of over 150 letters written by both Catherine and Donald Carswell to their friend and folklorist, Florence Marian McNeil, and over 150 letters written to both Catherine and Donald Carswell from various authors, poets, playwrights and scholars such as Henry Osborne Manvor, H.J. C. Grierson and Neil Millar Gunn.

The collection also includes a number of newspaper articles relating to Catherine Carswell, and reviews of her novels, along with Donald Carswell's two plays, "The Young Chevalier" and "Count Albany".

Finding aid

Carswell Collection listing (PDF, 224KB)

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


BBC Two: Writing Scotland

The camomile: an invention by Catherine Carswell. with a new introduction by Ianthe Carswell.

Open the door! by Catherine Carswell. Introduced by John Carswell.

The life of Robert Burns by Catherine Carswell. Introduced by Tom Crawford.

Lying awake, an unfinished autobiography and other posthumous papers by Catherine Carswell. Edited with an introduction by John Carswell.

Catherine Carswell's war: letters, 1939-1946. Selected and introduced by Jan Pilditch

Catherine Carswell: a biography by Jan Pilditch

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