Journalist, translator, biographer and ‘literary sleuth’, David Arkell (1913-97) was born one hundred years ago today, on 23 August 1913, in Weybridge, Surrey. His parents were both involved in the arts: his father was an author, his mother an actress. Some of his earliest childhood memories involved visits to theatres where his mother was playing, and he made his own acting début at the age of seven, playing Peter Cratchit in a Charles Dickens Birthday Matinée at the Lyric Theatre in February 1921, alongside his mother and Ellen Terry.
Arkell began his career as a newspaper reporter in Newcastle upon Tyne in the early 1930s. Later in the decade he moved to Paris and became French correspondent for the Continental Daily Mail. Following internment during the Second World War, he returned to England and resumed his career as a journalist and translator. He published his first novel, Portrait of Mimosa, in 1958. During the 1960s he pursued his interest in French literature and the lives of French writers, especially the novelists and poets of the Avant-Siècle period. He was fascinated by the Symbolist poet Jules Laforgue (1860–87), who strongly influenced T.S. Eliot and other modernist writers. Arkell made a major contribution to Laforgue scholarship, and his biography was published by the Carcanet Press in 1979. He maintained a long correspondence with the press’s founder and director, Michael Schmidt, and also contributed to his literary journal, PN Review, until shortly before his death in 1997.
David Arkell’s archive, held at The John Rylands Library, contains a range of material documenting his entire life and work, from childhood to the year of his death. It includes family papers dating back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, as well as papers from Arkell’s own childhood and a series of letters written to his parents while he was imprisoned in France during the Second World War. The work-related papers span the whole of Arkell’s career, from his first job as a journalist in Newcastle to the 1990s. The archive is invaluable for Laforgue studies, and contains much useful information on other French literary figures of the Avant-Siècle period. The collection also effectively complements the Carcanet Press Archive, also held at The John Rylands Library, providing a fuller picture of Arkell’s relationship with the press and its director over a nineteen-year period.