ABE_96_1-a-StAn archive of research notes, letters and correspondence was given to the college by Michael Noakes, honouring the wishes of his late wife Vivian (DPhil English,1992), who was the world authority on Edward Lear.

Vivien Noakes (Langley), who died five years ago, was best known as the biographer of the Victorian poet and illustrator but was also the leading scholar of war poet Isaac Rosenberg. Her English career didn’t begin until she was in her fifties, when she read English at Manchester College and then came to Somerville for a DPhil— where she was later a lecturer.

Growing up in Twickenham, she focused on the sciences, studying physics, chemistry, biology, botany and zoology and later moved to London and trained as a nurse at St Thomas Hospital. She married portrait and landscape painter Michael Noakes in 1960, and hadn’t discovered Lear until she was raising their three children and saw an item about his bird illustrations on Blue Peter. Upon researching, she realised there was very little information about him.

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Vivien Noakes as portrayed by her husband, the painter Michael Noakes, in 1995.

First, in 1968, she published the first biography of Edward Lear, The Life of a Wanderer. This was followed by two anthologies, For Lovers of Edward Lear in 1978 and Scenes from Victorian Life published the following year. In 1985 she was the guest curator of an exhibition of his paintings at the Royal Academy, next she published Selected Letters of Lear in 1988 which was followed by The Painter Edward Lear in 1991.

We are most thankful to Michael Noakes and her long time collaborator Charles Lewsen, for all their efforts with preserving the collection. Somerville plans to hold an exhibition of the archive in the library in the spring.

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