Nathan Comfort Starr Collection of Arthuriana

Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Wesleyan Library, Samantha Klein recently completed a cataloging project for a collection of Arthuriana here in Special Collections & Archives. Samantha wrote the following text about the collection and the project:

Members of the Wesleyan community interested in King Arthur and his knights have a unique opportunity to peruse the variety of materials in the Nathan Comfort Starr Collection of Arthuriana, held in Special Collections & Archives at the Olin Library. Nathan Comfort Starr, an Arthurian scholar, amassed an interesting and varied collection that spans 16th century histories, 19th century poetry, and 20th century scholarship and novelizations about King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the age of chivalry. Thanks to a connection with Wyman Parker, former head librarian at Wesleyan, the collection was donated to Wesleyan University in 1981. For the past three months, I have been cataloging the books, entering them into the online catalog and processing the small assortment of papers and clippings that came along with them.

It has been a fascinating three months. The books range from the beautiful, rare, and costly to children’s sticker albums, all with some relation to the tales of Arthur, Lancelot, Tristan, Merlin, or the Holy Grail. In his studies, Starr focused on the modern takes on the legend, looking at the works of Tennyson, Robinson, T.H. White, and C.S. Lewis, along with any number of lesser-known novelists who all had a different take on the stories. Also included is a large body of scholarship on Arthurian legend and history, Grail history, and the medieval romance literature of France and Germany. There are items that focus on the Arthurian-based operas of Wagner, and a few sources on the Japanese stories of Natsume Soseki. What I have most enjoyed about the collection is its attention to the range of ways in which Arthurian legend has been disseminated and used throughout Western culture (and beyond!). Starr was truly interested in any reference to Arthur, regardless of whether or not it was of a scholarly or literary nature, and the collection definitely reflects that.

Some of my favorite items:

La mort d’Arthur; the most ancient and famous history of the renowned Prince Arthur and the knights of the Round Table / Malory. London: R. Wilks, 1816 PR2043 .W55 1816

Syr Perecyvelle of Gales / Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1895 PR2065.P4 1895

The famous tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse, a new version of an old story arranged as a play for mummers, in one act, requiring no theatre or scenery / Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1923. PR4750.F3 1923

Playbook of King Arthur /Susan Meriwether. New York: Harper, 1928. NK4891.2 M49 1928

King Arthur today; the Arthurian legend in English and American Literature, 1901-1953 / Nathan Comfort Starr. Gainesville: U of FL Press, 1954.

King Arthur’s sword / Errol Le Cain. London: Faber, 1968.

Guinever’s gift / Nicole St. John. New York: Random, 1977.

We are grateful to Samantha for her work on this collection, which is open for use in the SC&A reading room. The items in this collection can be found in the online catalog by searching “nathan comfort starr” as a keyword. Happy browsing!

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