This series holds papers relating to Germaine Greer’s early work as an academic, a performer and a writer (of essays, journalism, speeches, plays, film scripts, poems and letters). It includes summaries, chapter drafts, notes, a synopsis and a statement of intention for The Female Eunuch and evidence of how the book transformed the life of its author and countless readers as well. Letters, appointment diaries, financial records, inventories, telegrams, newspaper and magazine clippings and political ephemera document Greer’s private and public lives in England and Italy (notably Il Palazzone 1970-1972 and her house at Pianelli 1973-1994).
The earliest records in this series (and, indeed, the archive) are Germaine Greer’s lecture notes and reading notes from 1957 when she was a second-year arts student at the University of Melbourne. About half of the Early Years series, eight boxes in all, contain Greer’s university notes from Melbourne (1956-1959), the University of Sydney (1960-1963), the University of Cambridge (1964-1967) and from Warwick University where Greer lectured in English from 1967 until 1973. Greer was a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Cambridge. She was awarded her PhD, on ‘The Ethic of Love and Marriage in Shakespeare’s Early Comedies’ in 1968.
Greer has kept lecture notes, reading notes and essays from each of the universities she was at. Greer’s ability with languages - English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Latin - is most evident in seven notebooks that she kept in 1965 for her doctoral research into Shakespeare’s early comedies. Each notebook has a name and the names reference the places Greer worked, including the British Museum, the Marciana in Venice and Oxford’s Bodleian.
To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death in 2016, 23 items from this series have been digitised and published to demonstrate Germaine Greer’s engagement with the work of Shakespeare and other early modern writers of English literature.
The earliest item in this digitised collection is a 1958 folder that Germaine Greer labelled ‘The Epyllion’. It contains Greer’s notes from a final Seminar Course at Melbourne University with 'Miss Walker', Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Jennifer Dallimore, Philip Martin and Margaret Walters. The most recent is handwritten notes on Shakespeare's Macbeth, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, all housed in a folder that Greer has called Warwick: Macbeth 1971??
The collection includes the typescript for Greer’s PhD (with all its cutting and pasting and hand-emendations) and a copy of the final, bound version.
In her introduction to The Madwoman’s Underclothes, a collection of her essays from 1968-1985, Greer describes how she typed her PhD (on a red typewriter) in three transformative months living in two basic rooms on the top floor of an “isolated clump of stone buildings in sight of the sea” in rural Calabria. The floors were “ancient terracotta tiles, crazed into a million fissures…the walls were coated with velvety whitewash. There was no running water, no electricity”. Her windows looked out on blazing cornfields, a grapevine and “a vast uliveto planted with the oldest olive trees I have ever seen, each with a girth of eight or nine feet”.
Beneath the romance of these descriptions is the labour. Greer would get up in the “grey-violet pre-dawn with the shepherd’s wife, washing myself at the well, watching the sun come out of the steel-gray sea as I sipped my thick black coffee, hurrying to finish the day’s ration of rewriting (for I was finishing my PhD thesis) before the day’s dramas and disasters overtook me…”
In response to a query from University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer said the seven research notebooks from 1965 were perhaps more interesting than the typescript of the PhD. “The point of my research into the early comedies was to show that Shakespeare was not imitating a continental tradition,” Greer said. “Most scholars, who did not have the languages to read the Italian, Spanish, French, German and Latin comedies, simply assumed what they had to prove.”
The digitised records also trace an intellectual lineage, one that includes study at the feet of the world’s leading Shakespearean scholars, two of whom were women. The marginalia on many of the records – drawings, notes to self, swearing, even floor plans – are reminders of the many emotions, from passion to boredom that can accompany scholarship.
These 23 Greer-Shakespeare items sit in the context of the rest of the series. While several boxes in the Early Years series are comprised solely of university notes, by the mid-1960s, Greer filed the scholarly next to records that document her writing for the underground press, her sketches for Cambridge University’s Footlights Dramatic Club, her TV and film work and her lively social life. For example, Greer put her handwritten notes for 16 lectures on Shakespearean comedy (delivered at the University of Warwick in 1969) in the same folder as a copy of OZ 19 (1969). That issue of the underground magazine carried Greer’s article on rock groupies. Greer is on the front cover (unzipping musician Vivian Stanshall’s fly) and she appears, topless, on the back. This eclectic arrangement reflects the chaos and excitement of Greer’s life then. One day she would be delivering a lecture on Shakespeare, the next she was hamming it up with an electric guitar in a photo-shoot to promote her piece on group sex.
In Marciana, one of Greer’s 1965 notebooks, the world of the scholar and the world of the performer are contained within the same covers. The notebook contains multi-lingual research notes and drafts for a satirical sketch on being an expat Australian.
The digitised files have the titles that Germaine Greer gave them. Material found in unlabelled folders has been named by the archivist and indicated in the list by [square brackets].