Request Checked Items
University of Texas at Austin

Freya Stark:

An Inventory of Her Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Stark, Freya, 1893-1993
Title: Freya Stark Collection
Dates: 1893-1993 (bulk 1920-1976)
Extent: 30 document boxes, 1 oversize folder (osf), 2 galley files (gf) (12.6 linear feet)
Abstract: The Freya Stark collection spans the years 1893 to 1985 and embraces in the main her correspondence, along with publication files of thirteen major works and drafts of a considerable number of minor pieces. Also present are some clippings, photographs, and invitations, together with third party correspondence.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-03975
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts and Purchases, 1977-1994 (G12407, R7789, R13198, R14547, 14-01-001-P, 14-09-006-P)
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 2010, 2014

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Freya Madeline Stark was born in Paris on 31 January 1893 to Robert and Flora Stark. The elder Starks--the father of British birth, the mother born on the continent--were cousins and artists. After several years of living at Chagford, Devon and in northern Italy, Robert and Flora Stark separated, and Flora, with Freya and a younger sister Vera, remained in Italy, first at Dronero, and then at Asolo, near Venice.
Freya's fascination with exotic lands is said to have dated from her earliest reading of the British romantic poets, as well as FitzGerald's translation of the Rubaiyat. The future travel writer and explorer developed a keen interest in the Middle East, and, aided by a remarkable skill with languages, quickly began a life-long program of self-education, mastering modern European tongues and eventually classical and Oriental languages. Her principal formal education was at Bedford College, University of London, in the years 1911 to 1914.
After service in World War One as a military nurse in Italy and a postwar period of commercial gardening, Freya decided upon travel in the Near East. This decision was supported by additional language preparation at the London School of Oriental Studies, as well as by her desire to escape from her domineering mother and various family obligations.
Freya Stark's first trip to the Levant began in November, 1927 and was eventually chronicled in Letters from Syria (1942). Her small frame hid a fierce will and a hardy constitution, and Freya refused the usual cosseting tours, preferring to eat, live, and travel as the local populations did. Many of her fellow Britons feared she had gone native, but she realized this was the only path to an authentic knowledge of the Middle East and its peoples.
Stark returned to Lebanon in 1929, and eventually found her way to Baghdad, where her first published work, Baghdad Sketches, appeared in 1932. Journeys into Iran during the years 1929 to 1931 resulted in The Valleys of the Assassins (1934), her first work to achieve wide recognition. Valleys was in fact reprinted three times within a year of its appearance.
At the end of 1934, Freya Stark's first expedition into Arabia was eventually terminated when she contracted measles and, upon relapse, had to be rescued by the British Royal Air Force. Another Arabian expedition was also ended by serious illness in 1938. Despite these hardships enough was accomplished for her to publish The Southern Gates of Arabia, Seen in the Hadhramaut, and A Winter in Arabia between 1936 and 1940.
During the Second World War Freya Stark placed her knowledge of the Middle East at the service of Britain's Ministry of Information. She worked to counter Axis propaganda among the populations of the region and helped found the Arab Brotherhood of Freedom, an anti-Nazi organization.
In 1947, Freya Stark married Stewart Perowne, a British diplomat she had known since the late 1930s, and with him she moved first to Barbados and then to Libya. The marriage did not prosper, and in 1952 they separated. Despite this setback and her absence from the Middle East, Stark was able to publish three volumes of autobiography in the years between 1950 and 1953, followed by a fourth in 1961.
Freya Stark discovered a new interest in Asia Minor in the 1950s. This soon led to her learning Turkish and setting out on a series of difficult journeys, often on horseback, to the far corners of Anatolia. Ionia: A Quest (1954), The Lycian Shore (1956), Alexander's Path (1958), Riding on the Tigris (1959), and Rome on the Euphrates (1966) were published as a result.
After Freya Stark was, in 1972, created a Dame of the British Empire she continued her arduous regimen with travel by horseback in the Himalayas, as well as rafting down the Euphrates. Only as infirmity overcame her in her final decade did she slow down. Dame Freya died a centenarian at Asolo on 9 May 1993.


Geniesse, Jane Fletcher. Passionate Nomad: the Life of Freya Stark. New York: Random House, 1999.
Hansen, Peter H. "Stark, Dame Freya Madeline (1893?-1993)."Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. (accessed May 2009)

Scope and Contents

The Freya Stark Collection spans the years 1893 to 1993 and embraces in the main her correspondence, along with publication files of thirteen major works and drafts of a considerable number of minor pieces. Also present are some clippings, photographs, and invitations, together with third party correspondence. The collection is largely in its original order and is arranged in four series: Series I. Works, 1916-1976 (9 boxes); Series II. Correspondence, 1893-1985 (20.5 boxes); Series III. General Research, 1913-1976 (.5 box); and Series IV. Additional Materials, 1967-1993 (1 folder).
The Works series includes various drafts of those publications written or edited by Freya Stark between 1934 and 1976. These are Dust in the Lion's Paw, Ionia, a Quest, The Minaret of Djam, A Peak in Darien, Perseus in the Wind, Rome on the Euphrates, Seen in the Hadhramaut, Space, Time & Movement in Landscape, Traveller's Prelude, Turkey: a Sketch of Turkish History, The Valleys of the Assassins, A Winter in Arabia, The Zodiac Arch, and An Italian Diary. The last title cited is Flora Stark's account of her detention by the Italian authorities in the early years of World War II, edited after the author's death by her daughter.
For all titles published by the firm of John Murray beginning in 1933 relevant correspondence is found in Series II under the personal heading for John "Jock" Murray, 1909-1993. Various other outgoing Freya Stark letters in that series bear indications of editorial marking for their future use in either accounts of Miss Stark's travels or as part of her published letters. Such markings are particularly evident in those addressed to Flora Stark.
The extensive collection of brief pieces Freya Stark created for various purposes present in the Works series includes periodical articles, broadcasts, forewords, juvenilia, lectures, memoranda, and reviews. These range in date from verse written in 1916 to a dinner address of 1975. Those short pieces found in folders 1.2, 1.6, and 1.8 are not individually identified in the folder list but are indexed alphabetically at the end of the list. Brief pieces set aside for use in The Zodiac Arch, whether actually published there or not, are not separately indexed.
Series II, Correspondence, contains both the earliest and the latest items in the Freya Stark Collection, and, more significantly, includes extensive correspondence with the several persons who figured most significantly in her long life. At twenty and a half boxes it is by far the bulk of the collection, and of this total the John Murray file at two boxes is the largest grouping.
The earliest bit of correspondence, dated "February 8th 1893," from madame Delécluse to "Mrs. Stark & Miss Freya Madeline Stark," offers the writer's "best wishes and congratulations" to the newborn and her mother. It was accompanied by "lilies of the valley and red & white cyclamen." The latest missive, dated "31/May/85," is from Freya to Sir Michael Stewart and concerns a projected Mediterranean tour.
The series contains scant correspondence on household matters and little on the merely social or anything that could be called broadly cultural. There is some fan mail, but it is not extensive. The correspondents are mostly directly involved, in one capacity or another, in Freya Stark's life work, and are in the main British. The political tone is essentially conservative.
For Freya Stark's family there is a large amount of correspondence present, including a full box of letters from Freya to her mother, together with two folders from Flora to her daughter. As noted above, Freya's letters to Flora were, in many cases, sources for published works. There are also three folders from Freya to her father and a single folder from Robert to his elder daughter. From Vera Stark di Roascio there are--Vera having died young--only a few letters to be found to her sister Freya. Costanza di Roascio Boido, Vera's only child to survive the Second World War, is represented by one folder.
Among Freya Stark's correspondents is found a number of significant writers and scholars. Of this group, Sir Sydney Cockerell is represented by the most extensive correspondence--two folders, covering the years 1934 to 1961. Among the many topics addressed by Cockerell is Stark's The Arab Island (Knopf, 1945), for the manuscript of which he provided pages of critiques and suggestions. None of Stark's letters to Cockerell are in the collection. Other writers for whom significant incoming correspondence is present are Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Victor Cunard, Lawrence Durrell, Austen Harrison, Alan and Lucy Moorehead, Harold Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West, Paul Scott, Lionel Smith, and Colin Thubron.
The friends and acquaintances of Freya Stark for whom significant correspondence exists in the collection are a disparate group. Taken chronologically, the first group includes an old family friend (Herbert Young), two women important in the years Freya was creating her own unique path (Viva Jeyes and Venetia Buddicom), a patient and indulgent publisher (Jock Murray), and a career diplomat with whom marriage failed (Stewart Perowne). In the second group, significant in the author's postwar period of public recognition are found a former aide who became a lifelong friend (Pamela Cooper), and two ladies of wealth and social position who made life easier for the writer in her later years (Lady Sybil Cholmondeley and Dulcie Deuchar). Of this group Stewart Perowne and Lady Sybil Cholmondeley are represented by four folders of correspondence, the others, save Murray, by single folders. Jock Murray's social correspondence with Freya is intermixed with their business letters.
Various military figures appear among Freya Stark's correspondents. These men range from Lt. Col. Morice Lake (who in Aden in the late 1930s was charged with keeping an eye on Freya's forays into the Hadhramaut) to Maj. Colin Mackenzie, a serving officer in the postwar British army and, like Freya, a lover of wild places. Lt. Gen. Sir John Bagot Glubb--Glubb Pasha, commander of the Arab Legion--is represented by correspondence official and personal written between 1943 and 1960.
Miss Stark's period of service under the first Earl Wavell during his tenure as viceroy of India produced correspondence that for his part is here found in carbon typescripts. There is likewise a group of letters from the elder Wavell's son Archibald John dating until shortly before his 1953 death in Kenya. Charles W. B. Rankin, whom Freya first knew in India as the viceroy's private secretary became a good friend in the postwar years, as revealed in their letters. Each of these figures is represented by a folder of correspondence, except Morice Lake, from whom several letters are present.
A number of diplomats and military intelligence figures appear as correspondents in the Stark Collection. Sir Vyvyan Holt, whom Freya first met in Baghdad in 1930, is represented by a folder of his personal letters down to 1958. Sir Iltyd Clayton and Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, both of whom worked with Freya Stark in the early years of World War II, together with (from a slightly later period) Moore Crosthwaite and Sir Michael Stewart are also represented here. The two folders of correspondence from Stewart and one of Freya's outgoing is the most numerous involving this group.
Series III, General Research, comprises five folders--a half box--of clippings, ephemeral printed matter, fragments of research material, some third person correspondence and a few photos. The most significant individual item found here is Venetia Buddicom's Journal of the Jebel Druze, a typescript with handwritten corrections, covering the travels of Buddicom and Freya Stark through that region in the period 7-21 May 1928.
The third person correspondence present here dates from 1913 to 1952 and the most frequent recipient was Flora Stark. Among these letters, those of Sir Akhbar Hydari to Lord Halifax transmitting copies of the letters being sent to the chieftains of the Hadhramaut in conjunction with Stark's 1934 expedition are perhaps the most noteworthy.
Series IV, Additional Materials, consists of fifteen letters and postcards (1967-1980) from Freya Stark to the Australian-born painter and sculptor Colin Colahan and his wife Monique. In these letters Freya describes her travels from 1967, when she first explored central Asia, to 1980, when at the age of 87 she is planning what she predicts will be her "last proper journey" to Nepal and the Himalayas. Accompanying the letters are two photographs of Freya and a portrait of her painted by Colin, two charcoal drawings of the Colahans by Freya, and newspaper clippings of obituaries for Freya. These materials were added to the Ransom Center’s Freya Stark Collection in 2014.

Related Material

Other archives possessing Freya Stark material include the British Library, St. Antony's College Oxford, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Collections in the Ransom Center which contain material related to Stark include those of Nancy Cunard, Georgia Sitwell, and Osbert Sitwell.

Index Terms


Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959
Besse, Antonin, 1877-195
Birgi, Muharrem Nuri, 1908-
Boido, Costanza di Roascio
Buddicom, Venetia Digby, 1895-
Caton-Thompson, Gertrude, 1888-1985
Cholmondeley, Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of, 1894-1989
Cockerell, Sydney Carlyle, Sir, 1867-1962
Cooper, Pamela, 1910-2006
Cunard, Victor
Deuchar, Dulcie
Deuchar, Tommy
Durrell, Lawrence
Forrer, Anita
Glubb, John Bagot, Sir, 1897-1986
Harrison, Austen St. B.
Holt, Vyvyan, Sir, 1896-1960
Huxley, Juliette, 1896-
Jeyes, Viva
Larsson, Barclay Sanders
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Alexander, 1943-
Lennox-Boyd, Simon Donald Rupert Neville, 1939-
Mackenzie, Colin A. F.
Moorehead, Alan, 1910-1983
Moorehead, Lucy
Murray, John, 1909-1993
Nicolson, Harold, 1886-1968
O'Gorman, Ned, 1929-
Perowne, Stewart, 1901-1989
Punchard, Alan
Ruthven, Malise
Sackville-West, V. (Victoria), 1892-1962
Scott, Paul, 1920-1978
Sparrow, John, 1906-1992
Stark, Flora, d. 1942
Stark, Robert, 1853-1931
Stewart, Michael, Sir, 1911-1994
Thubron, Colin, 1939-
Wavell, Archibald John Arthur Wavell, Earl of, 1916-1953
Wavell, Archibald Percival Wavell, Earl of, 1883-1950
Young, Herbert


Women travelers--Great Britain
Women Middle East specialists


Middle East--Description and travel
Hadramawt (Yemen : Province)

Document Types

Christmas cards
Galley proofs
Legal documents

Folder List