Germaine Greer sells letters to Melbourne University for £1.8m

The feminist academic’s archive will provide rich vein of social history, if not gossip

Sydney

Ever since The Female Eunuch made her a household name, Germaine Greer has been a polarising figure, her strident opinions inspiring thousands of people to put pen to paper. She kept all their letters – even those she consigned to a “nutters’ drawer”. Along with manuscripts, diaries and correspondence with some of the most illustrious personalities of the past half-century, they fill more than 150 filing cabinets.

The voluminous archive, chronicling the life of a formidably bright and unconventional woman, is now to be opened up to the public, after Professor Greer announced on Monday that she had sold it to the University of Melbourne for A$3m (£1.8m). Although she warned that they contained nothing to interest “gossip-mongers”, the papers are likely to be pored over by legions of researchers. The Australian-born author, academic and feminist, who studied in Melbourne in the 1950s before moving to Sydney and then Cambridge, plans to donate proceeds from the sale to a charity she has set up to rehabilitate the Australian rainforest. The university will ship the collection of documents next year from Professor Greer’s home in Essex, and will catalogue and digitise them.

The archive includes letters from family members, friends and lovers, as well as the likes of Federico Fellini, the film director, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, one-time prime ministers of Pakistan and India, respectively, Clive James, the author and television personality, and Warren Beatty, the American actor and film director, and one of her conquests.

Currently in Australia to publicise her latest book, White Beech, about her environmental work, Professor Greer said that while she replied to most letters, some were filed with the words “no action” or “see nutters’ drawer” scrawled on them. The drawer, she said, was “pretty big”.

The university librarian, Philip Kent, said that the “large number of unsolicited letters from the public provide a rich vein of social history, documenting sexual, social and intellectual change, many of them personal accounts of how exposure to her ideas had changed their lives”.

The collection includes Professor Greer’s university essays and lecture notes, footage of her TV appearances in shows such as Kenny Everett’s Nice Time, and early drafts of her first book The Female Eunuch, which was published in 1970 and quickly became an international bestseller.

Speaking at the university’s Baillieu Library, she said that, as an adult, she had thrown away next to nothing. But at 74, she needed to “downsize” and “be more sensible”. She has described archives as “the pay dirt of history”, observing: “Everything else is opinion.”

The university’s vice-chancellor, Glyn Davis, hailed her as “one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th and early 21st century … [who has] made a formative contribution to feminist thought”. Forty years after The Female Eunuch, Professor Greer continues to provoke. After the flamboyant Australian conservationist Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray in 2006, she declared: “The animal world has finally taken its revenge.”

On Monday, she pronounced herself “greatly touched” that her drawers “full of rubbish” had found a permanent home in Melbourne. She added: “There’s not a lot in it [the collection] that the gossip-mongers will find useful. They may indeed discover that I am a much less interesting person than they thought I was.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test