William Rose Papers

Biographical Note

William Rose was born in 1894 and initially educated at the Birmingham Hebrew School from where he entered the King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham, with the aid of a Piddock Trust Scholarship. He went on to attend Birmingham and London Universities. During World War I, and until 1920, he served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Machine Gun Corps and then with the RAF. He obtained his doctorate from London University with a thesis on Goethe and Byron, published in 1924. Among his tutors were Professor A. Wolff,  Professor J.G. Robertson, Professor Robert Priebsch and Professor Wilson-Law. In 1926 he married Dorothy Wooldridge, who shared his work and interests. They had a son and a daughter.

After his discharge from the Army in 1920, Rose took up a post as Lecturer in the Department of German at King's College London and, in 1927, was appointed Reader. In 1935 he became the Sir Ernest Cassel Reader in German in the University of London and in that same year was appointed Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the London School of Economics, University of London. In 1949 he was appointed to a Chair of German Language and Literature in the University of London while keeping his post as Head of Department at the LSE.

During World War II Rose was in the Intelligence Corps (1939-44) and was one of the dedicated band of British German-language specialists who worked on code-breaking and the Enigma project at Bletchley Park. After 1933, he took a personal interest in the fate and welfare of German exiled intellectuals, and figures such as Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig were frequent and welcome visitors to his house. He made his support public by being a member of the PEN-Club and joining in public condemnation of the Nazi regime with regard to the treatment of Jews, intellectuals and cultural life generally in Germany. He was involved in the 'German Library of Burned Books' scheme (1934, under the presidency of Heinrich Mann) whose British committee was headed by H.G.Wells. André Gide was among the honorary presidents.

He was an active member of the Council of the English Goethe Society and gave strong support to the journal German Life and Letters both at its inception and its renewal after World War II. Rose was a scholar, editor, translator and critic. The core of his research interests lay in the work of Goethe, Heine and Rilke, but he also worked on the modern German lyric and the Expressionists. As one of the growing band of Germanisten in British universities who were not German-born, he was an articulate and vigorous proponent of a new approach to German studies. He believed that the connection between literature and life should never be forgotten, and pioneered the introduction of the psychoanalytical approach to the study of German literature, vigorously upholding his belief in its sociological implications. He was regarded by some of his peer group as a populariser.

In his last years he had to contend with the onset of blindness, but did not allow this to interfere with his interests. His lectures and speeches were written in extra large print as opposed to a cursive hand or typewritten. He was active right up to the time of his death, having delivered a characteristically interesting and lively address at a dinner the previous evening. He was Chairman of the Committee of Management of the Institute of Germanic Literatures and Languages in the University of London (then Institute of Germanic Studies), and had planned to spend the next year (1962) as Visiting Professor at McGill University, Canada. He died in 1961 as a result of head injuries sustained in a fall after the dinner mentioned above.

The Papers

The papers were given as an unconditional gift to the Institute of Germanic Studies (from 1 August 2004, the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies) by Dorothy Rose, née Wooldridge, Professor Rose's wife, in two lots: the first during the 1962-63 session and the second, mainly correspondence, ten years later. There are no restrictions on access for the purposes of research and publication.

Material includes:

  • Lecture notes from student days
  • Lecture and research notes for teaching and publications, including material on Heine, Goethe, Rilke; Expressionism; psycho-analysis and the psychoanalytical approach to literary criticism; drafts of his published work
  • Theatrical material including programmes, posters and sketches for stage designs; also four texts annotated by Leopold Jeßner
  • An extensive collection of newscuttings containing reviews of Rose's published output, articles reflecting his research and a wide range of other interests such as history, sociology and politics, obituaries, tributes and biographical sketches of literary and other eminent figures many of which include a portrait; further miscellaneous material reflecting Rose's wide-ranging interests including Jewishness, Nazi attitudes to literature and books, the abolition of capital punishment, social and political themes in literature
  • Material connected with the English Goethe Society and with the PEN-Club, including drafts of lectures
  • Military/Foreign Office interests in Germany; First World War maps and photographs and Rose's own accounts of his impressions
  • Speeches and broadcasts
  • Correspondence, particularly with writers of the twentieth century, including Binding, Dehmel, Max Herrmann-Neiße, Kerr, Else Lasker-Schüler, Thomas Mann, Werfel, Zuckmayer, Stefan Zweig; a small collection of unwritten postcards (30).

Archival Arrangement


1. Early Years: School, Undergraduate and Postgraduate Student Lecture Notes
1.1 School years: exercise books of notes 1910-11
1.2 Birmingham University: undergraduate notes 1912-15
1.3 University College London: postgraduate notes 1920[?]-22
1.4 King's College London: dates for UCL as above

2. War Years
2.1 World War I: Rose's own accounts, b/w photographs
2.2 World War II: official documents obtained in his capacity as an intelligence officer (142-46), including information digests for Germany and Austria on the Nazi war trials, documents on post-war rehabilitation in Germany (particularly in education) and the German psyche, maps
2.3 Documents connected with the storing of Rose's library for the duration of World War II

3. Academic Career
3.1 Teaching
3.1.1 Lectures: collegiate and intercollegiate (including notes and bibliographies)
3.1.2 Assessment (including examination papers)
3.1.3 Student activities (KCL German Society)
3.1.4 Teaching methodology (in universities, AUT, text books, etc.)
3.2 Research and publication
3.2.1 Literary history and literary movements
3.2.2 Literary genres (poetry, drama, the novel)
3.2.3 Individual literary figures The Goethezeit (Goethe and Schiller) Heine Rilke Others (in alphabetical order, including biographical entries for Chambers Encyclopedia)
3.2.4 Psychoanalysis
3.2.5 Socio-historical and political influences
3.2.6 Jewishness
3.2.7 Language and literacy
3.3 Other academic activities
3.3.1 Reviewing and editorships
3.3.2 Speeches and broadcasts
3.3.3 Anglo-German organisations and relations (English Goethe Society, PEN-Club, etc.)
3.4 Other non-literary interests (also reflected in Rose's newscuttings collection)

4. Newscuttings and Ephemera
William Rose's collection of approximately 900 newscuttings and other ephemera (1903-61), arranged by theme and then chronologically. Includes articles, publishers' catalogues and blurbs, obituaries, and book reviews, from a variety of sources but mainly newspapers and newssheets. Some of the items concerning German literary and other eminent figures have portraits. The content refelects Rose's wide reange of interests, not all of them literary. Subjects include art and architecture, Arbeiterdichtung, bibliography, European culture, folklore, history, literary history, theory and criticism, the German military and General Staff, German poetry and prose, Goethe and Schiller, medieval themes, National Socialism and its influence, the performing arts, and the two world wars.

5. General Correspondence
General correspondence arranged initially in alphabetical order of sender and then chronologically

6. Miscellaneous
Including a collection of unwritten postcards, an essay on Birmingham and Soho, and an unidentified fragment of a play about Napoleon