From the Archives: Questions with connections

129cc Muriel Dunsmuir and gentleman McCann Collection RRU Archives

Research requests allow archivists to further investigate their holdings in intriguing ways that may otherwise not appear in regular processing and description of the materials. Such a request came into the RRU Archives recently, with a hint of a possible intersection that was not previously considered.

A community member found a book by author W. Somerset Maugham with an inscription that read, "Muriel St.Clair Keith - June 1944 - Journey's End". The researcher was able to discover that Muriel was a Dunsmuir, and that Journey's End was her home near the Fisgard Lighthouse. What he claims is that the purchased book, The Razor's Edge, contains a story of a rather similar set of friends that were in Muriel's life in Paris of the 1920s and 30s, including a mention of her first husband, couture designer Edward Molyneux. This connection lead the researcher to contact the RRU Archives to find out if there was, by any chance, any knowledge that Muriel Dunsmuir was a personal acquaintance of W. Somerset Maugham during her time in Europe.

Although there is no immediate evidence within the RRU Archives of Muriel knowing Maugham, a search of the digital holdings revealed a number of images from her time abroad. Surprisingly, the photo above of Muriel with a gentleman seems a possible match to Google images of the Maugham. Before passing this information along to the researcher, the identification needed to be confirmed or denied by an organization more familiar with the author. Through an online search, it was discovered that many portraits of Maugham are housed at the British National Portrait Gallery, and so an email was sent with the photograph. Somewhat disappointingly, they replied, "I am afraid comparison of this photograph with authentic photographs of Maugham is not favourable.  None show him with the distinctive white and pointed moustache shown in your photograph, so do not believe this can be of him."

And so the answer sent to the researcher was that, at this time, there's no known connection between Muriel and W. Somerset Maugham. This could be the end of the story but it's difficult to discount that it seems that it's the eyes that have it when comparing the above photo with others of Maugham. The question remains a history mystery requiring further investigation, including a review of The Razor's Edge.

As always, archives research requests about the site and the Dunsmuirs (and don't forget Royal Roads Military College!) are welcome in the RRU Archives. Simply send a message via email, drop by the archives office in the library, or call extension 4122.

Caroline Posynick
RRU Archivist
250.391.2600 ext 4122