Named in honour of the former President of the University of Toronto, the Claude Bissell Collection centres on the literary works of British authors whose reputations were established in the middle third of the twentieth-century, primarily those years between 1930 and 1960. As such, it complements the Norman Endicott Collection (British authors who became established between 1880 and 1930), the Douglas Duncan Collection (Max Beerbohm, D.H. Lawrence) and the Alfred DeLury Anglo-Irish Collection (W.B. Yeats and his Circle).
Over the past few years, the Fisher Library has received a substantial gift of works by James Hanley. Today Hanley (1897–1985) is generally regarded as an author who in his lifetime did not receive the attention he deserved. A novelist and playwright, he grew up in Liverpool, England, in a working-class family of Irish descent. At the age of seventeen he went to sea, and his early maritime experience is frequently reflected in his extensive literary work, which includes short stories, novels, critical works, radio and stage plays and an autobiography. The work for which Hanley is best known, although perhaps not for its literary value, is his rather grim semi-autobiographical novel, Boy, which relates the sad story of a young ship boy’s brief life on the high seas. Hanley hides very little of the unpleasant facts surrounding the life of abuse the young Fearon had experienced, both at home and then later on-board ship. Unfortunately, the explicit details were too realistic for the general public and the book did not sell well. Eventually, the book’s original publishers, Boriswood, were charged and fined under English obscenity laws.