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Barfield, Owen. (1898-1997)



  • Existence: 1898-1997

Biographical Statement

As a philosopher and author of various works on language, myth, perception and the evolution of human consciousness, Arthur Owen Barfield has had a noteworthy impact on a number of influential writers and poets, including T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Howard Nemerov (U.S. Poet Laureate), Saul Bellow, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. Barfield's Poetic Diction, A Study in Meaning, is recognized in literary fields as a definitive work.

Born in London, Owen Barfield entered Wadham College, Oxford, in 1919, where he met C.S. Lewis who was also an undergraduate. Barfield earned his B.A. in 1921 and began work on his B. Litt., which he received some time later. He completed his formal studies at Oxford in 1923 and married Matilda Douie, an expert in folk and courtly dance. During the next few years, he published a number of books, including a children's story, The Silver Trumpet, and two books on the nature of language - History in English Words and Poetic Diction. In spite of this initial success, he became discouraged when he was unable to find a publisher for his first novel and decided that he would be unable to support his family by means of a literary career. As a result, Barfield joined his father's London law firm in 1929 and earned his Bachelor of Civil Law. During these years while practicing law, Barfield and his wife adopted two children and fostered a third; he also continued writing philosophical essays and articles, and published Romanticism Comes of Age. He occasionally attended meetings of the Inklings. Although Barfield was a quiet and unassuming man, Tolkien declared that he was "the only man who can tackle C.S.L. [Lewis - in a verbal exchange]." Barfield retired from the law in 1959, and returned to scholarship full time. Over the next four decades, he produced some of his most important works. In particular, his work Saving the Appearances contained a summary of his philosophical framework as expressed in his other writings. From all of this work, Barfield gained a significant reputation among academic and philosophical communities - in particular in the U.S., where he was often a lecturer and visiting professor at various colleges and universities. Barfield died in December 1997 at the age of 99.

Barfield was primarily influenced by the works of Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, but his beliefs were also based on Trinitarian and Christian tenets, and his studies of the Incarnation and the arts led him to declare himself a "convinced Christian". C.S. Lewis disagreed with many of his views, yet readily acknowledged Barfield's impact on his own philosophical and theological thought, and Barfield's critical thinking in philosophy, literature, and religion continues to influence numerous writers and philosophers today.


Found in 8 Collections and/or Records:

Author Societies Archive

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-A-14 through A-15

The materials in this archive relate to groups and societies dedicated to promoting the works and lives of the seven authors in  the Wade Center's collections.

Dates: Created: 1965-2019

Barfield Library Publications and Inserts Archive

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Wade-A-95

Publications and inserts from the personal library of Owen Barfield.

Dates: Created: 1909-1997

Events File Archive

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-A-126, 126a, 127, and B-36

This archive includes materials from various events related to the Wade authors, including dramatic performances, conferences, academic courses, exhibitions, etc. More additions may be included in this archive at any time.

Dates: Created: 1966-2023

G.B. Tennyson Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-A-101, B-19

This archive contains original material by Owen Barfield, correspondence, and photographs from the personal papers of G.B. Tennyson, joint-literary executor for the estate of Owen Barfield.

Dates: Created: 1918-2007; Other: Majority of material found in 1981-2007

Jeanne Clayton Hunter Collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Wade-A-113a

A collection of Barfield correspondence,  poems, manuscripts, publications, and other related materials from Professor Jeanne Clayton Hunter.

Dates: Created: 1920-1998

Shirley Sugerman Papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: B-34

This archive contains correspondence, notes, and drafts relating to the publication of Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity (Wesleyan University Press, 1976) edited by Shirley Sugerman with contributions from a number of scholars in honor of the 75th birthday of Owen Barfield.

Dates: 1922-1991; Other: Majority of material found within 1972-1976; Other: Date acquired: June 23, 2020

The Silver Trumpet Archive

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Wade-A-18

Materials relating to the publication of the Bookmakers Guild 1986 edition. The Silver Trumpet, a fairy tale by Owen Barfield, was first published in 1925. This new edition was designed with new illustrations and an afterword by the Associate Director of the Wade Center, Marjorie Lamp Mead.

Dates: Created: ca. 1986

Thomas Kranidas Collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Wade-A-47

A selection of materials primarily relating to the publication of A Barfield Sampler, eds. Thomas Kranidas and Jeanne Clayton Hunter. SUNY Press, 1993. Includes: correspondence, notes, typescripts, photographs and proofs of the book with annotations by Barfield.

Dates: Created: 1917-1994

Additional filters:

Barfield, Owen, -- Archives. 6
Barfield, Owen, -- Correspondence. 2
Proofs (printed matter) 2
Barfield, Owen, -- Personal papers. 1
Barfield, Owen, -- Photograph collections. 1