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William McFee Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: McFee, William, 1881-1966.
Title: William McFee Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1922-1958
Quantity: 0.25 linear ft.
Abstract: Papers of the British novelist, author. Died 1966. Personal correspondence, signed/inscribed edition of Pilgrims of Adversity, requests for autographed copies of McFee's books, typescript of "On Keeping a Fool at Court," an essay written for Shadowland magazine.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

William McFee (1881-1966) was a British novelist and author best known for his sea novels, such as Casuals of the Sea (1916).

William McFee was born on June 15, 1881 on his father, John Henry McFee's ship, Erin's Isle during a return trip from India. After completing school at East Anglian School in Suffolk, England, William McFee became an apprentice to the engineering firm of McMuirland's at Aldersgate in London. In 1905, he took a position as a junior engineer aboard a tramp steamer that travelled to Mediterranean, as well as African and Asian ports.

McFee served as a sublieutenant in the British navy during World War I. While serving in the eastern Mediterranean, he met Pauline Khondoff, a Bulgarian refugee. The couple wed in 1920, but divorced in 1932. After the war, McFee returned to his previous employer, the United Fruit Company, where he served as a chief engineer. However, in 1924, he decided to leave the organization to pursue a career in writing.

Most of McFee's works are nautical tales, inspired by his years at sea. He was married twice more, first to Beatrice Allender who died in 1952 and then to Dorothy North. His stepson, Richard McFee, was an electronics professor at Syracuse University. William McFee died on July 2, 1966 at his home in New Milford, Connecticut.

Selected Works

1916 Casuals of the Sea
1928 Pilgrims of Adversity
1930 North of Suez
1933 No Castle in Spain
1935 The Beachcomber
1938 Derelicts
1940 Watch Below

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William McFee Papers consist of Correspondence and Writings.

Correspondence is mostly of a personal nature, with the exception of the miscellaneous items which concern requests for autographed copies of McFee's books.

Writings consist of a copy of the 1928 edition of Pilgrims of Adversity, signed and inscribed to Wallace Maer, and a manuscript of "On Keeping a Fool at Court," an essay on American literature written for Shadowland magazine. In the essay, McFee offers this opinion:

Another remarkable feature of the literary life in America, and making for its degeneracy, is the attitude of women toward books. A certain sensuous idolatory is by no means extinct in the United States. The whole of "modern" American literature, outside of a few supreme humorists, is feminine in texture.

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Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient, and Writings alphabetically by title.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Evans, Montgomery, II.
Gaige, Crosby, 1882-1949.
Hansen, Harry, 1884-
MacDonald, Pirie.
McFee, William, 1881-

Associated Titles

Pilgrims of adversity.


Authors, English.
English literature -- 20th century.
Novelists, English.

Genres and Forms




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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William McFee Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Finding Aid Information

Created by: KM
Date: Aug 1987
Revision history: 08 Dec 2008 - converted to EAD (LDC); 17 Oct 2012 - additions, promoted to regular collection (MRC)

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Box 1 Evans, Montgomery 20 Sep 1952 (1 outgoing letter)
Box 1 Gaige, Crosby 22 Feb 1928 (1 outgoing letter)
Box 1 Hansen, Harry undated (1 outgoing letter)
Box 1 MacDonald, Duncan 1954, 1956 - letters between MacDonald and Wallace Maer about McFee; from McFee to MacDonald; from McFee to an unidentified person ("Renie") about MacDonald
See also Writings : Pilgrims of Adversity
Box 1 MacDonald, Pirie 31 Oct 1922 (1 outgoing letter)
Maer, Wallace
See MacDonald, Duncan.
Box 1 Miscellaneous 1940, 1958 (1 incoming letter; 2 outgoing letters)
Box 1 Pilgrims of Adversity 1928 (book), 1954 (inscription) - signed and inscribed to Wallace Maer
Box 1 On Keeping a Fool at Court - typescript with author's corrections (6 pages)

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