Valerie Layton Archive
Valerie Leopoldine Gisella Fransky Layton was a Austrian born in 1906 and dying in 1994. She married an Englishman--Edward Layton--in the early 1930s and she went to live in London, where she remained after getting divorced just a few years later. In 2015, a Ziplock bag of her letters, labelled ‘German Letters 1930s’, was purchased by Elaine Treharne in an antique mall in San Bruno, California. It contained letters to Valerie Layton, principally written in English and German. This archive contained letters from a variety of correspondents dating from 1936 to 1940. We have 112 letters, envelopes, and other miscellaneous pieces, including a few photographs, that Valerie received and kept during this time period. Her correspondents range from family, friends, soldiers, colleagues, and acquaintances. The only voice we do not hear, directly, in this archive is Valerie’s. The only way we can form any sense of who she is, is through what her correspondents have said, asked, or alluded to. The only words we have from Valerie are her small markings on some of the letters, possibly signalling when she wrote a return letter to the one she received.
During the time of these letters, Valerie was a woman in her thirties, living in London and dealing with divorce. We can see her struggles of trying to find a job, finding affordable places to live, losing her job and trying to find another, and her search for friendships and love. She lived during one of the world’s darkest times and the archive here contains references to her being a Jewish Austrian woman living in London during Hitler’s rise to power. Valerie comes from what seems a wealthy background, as we discover she loves to ride horses and go ice skating. This archive gives us a unique perspective on the breadth of northern Europe in the 1930s, as Valerie’s correspondents are people from all around Europe, writing to a Jewish woman during the lead-up to, and beginning of, World War II. Letters were sent from Stockholm, France, parts of England, Holland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, and Romania. Some letters are more personal than others, but each gives off a certain view about how life was changing and how each individual was being affected by it. When reading the letters, over time, there is a gradual change of topic from one of casual talk about life, to the impending sense of war. This archive brings the voices of everyday people alive: voices that may have otherwise been forgotten.