Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Newbies (2 of 4)

Okay, after only one of my four posts talking about new authors added to my main list, I am already bored with alphabetical order. I've already divided the 60 authors into four equal groups based on alpha order, but within those groups I'm going to be a loose cannon and take them in whatever order strikes my fancy.

I've actually already reviewed a book by HILDA HEWETT, and will have more reviews or at least mentions coming up. See my review of So Early One Morning here, where I also talk about coming across her in the latest issue of The Scribbler and the productive transatlantic book talk that resulted. I believe I can safely say that Hewett is a wildly uneven author, but that when she's good she's very good. Sadly, unlike Mae West, when she's bad she is definitely not better.

Meanwhile, how often will I be able to write here that I've already published books by the niece of an author being added to my list? Pretty sure it will never happen again, in fact, but indeed, one of the things that came out of Elizabeth Crawford's wonderful introduction to the six Elizabeth Fair novels published as Furrowed Middlebrow titles by Dean Street Press is that her aunt, BETH ELLIS, also deserves to be here. She seems to have achieved the most fame for her travel book, An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah (1899), which was described by one source as "one of the funniest travel books ever written." That book is available (in the U.S. at least), for free downloading from Google Books. A few years later she began to publish novels, most of which were historical romance. She had published seven (1903-1912) by the time she tragically died in childbirth in 1913. I'm going to have to sample her work, if only because the thought of a cross between Elizabeth Fair and Georgette Heyer is completely irresistible.

There's another familial connection with GILLIAN GOLDEN, who turns out to be the daughter of children's author Dorothy Dennison. Among Dennison's last published works were two in a series of family tales called the "Courtney Chronicles." I don't have details, but it seems that Dennison wrote the first, Spotlight on Penelope (1958), and third, Call Me Jacqueline (1958), while her daughter wrote the second, Over to Paul (1958), and fourth, Bouquet for Susan (1958). Have those of you with an interest in children's books ever come across any of these?

Among this batch of newbies are two hitherto unknown (to me) mystery writers. ELIZABETH GILL first came to my attention when Dean Street announced their reprinting of all three of her novels—Strange Holiday (1929, aka The Crime Coast), What Dread Hand? (1932), and Crime de Luxe (1933). She received acclaim for her work, but sadly died at the age of 32. See Curtis Evans's introduction to the Dean Street editions for interesting details about her.

Gill was probably as obscure, before Dean Street's rediscovery of her, as KATHERINE FIELD still is. In contrast to all the authors whose careers were interrupted or stopped altogether by World War II, all three of Field's novels—Disappearance of a Niece (1941), The Two-Five to Mardon (1942), and Murder to Follow (1944)—appeared during the war. According to a Goodreads review, the second of these, at least, seems to make use of wartime themes. She lived until 1957, but published nothing else that we know of after the war ended.

A couple of my fellow bloggers have already discovered CELIA FURSE, who published only a single novel. The Visiting Moon (1956), which relates a young girl's visit to a large English country house over the Christmas holidays early in the 19th century. Barb at Leaves & Pages reviewed it here, and Ali at Heavenali reviewed it here. It seems to be one of those books that walk the line between memoir and fiction, but it seems to be fictionalized enough to qualify Furse for my list.

I wonder if there could be another blogger rediscovery in the offing for MARY GRIGS? It's probably a long shot, but a review in the Bookman of her debut novel, Bid Her Awake (1930), has me intrigued:

There is dignity here, and beauty as well. It is the story of a conflict between two sisters, the imperious Alix and the shy suddenly transfigured Susan, and the latter's brief excursion into love. It is an air for muted strings that Miss Grigs gives us, with little dancing notes of gaiety in it, and a sombre theme. So quietly is it done that the insensitive reader may fail to perceive the artistry with which it is composed; though he cannot fail to be charmed by the effect so subtly created.

Oh, dear. A future interlibrary loan request? Grigs went on to write four more novels and two children's books, and she wrote a column in the Farmer's Weekly under the pen name Mary Day.

KIT HIGSON came to my list via the back of the impossibly obscure Lorna Lewis title Tea and Hot Bombs, which I reviewed a while back. I was rather disconcerted by one of Higson's titles listed under "Stories for Girls". Cop Shooter (1958) is one of those books that likely would be retitled if it were published today, though looking into it a bit more deeply, I discovered that it's about a dog named Cop, owned by one Simon Shooter. Higson (Kit turned out to be short for "Kitty") wrote more than two dozen works of fiction in all, for both children and adults.

Accusations of racism against an author are often a bit challenging to establish, what with the ever-changing meanings of words, figures of speech, and attitudes. (See Huckleberry Finn for reams and reams of critical controversy about whether Twain was extraordinarily enlightened, virulently racist, or some balance of the two—I tend to plump for the last, though the book is probably the great American novel regardless.) I came across this again in researching the largely-forgotten ANN FIELDING, who published three novels in the 1940s and 1950s. In her scholarly work, Political and Social Issues in British Women’s Fiction, 1928–1968, Elizabeth Maslen (whose work on World War II fiction I greatly admire) notes that Fielding's third novel, Ashanti Blood (1952), about gold miners in Africa, is "[a] particularly repellent example of racist and class stereotypes" and adds that "Fielding represents the extreme of inbuilt prejudice." It was striking, then, to find that John Betjeman, in a contemporary review of Fielding's second novel, The Noxious Weed (1951), about a British family becoming tobacco growers in Africa, went out of his way to praise Fielding's portrayal of the growth of racism and insensitivity in a family initially horrifed by British treatment of the locals. Of course, the two novels could be quite different in tone, and Betjeman was writing from the sensibility of at least a half century earlier than Maslen, but it was interesting to see the contrast in reactions to a single author—perhaps not all that different from those about Twain.

Regardless, I have now added Fielding's first novel to my "tentative TBR" list. The Mayfair Squatters (1945) is about a diverse group of people who take over an empty London house during World War II. No word yet on race or class portrayals in that one.

JANE HOPE was suggested for my list by another reader of this blog, David Redd. She may just barely belong on my list, having written a number of humorous books about the British education system, but it's hard to imagine that a title like The Inspector Suggests, or, How Not to Inhibit a Child (1951), however much it might be based on Hope's own experiences, isn't at least somewhat fictionalized. I debated about adding her to the list, but decided, as usual, to err on the side of inclusivity. I wonder if One Term at Utopia: Pages from the Diary of Jane Hope (1950) might belong on my Grownup School Story List? And for that matter Happy Event: A Humorous Account of a Child's First Year of Life (1957) could be the perfect vintage gift for a parent-to-be.

And now, since I've taken these authors out of order and picked and chose all the more interesting tidbits, I come to the last five authors, about whom I know nothing exciting or interesting. ALDGATE EAST (real name Amy Adelaide Ebdell) published a single novel, Darrimore (1939). DOROTHY MARK FISK wrote several science-oriented non-fiction works for children, as well as a play and one novel—The Golden Isle (1930)—though details are entirely lacking.

There's a similar dearth of knowledge about JANE GILBERT, who wrote two novels—Man Is For Woman Made (1940) and Take My Youth (1941)—and about MARJORIE HOGARTH, who wrote three—Marriage for Two (1938), The Eyes of a Fool (1939), and The Intruder (1940).

And finally, I do at least know that ELIZABETH COOMBE HARRIS's three dozen or so books were mostly Christian in theme and apparently included fiction for both adults and children.

So, these last few authors aside, this batch of new authors contains a lot more potential than the first one. I count six or seven that I might have to track down and read, and one of them I already have. How about you?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Newbies (1 of 4)

After months of working on it every free moment, my newly-revised, significantly expanded main list is just about ready to roll out. Thanks is due to the Middlebrow Syllabus, which bought me a lot of time to focus on the list instead of on reviews or other content, and to you all for enthusiastically embracing that list so I didn't feel so bad about neglecting you.

I've been holding off on discussing a bunch of new authors until the revised list was complete. There are 60 new additions in all, and I decided to be uncharacteristically linear in discussing them here—I'm actually taking them in alphabetical order, with 15 authors in each of four posts. This is strikingly disciplined for me, but next time the randomness may return. Who can say?

Every time I add new authors to my list, I repeat that I'm surprised how many really interesting or substantial new authors are still out there. It's getting rather dull, and one would think eventually it would no longer be true—surely the number of British women writing fiction in a 50 year period must be finite!—but I'm apparently not there yet. Not all of these are scintillating, of course, but a fair number of them are quite intriguing.

So, starting at the top, slightly anticlimactically, with an author about whom I know relatively little. MIRIAM ALEXANDER wrote five novels with Irish themes. The first, at least, is historical. The House of Lisronan (1912, aka Beyond the Law), set during the 17th century Williamite War, was quite a success, going through six editions in 1912 alone. According to Ricorso, The Green Altar (1924) "deals with the national question and includes accounts of the Gaelic League and the Black and Tans." Her other novels were The Port of Dreams (1912), The Ripple (1913), and Miss O'Corra, M.F.H. (1915).

Much more is known about MEA ALLAN, and it appears she was a bit of a trailblazer. According to Wikipedia, Allan "was the first female war correspondent accredited by the British military and the first female news editor on Fleet Street." Later on in her career, she specialized in books about gardening and botany—her 1967 title, The Hookers of Kew, 1785-1911, is not nearly so scandalous as it might sound, dealing with botanists William Hooker and Joseph Dalton Hooker. In between those two careers, however, she also wrote four novels, including Change of Heart (1943), which imagines the Allies winning World War II only to find Nazi beliefs regaining ground.

Back on Irish themes: I don't know how many readers these days are into tales of the Irish hunting set, but if there are some you may want to add MARIGOLD ARMITAGE to your TBR lists. Her debut, A Long Way to Go (1952), was described by Lionel Gamlin as a "vastly entertaining story of a gloriously unbalanced hunting community in County Tipperary". Armitage published one sequel, A Motley to the View (1961), and reportedly worked on a third volume, to be called A Run for My Money, but it was never completed. She was the daughter of the controversial head of the Royal Air Force in World War II, Arthur "Bomber" Harris—see here.

Actually, several of my new authors have links (not surprisingly) to the two world wars. BANCO is the pseudonym of an unidentified author who seems, by internal evidence, to have been a woman, but we don't know for certain. Her 1915 novel, The Outrage, was about a woman novelist trapped in a Belgian town when the Germans arrive, and was criticized by one reviewer for excessive violence. She wrote at least five other novels, but information is sketchy.

Meanwhile, NATALIE BARKAS is linked to World War II via her husband, filmmaker Geoffrey Barkas, who was also a camouflage expert during the war. She published several books about the making of his films, as well as two children's books—The Quest of the Bellamy Jewels (1949), based on a play by Michael Berrenger, and The Gold Hunters (1963). She comes to my list straight from the Oxfam shop in York that made me realize an additional suitcase would be necessary for our flight back. I didn't buy Bellamy Jewels, but I did note her name.

Despite the fact that I'm proceeding in strictly alphabetical order, it so happens that MARY BOSANQUET is also added to my list thanks to Oxfam. Andy patiently took cell phone pics of a copy of her one adult novel, The Man on the Island (1962), about a lonely young woman finding new friendships while studying in the north of England. She fits my time frame because of an earlier children's book, People with Six Legs (1953). She also has a war connection, as the second of two travel books she published, Journey Into a Picture (1947), deals with her time with the YMCA in Italy in the final year of World War II. From my earlier mention of her, however, it seems her best known title is her first memoir, Saddlebags for Suitcases: Across Canada on Horseback (1942), which detailed her gruelling horseback ride from Vancouver to New York. That book was later reprinted as Canada Ride.

There are a number of authors of my list that I know little about, but D. KATHERINE BRERETON may take the cake. Not only have we not been able to identify her or find out any details, but apparently no one can even pen down the year that her one children's title, The Savages on Gale Island, was published (1950 seems to be a bookseller consensus). The book is not listed in the British Library or Library of Congress catalogues, nor in Worldcat, though copies are available for sale, so the book does indeed exist. She was also the author of a number of stories in periodicals at around the same time. Perhaps she went into a witness relocation program? Or was she an alien accidentally left behind on Earth, who wrote a children's book to kill time until she was rescued?

I came across GRACE CARLTON because one of her books was listed on the back of a Dorothy Hunt novel, but her three novels—The Wooden Wedding (1923), The Black Ace (1924), and Shuttlecock (1947)—remain a mystery to me. She was the daughter of publisher and editor Thomas Greenwood, and later wrote a biography of him as well as one about Friedrich Engels.

NINA CARROLL and CLAUDIA CLEEVE each wrote only one book. Carroll's—Adventure on the Moon (1947)—is perhaps the most impressive for having been written and illustrated by Carroll herself when she was only 12 years old. She can therefore be added to my virtual list of child prodigies à la Daisy Ashford. Cleeve's one children's book, by contrast—Oak Apple Inn at Thistledown Bottom (1942)—didn't appear until she was just shy of 60. It's certainly a catchy title.

I was driving myself crazy for a day or two with VALENTINE CLEMOW, who started as a silent film and stage actress before going on to write eight romantic novels. I knew I had added an author to my list who was a silent film actress whose films have now mostly been lost, and for some reason I was convinced it was Clemow. Finally, I identified her as OLGA PETROVA (real name Muriel Harding), who I added to my list with the last update. Information about Clemow's film work is very difficult to come by, however, so it's possible that some of her work has been lost as well. My time-wasting led me to the National Film Preservation Society here, where I learned, in five minutes flat, 1) that as few as 20% of U.S. films from 1910-1930 survive (presumably the situation is much the same in the U.K.), and 2) that most of a previously lost Alfred Hitchcock film was recently unearthed in New Zealand. The internet is a wondrous place for accruing odd bits of information.

It rather seems as though NICOLETTE DEVAS should have been in my sights before now, considering the status of her famous in-law, but in fact it wasn’t until Patrick Murtha, a reader of this blog, emailed me about her that I first heard her name. She was the sister-in-law of no lesser figure than poet Dylan Thomas, and was even, along with Dylan and his wife Caitlin (Nicolette's sister), portrayed in the 2008 film The Edge of Love. She published four novels, but she's best known for the memoir Two Flamboyant Fathers (1966), which tells of her childhood moving freely between two households—her own, led by an eccentric Irish poet father, and that of the family's neighbor, artist Augustus John, who was leading a bohemian lifestyle with numerous friends and family members. A subsequent memoir, Susanna's Nightingales (1978), traces the maternal line of her family. See here for more information about her.

Jumping just slightly out of order, to another famous connection, though this one's not exactly a household name: CLAUDE DU GRIVEL (born Florence Marie DuGrivel Oxenford), who wrote three historical novels in the 1940s and 1950s, was the mother of actress Daphne Oxenford. Google had to tell me who she was too, but some of you in the U.K. may know her voice from the opening of the radio show Listen With Mother. She was also an early cast member on Coronation Street and apparently a shop owner in To the Manor Born, so I must have seen her but I can't for the life of me recall a shop owner at all. I know even less about her daughter, though King, Queen, Knave (1946) is apparently set in "the stirring days of King John and Magna Carta."

JANE DOE, meanwhile, was best known for her "Through the Glad Eyes of a Woman" columns in the Daily Chronicle and Sunday News in the 1920s and 1930s, but she did publish a single novel, The Enchanted Duchess (1931), described by one source as a "bodice-ripper." She also published three collections of her columns in the 1920s.

And last but not least is WATSON DYKE, whose output of four novels in 32 years could hardly be called prolific. The Monthly Packet said that her first, Craiktrees (1897), was "monstrously overweighted with dialect." I'm a bit intrigued by her second, though—according to the Outlook, As Others See Us (1899), is about "a silly but open-hearted, a deceitful but ingenuous governess in a seaside boarding school." It will appear on my Grownup School Story List whenever I get around to updating it next. Dyke (real name May Bradley) lived in the U.S. for many years, basing her third novel, The Hunter (1918), there. Late in life, she returned to England and lived in Yorkshire.

I have to confess that from this batch of newbies, there are probably only a couple of titles I'm adding to my TBR list, and those both non-fiction. Several readers recommended Mary Bosanquet's Saddlebags for Suitcases when I mentioned her before, and I am certainly intrigued by Nicolette Devas's Two Flamboyant Fathers. What about you? Do you see anything that catches your eye here?

Friday, June 9, 2017

A thoroughly revamped (and renamed) list

It's been just over a year since the last update of my main list. Since January, I have been quietly but intently working on a major revision and expansion of the list, which also includes a new title. What has hitherto been known as "The Overwhelming List" has now morphed into "British Women Writers of Fiction 1910-1960". I decided it was time for the list to be called something more precise, if also a bit more mundane. This new list is linked from the left column of the blog, and there's also a new PDF version available on each section of the list.

Those familiar with previous versions of this list may also note that the more precise title has led me to eliminate the relatively small number of diarists and memoirists who had been rather randomly included before. There turned out to be about 50 of those authors, and they have now been removed, but I will eventually be posting them in a "list of their own". Of course, this applies only to authors who only wrote diaries or memoirs; those who wrote fiction as well are still included. Since the diarists and memoirists who were included were in no way comprehensive, it had come to seem that, interesting as their work is, they didn't really belong in the main list.

To make up for those removals, I've also added about 60 new authors, and I'll be introducing those in four future posts over the next couple of weeks, complete with as many enticing dustjacket pics as I've been able to track down.

The main thing you'll notice in the new edition of the list is that many of the entries have been greatly expanded (the PDF version nearly doubled in length until I shrank the fonts and expanded the margins, and even so it weighs in at a still-overwhelming 418 pages). When I initially created and began adding to the list, I was fairly aggressive in limiting the length of each entry to just the bare bones, but it was always my hope that one day I would have time to go back and really flesh it out. This list is the only online source for information about many of the more obscure authors included, so I wanted to share everything I had. For better known authors, of course, I can't possibly include everything that's known, but I have tried to include all the major facts and points of interest.

One more inspiration for thus expanding the list was my book shopping orgy in the U.K. last October, during which I several times had to consult my list to remember who an author was and whether I just had to have her books or not. There were several occasions when I knew I had more substantial information about an author sitting in my giant database on our home computer, but I couldn't access it there. It was frustrating and tantalizing, and I decided it was time to make as much of the information I have as possible public and readily accessible here.

You'll also see a few changes in formatting and in the information included on the list. I've added complete life and death dates where available. I've also placed last names first, in keeping with the format of most reference works. In addition, I've fleshed out authors' full names when I have them, while still trying to reflect the shortened names they may have published under. I've used parentheses to reflect the complete form of a nickname or shortened name that was used for writing, and brackets to reflect middle or other legal names which an author didn't use for their publications. An example:


This entry for novelist and children's author Kitty Barne (the name she published under) also reflects that her full formal name was Marion Catherine Barne.

I've also continued to use brackets to show full names for authors who used only initials on their books, as with this example:


In a few cases where the names are particularly complicated, I've left a fuller explanation either in a parenthetical second line or in the text of the author's entry.

There are a number of instances in which master researcher John Herrington has been able to trace authors in the public records with a fair degree of certainty but without any absolute proof that the person he's located is the author. In those cases, I've used question marks to precede each bit of information that can't be verified and have added an "uncertain but probable identification" note. In a few other cases where the situation is more complex but the pieces of information might provide clues to future researchers, I've included a summary of what John found within the author's entry.

I've added a "dates active" line for each author, which specifies the decades in which the author published fiction. This seemed useful for readers or researchers looking at particular time periods within the 50 years the list covers. Note that authors may have published other non-fiction works earlier and/or later than their "dates active" range. The "dates active" reflect only the decades in which they published fiction.

Wherever possible, I've included complete listings of each author's fiction titles. "Wherever possible," in this case, generally means authors who published 10 novels or fewer, or a bit more if an author is particularly significant or interesting. I've used a sort of shorthand to indicate whether title listings are complete or not—"titles are" or simply a dash following the number (i.e. "wrote five novels—") indicate that the titles following are complete, while "titles include" or just "including" indicate that only a selection of titles is shown. I also give exact or at least approximate numbers of works of fiction in most cases, so it should usually be obvious whether the titles shown are complete or not.

Finally, when an author who has her own entry on the list is mentioned in another writer's entry, her last name is shown in all caps (i.e. "co-wrote one novel with Betty SMITH"). This allows for easier cross-referencing within the list. Names of authors or other individuals who do not have entries on this list are shown with standard capitalization.

Most of that information and a bit more is now available in the "Key & Citations" section of the list, so it can always be referred to.

If other indicators don't reflect clearly enough how much the list has grown overall, how about the fact that it has gone from encompassing 10 separate posts to 26? As before, I've added navigation links to each section, though they've got a bit more complicated. Don't get confused by the dates on each post, which will all say 2013. I created a slew of new posts pre-dated to before the blog even existed, so that those who subscribe to the blog wouldn't see an intimidating barrage of more than two dozen new posts all at once.

Do let me know if any of the links, or anything else, doesn't work properly or if you notice any errors.

I hope you find the new version of the list helpful and interesting. For my part, I'm just happy that it's finished. 

For now.
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