Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Update: Literary Archaeology

More and more, my research into forgotten writers is feeling a bit like an archaeological dig.  600+ writers into my list, I feel relatively confident that most of the "low hanging fruit" has been found.  From here on, my searches will likely involve some digging and sifting, using a toothbrush to shift the sands of time.  Only metaphorically, of course (toothbrushes being ineffective for Google searches and library research).

But I do love a challenge!  And here I bring you 17 more writers about whom little information is available—and, sadly, even fewer photographs.  Some of them sound quite interesting, however, once the cobwebs have been dusted off.  Here are some highlights:

URSULA ORANGE, the most interesting new addition for me (because I just finished one of her novels and loved it—but more on that later), was the author of at least six novels in the 1930s and 1940s—Begin Again (1936), To Sea in a Sieve (1937), Tom Tiddler's Ground (1941, published in the U.S. as Ask Me No Questions), Have Your Cake (1942), Company in the Evening (1944), and Portrait of Adrian (1945).  Reviewing To Sea in a Sieve, the Saturday Review compared Orange to Delafield.  Although they decided Delafield was better, I'm not so sure…  I could find no bios or discussions of Orange, so she remains a bit of a mystery, but one I'll definitely be following up on.

The enticing cover of a novel by the forgotten Ursula Orange

ADELAIDE VICTORIA ARNOLD (who wrote as MRS. J. O. ARNOLD), a holdover Edwardian, was an archaeological dig all to herself.  I could initially find no trace of her anywhere, despite the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction's assurance that she existed.  It turns out that, though she published as "Mrs. J. O. Arnold," the British Library rather oddly lists her as "Mrs. A. V. Arnold."  Now that the dust is at least partly blown away, I can assert that some of her later novels, such as The Woman in Blue and The Merlewood Mystery, sound like cousins to Ruby Ferguson's "R. C. Ashby" thrillers.  Arnold's early work has received some feminist attention, though it sounds a bit bleak.

JOY BAINES wrote several novels, one of which, Bitter Comedy, was vividly described in a review by H. E. Bates as "the type of novel in which the characters go through three hundred pages of misunderstanding, heart-searchings, and noble pretences of pride and hatred simply in order to arrive at a single paragraph in which they realize that they have 'blind, blind and stupid,' and where 'his hold tightened on her slim body.  His heart shouted with the wind.  The bitter comedy of the past year was ended.  Before him lay his heart's desire, his for the taking.'"  Now, I usually take reviews—especially by men, and especially of lighter, romantic novels by women—with several grains of sand, but the quote leads me to think Bates was being relatively fair in this case.  [Coincidentally, in the same review, Bates discusses Kathleen Wallace, another writer in this update—see below.]

Monica Ewer, who might not look like a
"light, romantic" kind of writer, but she was

MONICA EWER is probably still best known for having been the drama and film critic of the Daily Herald for many years.  She and her husband, Norman, were members of the Communist Party, and at least one source says that Norman spied for the Soviet Union, though he was never prosecuted.  Though the photo above might not make one think of the author of dozens of light romantic novels, Ewer was indeed successful in that field, and she often used her knowledge of film, the theatre, and Fleet Street to inform her novels.  For that reason, I'd like to track one down—perhaps Insecurity (1930), which the Spectator said "tells how the fittest survive in Fleet Street to-day, and it tells its tale gaily."  Oddly, despite the dearth of detailed information about Ewer online, I do know what her and Norman's bookplates looked like, thanks to this blog:

MARJORIE FIRMINGER seems to have been a stereotypically self-destructive Jazz Age figure, and you can read about her in some detail in this article by Joshua Cohen from New Haven Review.  She had a relationship with novelist, poet, and painter Wyndham Lewis (heaven help her!), and her career imploded with publication of her one novel, Jam To-day (1931), a vicious satire about all of her friends and acquaintances in the London literary world—most of which, unsurprisingly, shunned her thereafter.  Cohen reports that she worked in later life selling hats in a department store.  Cocktails with Elvira wrote a couple of posts on Firminger and her circle, including a few small photos in which you can vaguely make Firminger out.

BRIDGET LOWRY, author of five novels from the 1930s, whose To-Morrow's Giants sounds seductive but seems, alas, to be impossible to get hold of.  A Bookman review says: "The optimism of the book is no flowery sentimental emotion,  but the optimism of courage. Katharine Harvey-Adams has lost her only child, her husband is imprisoned for fraud, and she goes into a Suffolk village to start life afresh and to have a home ready for him to come to on his release. The story ends on the eve of his return, and in the interval we have penetrated the lives of the people of the village, rich and poor, and know each one with an intimacy that renders all their small joys and sorrows matters of infinite importance."  I'm practically drooling, but the book may well end up on my heartbreaking Hopeless Wish List.

ELEANOR SCOTT may be known to some readers as the author of an acclaimed collection of ghost stories, Randalls Round, some of which have been reprinted in anthologies.  The short bio of Scott from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories quotes a review of her novel Puss in the Corner which called it "a witty and discerning observer of female character, and more especially of the reactions of women to one another."   Sounds like something I'll need to track down…

KATHLEEN WALLACE, also the recipient of H. E. Bates's disapproval in the same review quoted above, wrote numerous novels from the 1930s to 1950s, as well as children's fiction.  Bates compares her 1933 novel Without a Stair, about a woman missionary in China, to Joy Baines' novel: "Here again is competence, seriousness, and at the same time dullness and lifelessness."  Norah Hoult was similarly unenthusiastic in the Bookman: "Briefly it is a story in which the characters endure a deal of unhappiness, but whose agonies and amours leave us a little cold for the reason that we are convinced that they will be quite all right at the end of the chapter. An efficient but not a memorable book."  But I have to point out one of Wallace's later books, which could be of interest to some readers.  The Prize Essay (1953) is apparently about a young girl writing a school essay on the Brontës, who seems to travel back in time to observe the Brontës in their daily lives.  Some potential there?

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, who wrote poetry
and sketches in Yorkshire dialect

Ishbel Ross, known for biographies of American women,
but not for her five novels of the 1930s

Below are the bios of all 17 new writers, which have already been added to the main list:

MRS. J. O. ARNOLD (1858-1933)
(pseudonym of Adelaide Victoria Arnold, née England [listed in British Library catalogue as "Mrs. A. V. Arnold"])

Wife of a crime novelist, John Arnold, and author of ten novels of her own, including Fire i' the Flint (1911), which some sources call a feminist novel, the bleak Megan of the Dark Isle (1914), and later supernatural thrillers such as The Woman in Blue (1922) and The Merlewood Mystery (1928).

JOY BAINES (dates unknown)

Author of six light novels, including Wife to Hugo (1930), Seventh Sin (1931), Bitter Comedy (1933)—which reviewer Norah Hoult called "a trifle too familiar" but "bright and efficient"—Fiddler's Folly (1935), The Master of Chetwynd (1937), and Sweet Briar (1941).

EVELYNE CLOSE (dates unknown)

More research needed; novelist whose works, including The Harvest (1911), Cherry Isle (1920), and When Aloes Bloom (1925), sound a bit Mary Webb-esque; Forum described Through the Lattice (1929) as "wrought out of the mists and fog and loneliness of England's north country."

MONICA EWER (1889-1964)

Well known as drama and film critic for the Daily Herald, Ewer reportedly wrote 50+ romantic novels, though the British Library lists fewer; some, like Insecurity (1930), make use of her knowledge of journalism, film, and the theatre; Ring o' Roses (1939) was adapted for the screen.


Famous for an affair with novelist Wyndham Lewis and for her one novel, Jam To-day (1931), which viciously satirized the London literary scene, Firminger reportedly worked on other novels, but none were finished; she apparently spent her later life working in a department store.

DIANA MURRAY HILL (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of a novel about women factory workers in World War II, Ladies May Now Leave Their Machines (1944); she appears to have also written one play, The Wonderful Ingredient (1934).

JUDITH KELLY (dates unknown)

More research needed; romance novelist, author of at least two novels, Marriage is a Private Affair (1941) and A Diplomatic Incident (1950).

BRIDGET LOWRY (dates unknown)

Author of five novels in the 1930s—Burden's End (1930), The Losers (1932), A Stone for Sharpening (1934), I Carry the Wood (1939), and To-Morrow's Giants (1933), the last of which, about a woman recovering from tragedy in an English village, sounds promising.

URSULA ORANGE (dates unknown)

Forgotten author whose light, humorous novels sound intriguing, including To Sea in a Sieve (1937), which Saturday Review compared to E. M. Delafield, and Tom Tiddler's Ground (1941), in which a young evacuated mother in the early days of WWII snoops into village affairs.

(née Clough)

More research needed; author of poetry, plays, character studies, and apparently inaccurate memoirs, Ratcliffe was best known for her poems and sketches in Yorkshire dialect; one of her perhaps fictionalized memoirs is Mrs. Buffey in Wartime (1942).

ISHBEL ROSS (1890-1965)

Best known for her journalism and for biographies of American women such as Clara Barton and Mary Todd Lincoln, Ross also published five novels—Promenade Deck (1932), Marriage in Gotham (1933), Highland Twilight (1934), Fifty Years a Woman (1938), and Isle of Escape (1942).

ELEANOR SCOTT (1892-1965)
(pseudonym of Helen M. Leys)

Author of five novels—War Among Ladies (1928), The Forgotten Image (1930), Swings and Roundabouts (1933), Beggars Would Ride (1933), and Puss in the Corner (1934)—as well as an acclaimed collection of ghost stories, Randalls Round (1929).

MARGARET SKELTON (dates unknown)

Apparently the author of only two novels—The Book of Youth (1920), which "plunges into the broth of modern London life," and Below the Watchtowers (1926), about two German children brought up in England in the years before and during World War I.

KATHLEEN WALLACE (dates unknown)

More research needed; children's author and novelist whose work included fiction about the Brontës; titles include Without a Stair (1933), set in China, Ancestral Tablet (1938), Without Signposts (1941), The Gentle Shadows (1947), and Pathway for Celia (1955).


More research needed; Scottish writer whose work included one novel written with her sister Mary (see below); other works are Pot Holes: A Adventure in the Diamond Fields (1928), Bullion: A Tale of Buried Treasure and the Bush (1933), and Ceremony of Innocence (1949).


More research needed; Scottish poet and novelist who lived in South Africa; her novels were Evergreen (1929), The Schoolhouse (1933), High Altitude (1949), written with her sister Elizabeth Charlotte Webster (see above), The Slave of the Lamp (1950), and A Village Scandal (1965).


Biographer and novelist, a Quaker who married an American and moved to Pennsylvania, Whitney wrote romantic novels of 19th century Quakers, including Jennifer (1941), Judith (1944), Intrigue in Baltimore (1952), The Ilex Avenue (1956), and Not for Ransom (1959).

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