Saturday, December 28, 2013

Update: Children's authors (Part 1 of 4)

When I first started this blog (unbelievably almost a year ago now) and created the Overwhelming List that's in some ways its raison d'être, I hadn't really given much thought at all to children's authors.  In the earliest version of the list, I included a few writers who are best known for their children's books (Noel Streatfeild, E. Nesbit, Eleanor Farjeon), but my focus was clearly on the fact that they also wrote novels for adults.  Only one writer from that list—Alison Uttleywas really primarily a children's author (and even she, I've since learned, wrote a couple of adult novels as well).  I included no writers who exclusively wrote for children.

Gradually, I started to include authors who wrote what I dimly regarded as "fiction that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike."  People like P. L. Travers and Eleanor Graham.  Then, as my resistance began to weaken, I included Elinor Brent-Dyer and Angela Brazil, who seemed just too influential to exclude.  And now, finally, my resistance—which was certainly based more on ignorance than any real bias—has thoroughly dissipated, and I have a series of four updates coming your way that are made up entirely of authors who wrote more or less exclusively for children.  

Apart from how interesting many of these writers are or may turn out to be, there is one very big reason I'm excited about these four posts.  Everyone reading this blog must already be aware of my passion for the colorful, elegant, artful dust covers of the heyday of the middlebrow.  And as soon as I started digging a little deeper into the kinds of books sold by wonderful small publishers like Girls Gone By and Fidra Books, I knew I could hardly resist going whole hog into exploring the genre.  Whether I'll enjoy reading the books as much as I enjoy perusing their covers remains to be seen (though I have two Brent-Dyers, an Antonia Forest, and an Alison Uttley on my "to read" shelf at the moment, so perhaps I'll know soon!), but regardless, the covers, some cheesy, some beautiful, and some a combination of the two, are irresistible.

I should point out that, since I am still primarily interested in fiction—longish works with real stories and at least somewhat developed characters—I am still excluding some no doubt brilliantly talented and personally fascinating women who specialized in picture books, alphabet books, etc. for very young children.  So, alas, still no Beatrix Potter on my list.

Although it's later than my time frame, Aiken's tale
of a haunted house that ensnares residents including
Henry James and E. F. Benson sounds irresistible

Happily, because children's books are highly collectible, images of dust covers and even of some of the lesser-known authors are more readily available than for many of the writers I discuss here.  So, if you're not fond of pictures, these posts will be a disappointment to you, I'm afraid...

JOAN AIKEN (1924-2004)
(married names Brown and Goldstein)

Novelist and children's author whose first story collection, All You've Ever Wanted, appeared in 1953; known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), Aiken wrote many ghost tales, including The Haunting of Lamb House (1991), which features Henry James and E. F. Benson as characters.

Joan Aiken

(married name Frankau)

Children's author and playwright, best known for a series featuring the Lockett children, beginning with August Adventure (1936), and a later series featuring Fricka Hammond and her cousins, beginning with Castaway Camp (1951); Atkinson also wrote one-act plays for women.

MARGARET J[OYCE]. BAKER (1918-     )

Children's author whose works are often set in Somerset and North Devon; titles include "Nonsense!" Said the Tortoise (1949), Four Farthings and a Thimble (1950), The Bright High Flyer (1957), Castaway Christmas (1963), and Cut Off from Crumpets (1964).

Vera Charlesworth Barclay

(aka Margaret Beech)

Daughter of Florence Barclay; a pioneer of the Scout movement, Barclay was also a prolific children's author, best known for her Jane series which included Jane Versus Jonathan (1937) and Jane Will You Behave (1944), and for various works on scouting and collections of campfire tales.

MARGARET BATCHELOR (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of six girls' stories in the 1910s and 1920s—Sallie's Children (1912), Six Devonshire Dumplings (1920), A Little Rhodesian (1922), The Children of Sunshine Mine: A Story of Rhodesia (1923), Gwenda's Friend from Home (1924), and Morwenna's Prince (1926).

Viola Bayley

VIOLA BAYLEY (1911-1997)
(née Powles)

Prolific author of children's adventure stories set in a variety of international locales; titles include The Wings of the Morning (1936), The Dark Lantern (1952), Paris Adventure (1954), Turkish Adventure (1957), Shadow on the Wall (1958), and Scottish Adventure (1965).

MARGARET BIGGS (1929-     )

Children's author best known for her Melling School series, many of which have been reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with The Blakes Come to Melling (1951) and The New Prefect at Melling (1952); others include Dilly Goes to Ambergate (1955) and The Two Families (1958).

Margaret Biggs

(married name Myers)

Historian and children's author whose fiction sometimes made use of her early involvement with ethnography and archaeology; titles include Taha, the Egyptian (1937), The First Term at Northwood (1948), Trapped by the Terror (1951), and Sophie and the Countess (1960).

Pamela Brown, who published her first novel at 17


Sole author of three children's stories—The Hoojibahs (1929), The Hoojibahs and Mr. Robinson (1931), and Hoojibahs and Humans (1949)—as well as one collaboration with Barbara Euphan Todd, The House That Ran Behind (1943).

(married name Masters)

Actress and children's author (not to be confused with actress Pamela Mary Brown) whose work was often set in show business and whose first novel, The Swish of the Curtain (1941), appeared when she was only 17; others include Family Playbill (1951) and The Other Side of the Street (1965).

(married name Turner)

Author of girls' school novels, Caldwell published two books in the 1950s—Prefects at Vivians (1956) and Head Girl at Vivians (1957)—and has more recently written four more volumes being reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with Strangers at Vivians (2011).

Endpapers of Christine Chaundler's Just Gerrie


Author of girls' school stories characterized by their realistic treatment and focus on girls who don't "fit in" or who resist conventions; titles include The Fourth Form Detectives (1921), Sally Sticks It Out (1924), The Exploits of Evangeline (1926), and The Madcap in the School (1930).

CLARE COLLAS (1885-1969)
(aka Clare Waters)

Author of four novels for children and girls—Four's Company: A Children's Fantasy (1942), The Flying Village: An Improbably Story (1943), The Blue-Coated Heron (1944), and A Penny for the Guy: A Real Story (1945).


Author of more than a dozen novels for girls from the 1930s to 1950s, including school stories and adventures; some of her works are Torley Grange (1935), The Grenville Garrison (1940), Stepmother (1948), At School with the Stanhopes (1951), and The Wild Lorings at School (1954).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas shopping (well, sort of)

I know that the expression "Christmas shopping" generally refers to shopping one does for other people. But this year, I seem to have gone a bit berserk in my shopping for myself. 

Therefore, consider this post to be a sort of case study on what happens when Scott gets an unexpected bonus from his employer at the very time of year when Awesome Books is offering ridiculous sales on their already low prices.  I share my completely excessive, over-the-top holiday shopping in the hopes that my experience may be a lesson to others...

At the top of this post is only about a third of the damage I've done to my already-limited bookshelf space.  But honestly.  How could I pass up cheap Stella Gibbons, D. E. Stevenson, and Miss Read?  And I've always meant to read Frank Baker's Miss Hargreaves, which practically everyone I've ever met (it seems) has recommended to me. I've been curious about Willa Muir's fiction for a while, and it would take a stronger man than I to resist a cheap Persephone. It turns out, too, that another Persephone title, Isobel English's Every Eye, was reprinted by Black Sparrow Press a few years ago, and a lovely little copy of that edition practically just fell into my lap.

I always feel bad when I pick up books from my favorite publishers for cheap, so I hope I've made up for not ordering the latter two direct from Persephone. No holiday season would be complete without an order of Persephones fresh from the source, and this year was no exception.

A few months ago, I wrote about reading my first Dorothy Whipple novel, Someone at a Distance, and absolutely loving it. I've been yearning for her other titles ever since, and so this Persephone order will help me catch up on my long overdue Whipple reading.  (As it happens, the books arrived a few days ago, and I've already finished High Wages.  I'm bursting to talk about it, but a review will follow, eventually, when all the holiday hoopla and travel is over.)

I have to say, too, I don't want anyone to think I'm some kind of book fetishist, but oh my, the smell of brand new Persephones.  I mean, new books in general, of course (and sometimes even old books), but Persephones seem to me to be in a class by themselves, aromatically.  Am I wrong?

And another touch of Persephone fetishizing: I know I'm behind the times, since the book came out a while back, but the endpapers and bookmark for They Knew Mr. Knight, from a Reco Capey fabric from 1934, are my favorite yet.

Happily, Awesome Books also came through with some Greyladies.  I seem to be wagering that I'll like Josephine Elder quite a lot when I finally get around to reading her, as I now have three of her books, including two that are out of print.  I felt bad about ordering the in-print Return to the West by Mabel Esther Allan from Awesome Books instead of Greyladies, but then I read Allan's novel (another review to come) and was compelled to immediately order her other two novels, along with Susan Pleydell's A Young Man's Fancy, direct from Greyladies, so hopefully I made up for that bad karma as well. (No photos yet of the three brand new books, which are currently winding their gradual way here on burro-back, or however it is that surface mail from the U.K. ends up in San Francisco for those like me who are too cheap to spring for airmail.  But the anticipation will only make their arrival that much more exciting.)

Of course, one of the best things about Awesome Books, as I've mentioned here before, is their wide selection of the old green Viragos, so I used their 20% sale a couple of weeks ago to stock up on some titles I'm really embarrassed never to have read:

I know, I know, I've read all the Provincial Lady novels, but none of Delafield's wide array of other novels. It's completely unacceptable and I will rectify the situation as soon as possible.  And although everyone says Beatrix Lehmann can't hold a candle to her sister, Rumour of Heaven sounds like my cup of tea. (At any rate, you know how I love advocating for the underdog, so I shall probably prefer Beatrix to Rosamond on principle!) I've never read one of Nancy Spain's mystery novels and always meant to read Antonia White's sequel to Frost in May, so I snatched those up too.

Finally, it's time I catch up on some popular and/or acclaimed children's books (or, in the case of National Velvet, novels intended for adults but marketed to children in recent decades).  NV is the only Enid Bagnold novel I've yet to read, so despite my resistance to "horse stories," I am going to dive in.

And while I was taking the plunge into the Chalet School novels, I grabbed Mary Cadogan's classic history of the girls' story for some useful background.

Whew! I have my work cut out for me in the coming months (not the least of which will involve rearranging overcrowded bookshelves...)

Hopefully this glimpse of my orgy of book shopping will add a tiny bit to your own festivities, or perhaps tempt you to some purchases of your own. You deserve it, you've worked hard, and anyway it's good for the economy. (If you need more excuses, let me know, I specialize in rationalizing book spending!) 

And let me take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful holiday week and a very happy book-filled New Year!

A short practical note: I will (hopefully) have one more post going up before the end of the year, but it will be my first experiment with scheduling a post to appear automatically. Wish me luck!  Andy and I will be in Seattle and Victoria (including high tea at the Empress hotel, the closest I can get to England this year), so if anything goes wrong, bear with me and I'll fix it when we get back. Please note that that also means new comments likely won't appear until we're back at home, but please don't let that stop you from adding your two-cents' worth, which is always worth much more than two cents to me!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

URSULA ORANGE, To Sea in a Sieve (1937)

In the past few weeks, I've been doing a lot of enthusiastic babbling about Ursula Orange—a writer I had never even heard of until recently and about which little information has been available.  I first read and reviewed her third novel, Tom Tiddler's Ground (published in the U.S. as Ask Me No Questions), which instantly became one of my favorite discoveries of 2013 and is high on my list of books to re-read as soon as time allows.  It's the high point of my Orange reading so far.  Then I tracked down her debut novel, Begin Again, which is perhaps a bit rough around the edges, as debuts have a tendency to be, but which I also found quite smart, funny, compulsively readable, and even a bit edgy in its way.

Now I've gotten my hands on the novel that came in between.  To Sea in a Sieve appeared a year after Begin Again and four years before Tom Tiddler's Ground.  This was actually the first book of Orange's that I heard about, when I came across a contemporary review that discussed it alongside another now-obscure novel, Ethel Boileau's Ballade in G Minor.  Although the reviewer for Saturday Review preferred Orange's novel to Boileau's, he remained underwhelmed.  But he did squeeze in a comparison to E. M. Delafield, which—happily—made me bound and determined to give Orange a try:

Miss Orange now and again comes very close to being as acidly funny as E. M. Delafield, but most of the time she spoils her effects by not being willing to let well enough alone, and explaining her best jokes. Her Mummy is a great deal more human than Lady Boileau's Mummy, and apt to get really annoyed from time to time. Sandra, with whose marriage the book is concerned, is a really engaging person, and many of the minor characters are genuinely well done. "To Sea in a Sieve" was, to me, a great deal more entertaining than "Ballade." But I have no doubt that Lady Boileau's book will be discussed more earnestly at the bridge clubs.

Alas that I have no bridge club at which to discuss either novel, so I shall make do by discussing Sieve here.  But it does sadden me a little to say that I was also a bit underwhelmed…

As the reviewer noted, Sieve follows the vicissitudes of Sandra Blakiston's marriage, but indeed it also preliminarily follows her expulsion from Oxford and her indecision about who to marry in the first place—Charles, her upper class fiancé, with whom she has an easy, bantering relationship of jokes and affectionate mutual insults, or Stephen, the earnest, left-leaning intellectual for whom all joking only points out the cruel injustices of the world.  The following long-ish passage, which takes place after Sandra has had a fight with Charles and gone off camping on Sark with Stephen and their friend Mavis, displays Orange's usual playfulness as well as the stark difference between Sandra's two love interests:

Mavis was burrowing briskly among the piles of clothes. Most of Sandra's and Mavis's possessions lived permanently on the ground. There were some hooks fastened with string to the tent-pole, but if anyone hung more than two things on one hook it slid passively to the ground. Sandra had amused the others by addressing the hooks in a manner supposed to resemble that of her late headmistress, beginning:

'Now that you are all here together, hooks,' and going on to accuse them collectively of a lack of team-spirit and separately of any sense of responsibility towards the duties and burdens that all must in this life be prepared loyally to support. 'The lessons that you learn in this small world of tent-life,' she wound up, 'will help to carry you through the wider outside world of wardrobe, door-peg and even of crane-life. Yes, hooks, why are you smiling among yourselves? There is nothing impossible in the idea that one of my hooks will one day rise to the supreme responsibility of being a crane-hook—'

Stephen laughed but quickly grew solemn again and asked: 'Are girls' schools really like that?'

'Oh yes,' said Sandra unashamedly.

'Good Lord,' said Stephen and he looked so disgusted that the fooling was quickly at an end, sliding into a serious discussion about co-education. Fooling with Stephen usually ended in a serious talk, whereas fooling with Charles had gathered momentum and rolled along to the point where giggling idiocy ended in kisses.

By contrast, this brief exchange between Sandra and Charles while horseback riding gives a sample of their "giggling idiocy":

'In my experience,' said Charles, who was watching her struggles with amusement from the other side of the ditch, 'he's exactly like other horses. What he's waiting for now is a good crack behind the saddle just before he sticks his toes in for the tenth time to refuse.'

'Oh. But you didn't hit yours.'

'No. I didn't get him all fussed up first,' said Charles pleasantly. 'However, if you disapprove of corporal punishment I should try getting off and reasoning with him.'

There are quite a few such passages throughout, many of them really funny, so that To Sea in a Sieve is at times quite enjoyable.  At its best, it even reminded me of a Hollywood screwball comedy of the kind being produced in numbers at the time Sieve was written.  In The Awful Truth (one of my all-time favorite movies), for example, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play a happily married couple who have a daft squabble, get divorced, marry entirely unsuitable people, hilariously sabotage each other's marriages, and wind up reuniting in the end. 

Something similar happens here, as Sandra's rather shallow determination to be free-spirited and open-minded, and to resist all the beliefs and assumptions of her class, leads her to choose Stephen over Charles, and to live in poverty (well, by her standards, which still allow for the occasional presence of a charwoman) as Stephen works ineptly but with great political idealism at a failing bookstore.  And these situations do produce some genuine humor, as when Sandra muses on her improvement as a housewife while making a sly reference (like the kind given more air time in Begin Again) to the relative usefulness of a university education in the day-to-day life of a married women:

Nevertheless, household management no longer represented for her a maze of bewildering uncertainties, nor cooking a series of agitated guesses culminating in a peak of agonising uncertainty at the moment when the food was placed on the table but the first mouthful had yet to be taken. She was now competent to the point that when she undertook to produce a meal she always achieved something quite eatable not more than a quarter of an hour after the intended time; and that, for a girl with seven years of school and two of college behind her, was not bad after all.

Or when Stephen's political correctness—as we might call it now—starts to grate on Sandra's nerves, as in this discussion about the bookstore owner's wife, with whom Sandra has discussed the shop's disgruntled shopgirl, Daisy:

Stephen exclaimed disgustedly: 'Imagine the mind of a woman who goes prying into things that have nothing to do with her just for the sadistic satisfaction of getting up on a pedestal and denouncing someone as a bad lot.'

'Imagine the mind of a woman who comes into the kitchen and finds her maid locked in the embraces of a milkman—a married milkman,' retorted Sandra. 'I suppose she ought to say, "That's right, my dear. Carry on and don't mind about the dinner. I'm very glad to think you're not being repressed in any way."'

The trouble for me was that the proportion of entertaining moments to the amount of agonizing and argument is just not quite high enough.  Clearly Orange was trying to show the evolution of Sandra's thinking, from its naïve post-Oxford idealism to its more nuanced grappling with real world challenges.  But perhaps Orange could have done a bit of expeditious excising of some of Sandra's angst along the way.

I do have to mention one section of To Sea in a Sieve that was quite entertaining for me.  At one point, Stephen falls ill and Sandra agrees to fill in for him in managing the bookstore for a couple of weeks.  This gives her the opportunity of discovering that she is really quite good at handling customers and organizing the business—and is even good at managing the disgruntled shopgirl—at least until she storms out in a huff…  This section therefore has real relevance to Sandra's development, but more importantly, for a lover of bookstores like me, it was great fun to vicariously run a bookstore for 50 pages or so!

Sieve's cute little library
card, with evidence of
its, um, popularity...

And, just for those who fetishize library books
as much as I do...I suspect the fines are now a bit
more than two cents a day, don't you?

Ultimately, though, To Sea in a Sieve felt like a transitional work, between the passion and exuberance of Begin Again and the mature, controlled, and endlessly charming Tom Tiddler's Ground.  The ending, too—unlike that of The Awful Truth—didn't quite ring true, at least for me, and I left the novel feeling a bit discontented.

But mind you, not so discontented that I haven't managed to get hold of two more of Orange's novels—1944's Company in the Evening and 1945's Portrait of Adrian—which is little short of amazing since I believe the copies I have in my hot little hands are the only copies in any U.S. library.  (Thank you, University of Pennsylvania!)  I'm especially excited since these are Orange's final two novels, and will be my first experience of where she went, as a writer, after Tom Tiddler's Ground.  I am a bit sad that the novel she wrote immediately after Tom Tiddler's Ground, 1942's Have Your Cake, is apparently nonexistent in the U.S. and prohibitively expensive to purchase.  It's looking like a candidate for my new Hopeless Wish List (which I'm planning to post in the next few weeks).  But, I'm frankly amazed that I've been able to track down five out of six novels by this utterly and undeservedly forgotten author (refer to the library card from Sieve above if you don't believe the "forgotten" part), so I will be thankful and not expect to, um, "have my cake" and eat it too…

An array of delicious Oranges?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Revised and updated Overwhelming List

Whew!  After three months of hard labor—well, at least some occasional effort now and then—I've finished and posted a revised and updated version of my list, which you can view here.  I've also uploaded a new PDF version (which now weighs in at 127 pages, so you may want to download it rather than printing it) which you can download from the list pages or by clicking here.

The elusive March Cost (aka Margaret Morrison)

This new version happens to already contain a bunch of new writers which I'll be discussing in update posts over the new few weeks, and the total number of writers listed is now a rather stunning 809!  If you had told me a few months ago that the list would expand this much, I would have laughed (or perhaps cried), but it's actually quite satisfying to see it encompassing so many women who were popular, accomplished, and/or acclaimed in their time but have been largely forgotten today.  (Of course, it no doubt encompasses some perfectly dreadful writers as well, but c'est la vie.)

In addition to the new writers, the revised list contains slightly expanded bios for many writers, and it also now includes married or maiden names where that information is available, as well as any pseudonyms used.  This can be helpful information, especially for some lesser-known writers who may have published under both their maiden and married names.

I've also been able to flesh out life and death dates for a fair number of writers, and for this I have to thank Andy, who for a time became addicted to piecing together details of some of these women's lives.  It can be quite a jigsaw puzzle, especially since by the time some of these women died no one appears to have recalled that they had ever written novels, or to have thought that any documentation of that aspect of their live would be needed.  You might begin with the knowledge that a woman's novels are all set in Yorkshire, making it plausible that she lived there, find a birth record for a woman who lived in Yorkshire whose name matches and whose birth year is plausible, try Googling using that birthdate, unearth a maiden name at an entirely different site, and only when you put all those details together do you stumble across a trace of additional information, perhaps including a marriage license or death notice.

At any rate, Andy's persistence paid off, and as a result I've been able to add new details about writers like Lorna Armistead, Theo Douglas, A. M. Champneys, and Edith Charlotte Brown (who, it turns out, is a niece—preceded by an uncertain number of "greats," of Jane Austen herself). 

Every once in a while, he also uncovered some rather surprising details, as with the life of Maude Annesley, who, we learned, was pregnant when she married her first husband, divorced for adultery with her soon-to-be second husband, widowed from said second husband, and married a third time to a man who eventually had her committed to an asylum for the last seven years of her life.  According to one source (the accuracy of which I can't begin to guarantee, but interesting nevertheless), during her second marriage "[s]he hung around with the Golden Dawn boys—Swinburne, MacGregor Mather, and so on, and became one of Aleister Crowley's girls, and the orgies, booze and drugs, and bizarre mumbo-jumbo that they all incanted while doped up, was slowly driving her insane."  It's rather a wonder she still had time to write…

One of the (less scandalous) clues in the search for Maude Annesley

But I haven't just been sitting back and letting Andy do all the work.  One of my oddest bits of research concerned Ena Limebeer, who published one book of poetry with the Hogarth Press, followed by two later novels.  Now, writers published by the Woolves have mostly been thoroughly researched (I imagine that one could find details of Virginia's preferred toothpaste if one wanted to, such probing and prodding has her life been subjected to), but one source reported that all trace of Limebeer seemed to have been lost and even predicted that details of her life would never be discovered.  Nevertheless, I happened to come across her husband, scholar and theorist David Mitrany, and their marriage date of 1923, which led me to think it wasn't hopeless after all.    And the fact that she renewed one of her copyrights in 1961 told me she had had a long life even after publishing her second and final novel in 1932.

Then, I found an intriguing E-bay auction of a watercolor painting by someone named Ena Limebeer (and let's face it, how many Ena Limebeers are there likely to have been?), which led me to wonder if she might be better known as a painter.  And this led to the discovery of a page from the Japanese version of Wikipedia, of all places, which confirmed her status as a painter and added that "her best period was undoubtedly during the 50's and 60's and pictures from this period are the most sought after by collectors. Those works that were displayed in the Paris Salon are particularly in high demand."  Who would have thought?  And who would have thought that a woman who doesn't even have an English-language Wikipedia page would be comparatively famous in Japan? 

Big in Japan?  Ena Limebeer, from The Bookman

Apart from this, March Cost and Margaret Morrison, previously two authors on my list, have now merged into one (see under "Cost").  A bit of digging revealed that Cost was the frequent and most popular pseudonym of Morrison.  This made me wonder how many other writers might have multiple entries on my list?

A bit more research also revealed that three writers on my list were actually American, so I have removed Marchette Chute, Helen Granville-Barker, and Harriet Henry (who was only just added a few short days ago).  I also removed Sophie O'Brien, who turned out to have been born in Russia, raised in France, married to an Irishman, but only actually resided in Ireland late in life.  That makes her delightfully multicultural but alas not "British" for purposes of this blog.

And finally, I had somehow never come across the real first name of Rumer Godden's novelist sister.  It turns out to have been "Winsome."  Oh dear.  No wonder she chose to go by Jon…

As always, please contact me if you see any inaccuracies or errors in the list, if you know of a writer who's missing, or if anything doesn't function or navigate properly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Update: Excavations

I've added 22 more authors to my Overwhelming List as a result of recent excavations.  Not very many lovely photos this time, but hey, an image of the opening credits of a movie is better than nothing, right?

As usual, there were a few writers that jumped out at me from this batch:

KITTY BARNE was the author of numerous well-regarded children's books and six novels for adults—often making use of show business themes and settings.  She received particular acclaim for her wartime works for children—including Visitors from London (1940), about evacuees, and We'll Meet in England (1942), about two Norwegian children who escape the Nazi occupation in a boat and make their way to England.  Also intriguing to me is Musical Honours (1947), which the Christian Science Monitor called "an entrancing story about life in England today during rationing and reconstruction."  I haven't located any significant information about her novels for adults—Mother at Large (1938), While the Music Lasted (1943), Enter Two Musicians (1944), Duet for Sisters (1947), Vespa (1950), and Music Perhaps (1957).

ETHEL BOILEAU was a novelist who published eleven novels in the 1920s and 1930s, then came back with one more in 1947.  Contemporary reviews and other references to her novels make it hard to know whether one would want to read her or not.  The Bookman summarized The Box of Spikenard (1923) thus: "Some husbands treat the precious ointment of a woman's love as if it were cold cream to be used after shaving."  An advertisement for The Map of Days (1935) says: "Romance novel of a modern Lancelot, a giant of a soldier, an ardent lover—destined to live and love greatly, and to have a strange power over women. Includes elements of second sight, mysticism, and the First World War."  Wow.  But while I'm pretty sure the Bookman's assessment of Gay Family (1933) is intended to be negative, it sounds kind of seductive to me: "It must be a tradition in Deepshire, that Ruritanian part of England where so many novels are laid, that no one is ever profound. Mallory Court, the scene of Mrs. Boileau's baffling roman, is in Deepshire, and its inhabitants are simply gaga."  All of which leads me to believe that when Book Parade referred to When Yellow Leaves… (1934) as "possessing those rare, elusive qualities so difficult to describe," they weren't just whistling Dixie!

Gay Family made it to a 10th printing...

...and rode right on to a 17th printing!

KATHERINE DUNNING was the author of only four novels— Stephen Sherrin (1932), The Spring Begins (1934), Whatever the Heart Appoints (1950) and The Bright Blue Eye (1952).  I'm particularly interested in The Spring Begins, which The New York Times called: "A book about present-day English country life with no mention of the dole, decaying county families or general economic ferment is a rarity. Katherine Dunning's novel proves that it can be an interesting story as well, and a relief from problem literature of the depression."  Saturday Review summed it up as "emotional turmoil among the domestics of a large English country estate."  For better or worse, that's enough to pique my interest.

HARRIET HENRY, who may turn out to be American, wrote several novels that sound like breezy romances.  In 1932, the Bookman said of The Rakish Halo: "An unmarried city girl, normally attractive and with plenty of opportunity to meet men, solves the problem of whether or not to keep her halo, and, if so, at what angle it should be worn."  This one could probably go either way…

CYNTHIA LOMBARDI could probably go either way too.  She published four novels in the 1920s and 1930s, of which I've so far come across information about only one.  Saturday Review's pithy and puzzling summation of Autumn's Torch (1935): "Our heroine, the lovely and socially-placed widow, goes overboard for a sleek operatic tenor. But he married a tight-rope walker!"  What to make of that?!

MABOTH MOSELEY published four novels in the 1930s, of which War Upon Women (1934), described as a futuristic comedy about a dictator's effects on women, sounds most intriguing.

ELEANOR SMITH was a highly successful writer of popular romantic novels, many of them making use of the Gypsy culture from which she claimed her grandmother hailed.  Harold Nicolson gave Flamenco (1931) a rave review: "an unforgettable book ... it pulsates with passion ... It rouses the emotions of pity and terror and solves them in a burst of lyrical beauty."  Smith's connections with the ballet world come out in Ballerina (1932), and Lovers' Meeting (1940) incorporates a time-travel element in its love story.  She has also received some attention for Satan's Circus and Other Stories (1932), which contains several stories of the supernatural.

Eleanor Smith

Smith's debut, Red Wagon, was made into a movie

MARGARET YORKE was a successful crime writer, and her crime novels, which focus particularly on the psychology of ordinary people driven by circumstances to commit crimes, do sound interesting, but of course I also wonder about her now-obscure early novels from the 1950s, which have been described as family dramas but about which I've found little other information.

Margaret Yorke

Here's the complete list of new bios.  All have already been added to thmain list.

BETTY ARMITAGE (dates unknown)

Diarist whose record of life in rural Norfolk during World War II was found in a shed and published in 2002 as Betty's Wartime Diary 1939-1945; Armitage had been a theatrical dresser and seamstress prior to the war.

KITTY BARNE (1883-1957)
(full name Marion Catherine Barne)

Playwright, novelist, and children's author; her wartime fiction was particularly acclaimed, including Visitors from London (1940), about evacuees, and Musical Honours (1947), about a family facing postwar conditions; adult novels include Mother at Large (1938) and Vespa (1950).

E. M. BARRAUD (dates unknown)

Memoirist best known for her World War II memoir Set My Hand Upon the Plough (1945), about the Women's Land Army; she wrote one more memoir, Tail Corn (1948), about East Anglia, and Barraud: The Story of a Family (1967), a history of her own family.

ETHEL BOILEAU (1882-1942)

Author of twelve novels from the 1920s to 1940s, which appear widely varied in subject, including The Box of Spikenard (1923), When Yellow Leaves... (1934), Ballade in G Minor (1938), and Gay Family (1933), which sounds intriguing despite a lukewarm Bookman review.

(née Taylor)

More research needed; author of six novels in the 1930s—The Uttermost Gift (1932), Summer's Lease (1932), The Jade Lotus (1933), Dark Background (1934), Half a House (1935), and So Much for Charity (1937).

GERTRUDE DUNN (1884-????)

More research needed; not to be confused with Gertrude Colmore, whose real name was also Dunn; apparently the author of only three novels—Unholy Depths (1926), The Mark of the Bat (1928), and So Forever (1929)—all dealing with supernatural themes.

KATHERINE DUNNING (dates unknown)

Forgotten author of two well-received novels of the 1930s—Stephen Sherrin (1932) and The Spring Begins (1934), the latter set on a large country estate—and two more postwar novels, Whatever the Heart Appoints (1950) and The Bright Blue Eye (1952).

SARAH GRAND (1854-1943)
(pseudonym of Frances Elizabeth Bellenden McFall, née Clarke)

Activist and novelist of social issues, best known for her scandalous bestseller The Heavenly Twins (1893), which initiated the "new woman" novel, and her autobiographical The Beth Book (1897); later work includes Adnam's Orchard (1912) and The Winged Victory (1916).

JOAN GRANT (1907-1989)
(aka J. M. Grant)

Author of historical novels which she claimed provided details of her own past lives and featured themes of reincarnation, astral travel, and the occult; titles include Winged Pharaoh (1937), Life as Carola (1939), Scarlet Feather (1945), and a memoir, Time Out of Mind (1956, aka Far Memory).

HARRIET HENRY (dates unknown)

Author of seven novels 1928-1936, which appear to have been perky romances; titles include Halves (1928), The Rakish Halo (1932), Lady with a Past (1932), Jackdaws Strut (1933), and Burn, Candle, Burn (1936).


Granddaughter of painter William Holman Hunt; author of two memoirs—My Grandmothers and I (1960), about her childhood with two eccentric grandmothers, and My Grandfather, His Life and Loves (1969), about Hunt—as well as a biography of Chilean painter Álvaro Guevara (1974).

CYNTHIA LOMBARDI (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of four novels—A Cry of Youth (1920), At Sight of Gold (1922), Lighting Seven Candles (1926), and Autumn's Torch (1935); of the last, Saturday Review said, "Our heroine … goes overboard for a sleek operatic tenor. But he married a tight-rope walker!"

MARY LUTYENS (1908-1999)
(aka Esther Wyndham)

Daughter of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and a prolific novelist and biographer; novels include Family Colouring (1940) and Above the Clouds (1954); biographies include Millais and the Ruskins (1967) and a 3-volume bio of Krishnamurti (1983-90); her memoir is To Be Young (1959).

MABOTH MOSELEY (1906-1975)

Author of four novels—Cold Surge (1930), This Lady Was a Gentleman (1931), God Created Them Apart (1932), and War Upon Women (1934), the last a futuristic comedy about a dictator's affects on women; later, she wrote a biography of inventor Charles Babbage (1964).

DOROTHY M. NEVILL (dates unknown)

More research needed; apparently the author of only one book, Mrs. Moore's Mishaps and Other Humorous Short Stories (1933).

(aka Mary Adelaide Eden Ross)

Daughter of Eden Phillpotts, whose career spanned an incredible 75 years, including plays, poetry, and novels; titles include A Marriage (1928), The Gallant Heart (1939), and From Jane to John (1943); her memoir, which made shocking allegations about her father, was Reverie (1981).

M[ONA]. A[UGUSTA]. RADFORD (dates unknown)
(née Mangan)

Author, with her husband Edwin, of more than 30 mystery novels, many featuring series detective Inspector Manson (later Dr.?); titles include Heel of Achilles (1950), Married to Murder (1959), and Mask of Murder (1965); they also collaborated on an Encyclopaedia of Superstitions (1948).

ELEANOR SMITH (1902-1945)

Successful author of romantic novels, often about figures on the fringes of society, such as Red Wagon (1930), Flamenco (1931), which Harold Nicolson called "unforgettable," and Ballerina (1932), as well as darker, supernatural tales like those in the collection Satan's Circus (1932).


More research needed; author of romance novels, including Nurse (1933), and others with irresistible titles like Three Make Their Bed (1936), Rhythm Romeo (1937), Cad's Kisses (1941), Two-Man Girl (1942), and W.A.A.F. Into Wife (1943).

(née Robbins)

Artist and short story author, wife of H. G. Wells, who, following her death, collected her stories and poetry into the volume The Book of Catherine Wells (1928), which included some tales of the supernatural.

DORIS WESTWOOD (dates unknown)

Author of four novels—Starr Bladon (1930), The Hair Shirt (1932), An April Day (1934), and Humble Servant (1936)—the latter two, at least, making use of a Siegfried Sassoon-like character; oddly, one Sassoon biographer says she had an affair with Sassoon, another that they never met…

MARGARET YORKE (1924-2012)
(pseudonym of Margaret Beda Larminie)

Known for her crime fiction set in English villages, featuring ordinary people driven by circumstance to crime—including No Medals for the Major (1974) and The Point of Murder (1978)—Yorke had earlier published family dramas such as Summer Flight (1957) and Deceiving Mirror (1960).

NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!