Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Go Ahead, Persephone, Make My Day

This experience may be old hat for veteran bloggers, but for me it's new, so bear with me while I milk it for all it's worth...

I always do a bit of geeking out when the new Persephone Biannually comes out.  There are always wonderful photos and reproductions of paintings and it's generally a great opportunity to submerge oneself in the elegant ethos of the little grey books.

And of course not the least of the fun is getting a new Persephone bookmark—in this case, for the highly anticipated (and a particular favorite of mine) third "Miss Buncle" book by D. E. Stevenson, The Two Mrs. Abbotts, an appropriately bright and cheerful fabric from a dress by Tootal Broadhurst:

So when the latest issue arrived yesterday, I was happy as the proverbial lark.  It even contains the lovely Rose Macaulay story from World War II, "Miss Anstruther's Letters," accompanied by several wartime photos and paintings.

But then I got to the "Our Bloggers Write" section and came across this:

I felt a bit like I'd just won an Oscar.  "I'd like to thank the Academy...etc."  A warm thanks to Persephone for putting a little extra spring in my step and for welcoming me as one of "their" bloggers!

And as the icing on the cake, they've announced their spring titles, which include—along with two intriguing titles I'd never come across before—one of my most frequent re-reads, E. M. Delafield's hilarious Diary of a Provincial Lady.  Just to ensure that I will have to buy another copy of the book, Persephone is using "never-before reprinted colour illustrations by Arthur Watts" as the endpapers. Okay, count me in.

Oddly, although it's off the topic of me geeking out over being quoted (wouldn't want you to forget that part...), only yesterday I came across a webpage devoted to a "Who's Who" of Delafield's "provincial" world.  Check it out here if you haven't already.  Among other things ("Emma Hay" is a version of Cicely Hamilton, and "Rose's Viscountess" is Lady Rhonnda), if you scroll to the bottom of the page you'll find a picture of the woman the writer suggests may have been the model for Pamela Pringle.  It's great fun, and there's also a main page on Delafield which provides quotes, a bibliography, and biographical information.

Now pardon me, I have to go re-read my quote for the tenth time...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Changes to the Overwhelming List

Just a quick note to point out that the Overwhelming List, which has for some time been growing (WAY) too overwhelming for its single post, has now been split into a hopefully-manageable six parts, divided simply by author's last name.  Clicking on the link to the left will take you to the intro and the first part of the list, and from there you can click through to any of the other sections.  Please let me know if anyone has any problems or if there's anything confusing.  I'm having to adapt myself, too, as the list expands beyond my wildest expectations! 

(Note: Pay no attention to the dates of the individual posts that comprise these pieces—I cannibalized some of my earliest update posts to create them, so that subscribers wouldn't think I had gone berserk and started publishing five new posts a day.)

Splitting the list will also allow me to expand some of the blurbs for writers about whom I have additional information.  And I'm hoping to add a few shorter lists by categories—romance writers, mystery writers, etc.—which may make browsing for new reading material a bit less of a herculean commitment.  (Or maybe it's just an excuse for me to make more lists—I do have an advanced case of listophilia, after all.)

And finally, you'll see that I've added the option of downloading the complete Overwhelming List in PDF.  This is something I've meant to do from the beginning, since reading a 100-page list on Blogger isn't everyone's idea of a brilliant afternoon, but well, you know how these things go. It took a bit longer than I'd hoped.

I hope this makes the list more useful and user-friendly.  As always, please feel free to comment or email me with suggestions.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Middlebrow Musings

My idea of a fun afternoon lately seems to be submerging myself in old issues of The Bookman, The Saturday Review, or other periodicals that are happily now available online.  (Admittedly, I would be better off at the gym, but c'est la vie.)  These magazines are a great way to learn more about the literature of the time and to come across reviews of books now buried by the sands of obscurity.  And in the process, I often come across little tidbits that are amusing or revealing and which shed light on the broader perceptions, priorities, and attitudes of the time.  Don't expect any profound sociological insights, but here are a few I came across in my recent perusing.


I've always loved looking at publisher's ads.  I don't think I'm much of a sucker for most other kinds of advertising—I never quite believe that switching toothpaste will make me happier, more popular, or thinner, for example.  But book advertising is my kryptonite.  Every new book, enticingly presented with an almost childlike enthusiasm, seems endowed with the ability to transport me to realms of peaceful bliss and enlightenment hitherto unknown to humanity.

We all know that very few books live up to the promise, but somehow the magic of the blurb still has its effect.  For example, why do I feel, looking at this ad from 1936, that I've missed out on a literary masterpiece?:

It turns out that Knox, an English priest, also wrote detective novels, satires, and extensive theological works, but Barchester Pilgrimage seems to have been his only effort to be the reincarnation of Trollope.

Alas, readers seem to have been so "stunned" by the three novels mentioned in this 1927 ad that they had to repress all memory of them:

And even though books about the Brontës were a dime a dozen early in this century, this ad has convinced me that this one is surely the Brontë novel:

But I think the headline for this ad is my all-time favorite:

Indeed, one never knows in my family, so perhaps I should give Same Way Home a whirl!

Meanwhile, this next novel may have been headed for controversy, but it seems to have been way-laid along the way:

And finally, this 1940 ad is really genuinely intriguing.  I only recently stumbled across the name Martin Hare (pseudonym of Zoe Girling) in a contemporary review.  She has virtually no web presence at all, and seems to have been completely forgotten.  And yet here one of her novels is given pride of place, advertised alongside Vera Brittain's Testament of Friendship, which was surely a highly-anticipated work after the bestsellerdom of Testament of Youth:

And the description really makes Hare's book sound so enticing that I have had to add it to my "to read" list.  You see what I mean about the power of the blurb?


Until this past week, I've never really paid attention to the personal ads sometimes shown in these old periodicals.  But then I happened to notice these dueling ads from 1933:

I confess I can't fathom the advantage testosterone and a Y chromosome offers to a typist, but it must have been sufficient to for "male typists" to be a selling point.  At any rate, just below this ad Miss Beaumont and Miss Hall put in their two cents' worth:

Personally, I find something a bit smug about Miss Hall, with all her "satisfied authors" that she keeps on a list, probably just waiting for an excuse to show it off to anyone who will listen.  So I've decided that Miss Beaumont is worth the extra 3d per 1000 words.  No wonder she can charge even more than typists with testosterone!  (But now it's driving me crazy—surely one of Barbara Pym's heroines made a "speciality" of indexing, but I can't remember which. Perhaps Pym had met Miss Hall and was impressed by her list...)

But it wasn't only typing taking place in the personals columns, as evidenced by these excerpts from 1940:

From the "merely average, normal woman" seeking correspondence with an "older, superior person"—I'd love to know the backstory for that ad—to the lonely "Manhattanette" stuck in the Midwest, who is "[n]ot too deep, not too narrow," there's plenty here to ponder.  Not the least of which is wondering about the relationship of the two women seeking private school positions together.  And "Eppie in de Toal Hole" is clearly seeking someone with literary knowledge—I had to go online to find that the quote comes from Silas Marner.

Finally, these two, I think, speak for themselves:

Don't set your sights too high, boys!  (I confess there are days when I can relate to "Young Man," though…)  Clearly, these guys could certainly learn a thing or two about motivation and self-confidence from "Personable Woman":

What on earth can we make of the fact that her weakest point is her "Tweezer dexterity"??? 


Oddly, among the joys of reading these old magazines, pleasure in their humor seems to be missing.  Maybe jokes can't survive time travel?  I think I get this one, but it seems oddly unhilarious:

But this one?

Now, I looked up The Last Flower and found that it's an anti-war story published by James Thurber in 1939.  But that doesn't seem to get me any closer to understanding the joke?  Any ideas?


And one final warning from the good people at Saturday Review:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

P[AMELA]. L[YNDON]. TRAVERS, Moscow Excursion (1934) (and in anticipation of Saving Mr. Banks)

In acknowledgement of the premeire just a few days ago—at the BFI London Film Festival—of the new film Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of the movie version of P. L. Travers' novel Mary Poppins, I thought I should finally write about this curious little book I read a few weeks ago.  As far as I can tell, it was actually Travers' first published book, though Mary Poppins appeared close on its heels and instantly overshadowed everything else Travers did, and this book never seems to have gotten much attention.  Which means that it's right up my alley, right?

Saving Mr. Banks, which portrays Travers' negotiations (and famously adversarial relationship) with Walt Disney and the making of the film as well as flashbacks to Travers' childhood, doesn't open in the U.S. until Christmas, but it's already getting Oscar buzz.  For me, any excuse to see Emma Thompson in a film is a good one, but judging from the movie trailer she should be especially entertaining as Travers.

I do wonder though if Disney the studio, which is releasing the film, will, in standard Disney fashion, give the film a happier ending than is warranted.  It would be an ironic twist, considering that Travers was so unhappy with the Disney version of her novel that she refused to sell the film rights to any of her Mary Poppins sequels.  She was reportedly particularly unhappy that Disney toned down the harshness of the Mary Poppins character and of the novel in general, which she apparently did not even think of as especially a children's story.  (In her 90s, Travers granted permission to Cameron Mackintosh to produce a stage version, but only with the proviso that no Americans should be involved.)

Bearing this in mind, and with everything that was still to come in Travers' career, it's fascinating to read her earliest work, full of youthful humor and energy.  Based on her 1932 trip to the Soviet Union, Moscow Excursion has been read by some critics as a parody of the fairly numerous more earnest, journalistic travelogues published over the preceding decade or so, as more and more intellectuals became interested in communism and wanted to witness the Soviet experiment firsthand.  Of course, only a few years later E. M. Delafield would publish her own travelogue of the Soviet Union, Straw Without Bricks (1937), later reprinted as The Provincial Lady in Russia (though it doesn't seem to have been intended by Delafield as a provincial lady book but as a more serious journalistic effort).  I haven't read the Delafield book in several years, but if I recall correctly Delafield seemed a bit more serious in tone than Travers.

Moscow Excursion is a short book—weighing in at only a little over 100 pages—and it's clear from the start that Travers is approaching her tale with tongue firmly in cheek:

'A ticket to Russia, please.'

A group of Intourist officials scanned my face earnestly. It was evident that they recognized in me a notorious criminal. Would they give me in charge, I wondered. No. At least not yet. They would, however, keep me under strict surveillance. This I gathered from the glances which passed between them.

I have got my ticket. And my passport visa! I wonder what was the redeeming feature in those four photographs of a criminal lunatic (the cameras of passport photographers may not lie but they do a good deal of inventing) that spoke for me to the Consul—or whoever it is that gives passport visas. Anyway, I have been proved harmless enough to enter Russia for a period of some weeks. Perhaps the answers to the questions were sane enough to balance up the photograph....

Travers assures the reader that her interest in making the trip is purely apolitical:

Isn't it curious that nobody can hear even the name of Russia with any equanimity? Those for it are fanatically for it, those against it fanatically so. My forthcoming trip seems to be either the Chance of a Lifetime or a Piece of Utter Recklessness. If I had suggested a voyage at Arcturus I could hardly have caused more of a stir. This I should not mind if the enthusiasm and the disapprobation were not given such political significance. They have none for me, but then, though I am uncomfortably conscious that a person without a political ideal to-day is as inadequate as a cow with three legs, it is difficult for me to think or feel politically. Nobody, it appears, can conceive that a person who is admittedly neither for nor against the Soviet regime should want to go there.

It's true that most of her earliest observations are rather negative, though it's also true that that may have been simply the reality she observed.  Their tour guide points out the destruction or reappropriation of churches, for example ("[o]n more than one occasion a church in the process of being demolished has been pointed out to us with ill-concealed triumph"), and takes them to a rather cold, dispirited-sounding crèche:

In the room for two-year-olds several very small old men were seated round a table trying hard not to spill their gruel on their pinafores. They were grave and sombre, very conscious of the red slogan that stretched across the room. The guide translated it. 'Play is not just fun. It is the preparation for toil.' There, little ones!

And at times Travers can sound a bit condescending.  For example, observing what she takes to be the overall contentment of most of the Soviet citizens she sees, she comments:

To-day I saw V—, who is sharing the curtained-off end of a passage with another girl, sleeping on the floor and fetching water from another building. And she is not only happy but ecstatic. What is it? Does she feel herself part of some moving thing, some stream of new and glorious life that eludes us? Or does she only think she is, as a result of the slogans in the air? Oh, well, it's the same thing anyway.

Overall, however, there are not a lot of terribly serious observations about Soviet politics or culture.  Travers is more concerned with entertaining, and the book is certainly that.  When she sneaks away from their tour guide to see a local production of Hamlet, her description of what she sees is hilarious and even thought-provoking:

Every possible rule was broken, the text was murderously cut about and great wads of Erasmus and anonymous buffoonery interpolated. The characters, too, were altered. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern became a couple of clowns who were let loose before a drop-curtain every time a scene needed to be changed. But, when you come to think of it, these two are rather vaudeville and are easily turned into slapstick comedians. How often have we groaned when some star actor rhetorically hurls at the empty air the question whether it is nobler in the mind—etc, etc, and not even echo makes reply. Not so here. The speech was divided between Hamlet and Horatio. The two students are in the library of the palace, Hamlet turning a globe, Horatio on steps reaching up to a high shelf for a book.

To be or not to be—begins Hamlet.

That is the question, returns Horatio, as one who observes, Boy, you've said it. And so the speech goes on and for once appears real and the natural comments of very young undergraduates.

Imagining Horatio responding as if to say (in today's lingo) "Totally, dude!" made me laugh out loud, and also made me wish I could have seen the performance for myself—though Travers' extrapolation from this performance that the success of the Soviet revolution could be put down to Russians being "natural actors" (she also compares them to dancing bears) might be just a bit simplistic.

Still, the book was completely enjoyable, and if you're interested in Travers you may want to track it down.  I can't resist (when can I ever?) quoting one final humorous passage, wherein Travers has been finding out about Soviet divorce laws:

But in marriages where there are no children there is no end to the number of times you may be married and divorced. A young American I met a few days ago told me that a friend of his, also an American, had given an old gramophone to a Russian girl before he returned home. She was conspicuously plain in person, but she was immediately married by a young man with a taste for music. As soon as he had gained possession of the gramophone he divorced her and married a prettier girl. Succumbing, he made his new wife a present of the gramophone, and upon that she divorced him and married a handsomer husband. And so on. The gramophone led a giddy life, passing from marriage-bed to marriage-bed. Its end is not recorded. Probably it died eventually of old age and overwork....

I am embarrassed to say that, despite my interest in Travers and in Saving Mr. Banks, I have never actually read Mary Poppins.  Nor, horror of horrors, have I ever seen the movie.  I know that I have to read the book first, as I would rather have Travers' original idea of the characters in my head than a sweetened Disney version, but somehow I've just never gotten around to it.  Perhaps the anticipation of seeing Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Disney will inspire me!

Were any readers in England lucky enough to see the premeire?  If so, do tell!

Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Update: The Edwardians (Part 4 of 4) (finally!)

I admit that it is with a feeling of considerable relief that I post the final Edwardian update (and I imagine those of you who have read all of these are a bit relieved too).  Although there have certainly been some real high points, including a few in this update (see below)—writers I might never have come across were I less obsessive, who seem to have been ahead of their time, experimental, intriguing, or outright radical—overall I remain less excited about this earlier period than I am about the daughters and granddaughters of these writers, who began publishing in the 1930s or 1940s. 

In those later years, I find I can get excited even about the more prosaic romance writers, or the voluminously wordy and turgid historical novelists, or mystery authors who lack finesse and are barely read by the most passionate mystery fans.  Even if I don't always want to read these writers, I very often find them interesting for the place they occupy in the culture of their time and for the light they shed on their contemporaries whom I might like better.  Whereas, for me, many of the writers from the 1900s and 1910s seem to blur and run together a bit.  So many seem to have written the same sorts of stiff, melodramatic romances, "marriage problem" stories, and the like.  (This problem in distinguishing similar writers might be exacerbated by the plethora of Dorotheas in these updates—perhaps appropriately symbolic of the influence the Victorian writer, George Eliot, still had on these later generations.)

However, I quite recognize that my difficulty in part results from simply knowing less about the very early 1900s than about the mid-century.  As a result, I have less sense of how the writers fit into their time.  But, as someone who has always gravitated toward the modernist period, arguably beginning around 1910, one thing that struck me—which should be obvious, but isn't always—is the extent to which new literary styles don't just suddenly transform the whole scene, as one might think from critics and from the works that get remembered in later years. 

E. M. Forster's Howards End, often seen as a trailblazing work that helped usher in literary modernism, appeared the same year as Agnes Weekes' romance Faith Unfaithful (1910), which sounds about as traditional and untrailblazing as a novel could be.  Adele Crafton Smith, who prided herself on having a Victorian sensibility, published A Strange Will and Its Consequences the same year as Guillaume Apollinaire's radically experimental modernist poems in Alcools (1913)—which was also the year of the New York Armory Show, the first major exhibition of cubism and other modern art styles in the U.S.  And even as late as 1922, Victorian writer Florence Warden's novel The Lady in Furs might have been found next to Joyce's Ulysses on bookstore shelves.  Somehow, I found it useful to be reminded of all that is always going on simultaneously in the literary world. 

Human character may have changed in 1910, as Virginia Woolf claimed, but apparently some humans didn't get the memo.

As I mentioned, though, as happy as I am to be finishing up with my Edwardians, there were several particularly interesting women in this batch.  All have now been added to the main list here:

EVELYN SHARP, a suffragist whose fiction for both adults and children was also politically involved.  Sharp has received increased attention in recent years as a result of Angela John's biography, Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Woman, 1869-1955, and Faber has reissued Sharp’s memoir, An Unfinished Adventure (1933), which sounds fascinating.

Evelyn Sharp, whose fiction and memoirs
reflect her experience in the suffrage movement

CECILY SIDGWICK (aka MRS. ALFRED SIGDWICK), who wrote light, humorous novels that sound irresistible, including some based on her own experiences with her husband in artists’ colonies.  Historian David Tovey has created an extensive bio of Sidgwick which you can read here.

MARIE STOPES, famous for her trailblazing books Married Love (1918) and Radiant Motherhood (1920), which advocated birth control and family planning and were controversially frank about sexuality.  Who knew that she also published two novels under pseudonyms?

Marie Stopes, who wrote two novels in addition to her
scandalous works about birth control and sexuality

EVELYN BEATRICE HALL (aka S. G. TALLENTYRE), who is best remembered now for a well-received biography of Voltaire called The Friends of Voltaire (1906), but whose novels may also be intriguing, especially Early-Victorian: A Village Chronicle (1910), which OCEF notes is “about heartbreak and restricted lives in a remote village.”

NORA VYNNE, a journalist and (somewhat conservative) advocate of women’s suffrage, whose fiction—particularly her short stories—was praised by such prestigious figures as J. M. Barrie and H. G. Wells.

SUSAN ROWLEY LONG (aka CURTIS YORKE), author of what OCEF calls (rather dismissively) "cheerful, lightweight romances"—which of course piques my interest…

EDITH AYRTON ZANGWILL, whose passionate activism and suffragism was no doubt partly inspired by her mother and stepmother, who were both trailblazing women as well.  Her mother was a doctor who campaigned for women’s right to be certified as doctors but died tragically young.  Her stepmother was a notable scientist and militant suffragette, upon whose life Zangwill seems to have based her late novel, The Call (1924).  That work and Zangwill’s final novel, The House (1928), which deals with her own nervous breakdown following the death of her husband, both sound promising.

Edith Zangwill, activist and novelist

Current count: 608


Author of several romantic novels, including Diaries of Three Women of the Last Century (1907), The Blackberry Pickers (1912), The Shape of the World (1912), and The Tollhouse (1915).

(sometimes written Baillie-Saunders)

Prolific novelist whose light fiction frequently contains Catholic themes;  titles include The Mayoress's Wooing (1908), The Belfry (1914), Young Madam at Clapp's (1917), The Lighted Caravan (1929), Dear Devotee (1940), and Lost Landladies (1947).

ETHEL SAVI (1865-1954)

Born and raised in India, Savi published more than eighty novels after her return to England in 1909, apparently mostly melodramatic romances which make some use of her experiences in India; she also published a memoir, My Own Story (1947).

EVELYN SHARP (1869-1955)

Suffragette, children's author and novelist; her collection Rebel Women (1910) makes humorous use of suffragism and women's rights, and her children's books portray children as intelligent and rational; her memoir, Unfinished Adventure (1933), has been reissued by Faber.

MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK (c.1855-1934)
(pseudonym of Cecily Wilhelmine Ullmann, aka Mrs. Andrew Dean)

Prolific novelist whose light social comedies sound potentially enjoyable, including Below Stairs (1912), about a servant girl's woes, Salt and Savour (1916), Victorian (1922), London Mixture (1924), and Storms and Tea-Cups (1931).

ADELE CRAFTON SMITH (dates unknown)
(aka Nomad)

Poet and novelist who, according to OCEF, thought of herself as a Victorian writer; her six novels include The Woman Decides (1912), about family life in the country, Reminiscences of a Prima Donna (1912), and A Strange Will and Its Consequences (1913).

(aka Mrs. H. de Vere Stacpoole, née Robson)

More research needed; married to Henry de Vere Stacpoole, author of The Blue Lagoon (1908); author of three novels of her own—Monte Carlo: A Novel (1913), London, 1913 (1914), and The Battle of Flowers (1916).

(pseudonym of Alice Cecil Seymour Keay)

Author, with her husband Heath Hosken, of numerous sensationalistic novels, including Miriam Lemaire, Money Lender (1906) and Raven, V. C. (1913), and on her own of eleven romance novels, including The Cottage Girl (1928) and The Pretty Stewardess (1932).

MARIE STOPES (1880-1958)
(aka G. N. Mortlake, Erica Fay, and Marie Carmichael)

Best known for Married Love (1918) and Radiant Motherhood (1920), controversial works which dealt with birth control and sexuality, she also published two pseudonymous novels, Love Letters of a Japanese (1911) and Love's Creation (1928).

ESME STUART (1851-1934)
(pseudonym of Amelie Claire LeRoy)

Author of fiction, primarily for children and young girls, including The Strength of Straw (1900) and A Charming Girl (1907), and a successful series including Harum Scarum (1896), Two Troubadours (1912), and Harum Scarum's Fortune (1915).

S. G. TALLENTYRE (1868-1956)
(pseudonym of Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

Biographer of Voltaire and author of at least three novels—Early-Victorian (1910), about village life, Matthew Hargraves (1914), and Love Laughs Last (1919); oddly, the British Library says the "S" stands for Stephen and gives "his" life dates as "1868-1919".

ANNIE O[LIVE]. TIBBITS (dates unknown)

Author of sixpenny novels including Marquess Splendid (1910), Love Without Pity (1915), Broken Fetters: A Thrilling Story of Factory and Stage Life (!!) (1917), The Grey Castle Mystery (1919), Paid in Full (1920), and Under Suspicion (1921).

L[IZZIE]. E[LLEN]. TIDDEMAN (????-1937)

More research needed; prolific author of children's fiction (and novels?); titles include Next-Door Gwennie (1910), Aunt Pen, or, Roses and Thorns (1912), Uncle Sam's Little Lady (1916), and Quicksands! (1924).

MRS. HENRY TIPPETT (1880-1969)
(pseudonym of Isabel Clementine Binny Tippett, née Kemp)

Suffragist, nurse, and mother of composer Sir Michael Tippett; author of eight New Woman and "marriage problem" novels, including The Power of the Petticoat (1911), Green Girl (1913), Life-Force (1915), and Living Dust (1922).


Biographer, children's author, and novelist; her children's fiction include The Faery of Lisbawn (1900) and The Children of Nugentstown and Their Dealings with the Sidhe (1911); novels include A Girl from Mexico (1914), a Western influenced by her life with her husband on an American ranch.


Author of several melodramatic novels, including The Doom of the House of Marsaniac (1905), The Romance of a State Secret (1911), and The Night Dancer (1912).

LAURA TROUBRIDGE (c.1865-1946)
(née Gurney, aka Lady Troubridge)

Novelist and etiquette writer, related by marriage to Una Troubridge, Radclyffe Hall's partner; The Book of Etiquette (1931) and Etiquette and Entertaining (1939) were used to research the film Gosford Park; novels include Mrs. Vernon's Daughter (1917) and The Dusty Angel (1927).

L. PARRY TRUSCOTT (?1869-1915)
(pseudonym of Katherine Edith Spicer-Jay)

More research needed; journalist and author of several novels, including Motherhood (1904), The Question (1910), Hilary's Career (1913), and Obstacles (1916).


Suffragist, journalist, and novelist, whose work is influenced by socialist beliefs and interest in the occult; works include The Heart of a Woman (1917), Ghosts I Have Seen and Other Psychic Experiences (1919), and Found Dead and Other True Ghost Stories (1928).

DEREK VANE (?1856-1939)
(pseudonym of Blanche Eaton Back)

Author of mysteries and romance novels from the 1890s to the 1930s, including The Three Daughters of Night (1897), Lady Varley (1914), The Trump Card (1925), The Unguarded Hour (1929), and Dancer's End (1934).

NORA VYNNE (1864-1914)

Journalist, activist, and novelist; her story collection The Blind Artist's Pictures (1893) and novel A Man and His Womankind (1895) were praised by the likes of J. M. Barrie and H. G. Wells; later work includes the novels The Pieces of Silver (1911) and So It Is with the Damsel (1913).

(pseudonym of Florence Alice James, née Price)

Playwright, actress, and novelist; works often deal with marital drama and include Who Was Lady Thorne? (1904), Mad Sir Geoffrey (1907), The Price of Silence (1916), The Grey Moth (1920), and The Lady in Furs (1922).

GERTRUDE WARDEN (dates unknown)

More research needed; prolific novelist of the 1890s to 1910s; some titles are intriguing, such as The Wooing of a Fairy (1897), Merely Man (1909), The World, the Flesh and the Casino (1909), and Two Girls and a Saint (1915).

A[GNES]. R[USSELL]. WEEKES (1880-1940)

Sister of Rose (below); the sisters wrote novels together and separately;  Rose herself wrote more than a dozen romantic novels including Faith Unfaithful (1910), Spanish Sunlight (1925), Esmé's Sons (1930), and Revel's Wife (1940).


Sister of Agnes (above); wrote novels with her sister as well as on her own; Rose's novels include The Laurensons (1913), B 14 (1920), Sea Nymph (1927), and Mignonette (1930).

MRS. GEORGE WEMYSS (1868-????)
(pseudonym of Mary Wemyss, née Lutyens)

Children's author and novelist; sister of architect Edwin Lutyens; according to OCEF, her novels often focus on children; titles include The Professional Aunt (1910), People of Popham (1911), Impossible People (1918), and Oranges and Lemons (1919).


Author of dozens of "smartly witty novels, self-consciously progressive especially about sex" (OCEF) in the 1900s-1920s, such as Pink Purity (1909), Green Grapes (1918), A Bargain Bride (1929); her late novel The Television Girl (1928) may be of interest as an early futuristic novel.

MARGARET WESTRUP (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of several novels in the 1900s-1920s, including The Greater Mischief (1907), Phyllis in Middlewych (1911), Tide Marks (1913), The Moulding Loft (1917), The Fog and the Fan (1920), and The Blue Hat (1921).


Critic, biographer, translator, and novelist whose early fiction, such as Widdicombe (1905) and A Man of Genius (1908), was influenced by Hardy; later works include The Sleeping Partner (1919), Ropes of Sand (1926), Delicate Dilemmas (1927), and The Cup and the Lip (1929).


Social worker, children's author, Biblical writer, and novelist; fiction includes Moll o' the Toll-Bar (1911), Father M.P. (1923), and The Children of Trafalgar Square (1925); discussed in Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals, edited by Angela Ingram and Daphne Patai.

pseudonym of Violet Louise Wrench, née Gibbs, aka Mollie Stanley Wrench)

Author of cookbooks and romantic novels, including Love's Fool: The Confessions of a Magdalen (1908), A Priestess of Humanity (1911), Divorced Love (1927), Green Pleasure (1934), and The Rose Dies Hard (1938).

I[DA]. A[LEXA]. R[OSS]. WYLIE (1885-1959)

Suffragist, novelist, and popular short story writer whose works were often adapted as films, including Keeper of the Flame (1942), made into the Hepburn-Tracy film of the same name; Towards Morning (1918) was acclaimed as a relatively balanced portrayal of post-WWI Germans.

DOLF WYLLARDE (????-1950)
(pseudonym of Dorothy Margarette Selby Lowndes)

More research needed; prolific novelist whose work, according to OCEF, spans "both exotic tales and more serious examinations of the predicament of single women"; titles include The Unofficial Honeymoon (1911), Youth Will be Served (1913), and The Lavender Lad (1922).

MAUD H. YARDLEY (dates unknown)

Author of eight novels of the 1900s and 1910s, including Sinless (1906), To-day and Love (1910), A Man's Life Is Different, or, The Sleeping Flame (1914), and Soulmates (1917).

CURTIS YORKE (????-1930)
(pseudonym of Susan Rowley Long, later Lee)

Popular author of dozens of "cheerful, lightweight romances" (OCEF) from the 1880s until the 1920s; titles include Queer Little Jane (1912), The Level Track (1919), Miss Daffodil (1920), and Maidens Three (1928).


Prolific novelist whose work is often set in South Africa and generally romantic in tone, though she published at least one early sci-fi/fantasy novel called The War of the Sexes (1905); others include The Purple Mists (1914), The Broken Silence (1926), and Hidden Passage (1941).


From a family of pioneering women (mother a doctor, stepmother a scientist), Zangwill was a suffragist and activist; her early novels deal humorously with women's issues, but The Call (1924) is about suffragism and The House (1928) deals with her own nervous breakdown.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

MAYSIE GREIG, Dark Carnival (1950)

On Saturday, I'll be posting the fourth and final (thank heavens!) update of Edwardian writers added to my Overwhelming List, and will soon after be able to do an update of some very interesting writers from the later parts of my date range, which I've come across here and there while being a bit bogged down in Edwardians.  But in the meantime...

I wrote a couple of days ago about my shopping expedition in Oakland, my discovery of a cache of Maysie Greig novels, and how I've gradually gotten in touch with my inner romantic.  Since not many of you are likely to have experienced a Maysie Greig firsthand, I figured I should give you a briefing.

Apparently, Greig wrote two kinds of novels—straightforward romances and light romantic suspense.  This one, as you might have guessed from its cover, falls into the latter category—a sort of poor man's Mary Stewart (though I was hopeful at first that it wouldn't be just for poor men).

The book does have a certain charm.  It's set in Nice and in the nearby hill town of Trione in the days before, during, and after Carnival.  Shirley McFriend has been sent to Nice by her eccentric Aunt Cleo to recover from a broken engagement to Walter Haldon, who works at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.  Walter has broken their engagement in part because he has discovered that, four years earlier, when he and Shirley had just met, she was still enamored of Robert Revenau, a patient of her surgeon father's.  (And perhaps in part because, honestly, Shirley seems to possess all the intellect and wit of the average canteloupe?)

The plot revolves around Shirley's reunion with Robert, who lives with his mother, the dizzy, fretful Countess de Revenau, in the ominous town of Trione.  The Countess has been renting rooms and giving French lessons to pay the bills, and two tourists staying with them have recently plunged to their deaths in the ravine next to the Revenaus’ château.  

There is a jewel theft.  There are questions about whether Robert was really cured by Shirley's father or whether he remains disabled to the extent that he can barely walk.  There is a reporter investigating the tourists' deaths, and the brother of one of the tourists, who is determined to get to the bottom of it.  All of the plot twists are made rather painstakingly obvious (though what isn't spelled out, and is perhaps the greatest of the novel’s mysteries, is why any of the men—let alone all of them—would be enamored of the dim-witted, humorless Shirley).

All of that said, however—since I usually try not to be negative about books I review here (figuring that, if my focus is on largely forgotten writers, a bad review would be flogging a dead horse)—I have to confess that I read this novel in one day and felt distracted and impatient when I had to put it down now and then.  Which is honestly a bit inexplicable—particularly in someone who used to look down a bit condescendingly on romances in general.

It's not that Greig is a bad writer.  Here is her description of the bus ride Shirley takes on her first visit to Trione:

There were so few passengers in the bus Shirley couldn't help noticing them. Evidently Trione wasn't an overpopular place. A fat woman in black had three shopping baskets and two bags. She alternated between retrieving oranges which were rolling around the bus and refastening the snaps which kept coming undone at the side of her dress. There was a thin, despondent-looking woman with three children. They sat sucking sweets, looking equally despondent. There were two elderly women sitting together dressed in black. They looked as maiden aunts are supposed to look but rarely do. There was a man who looked like a farmer and one other man, a man who seemed so out of place that she found herself looking at him with interest.

He was an American, she guessed, from the cut of his suit which was obviously expensive. He was dark-haired, intense-looking, almost fantastically handsome. He looked to be the type one associates with Hollywood stars of the more brutal type, who ill treat their women but the women come back for more.

This is a pretty vivid picture.  It makes me intrigued about the lives of all of the women on the bus—to such an extent that I wish Shirley could have followed one of them home instead of striking up a conversation with the fantastically handsome American, whom she perhaps hopes will be brutal to her.

But the dialogue is desultory at best:

He leaned forward. "Shirley, what happened up at the chateau? You don't look exactly as though you enjoyed yourself."

A slight shiver went through her. "I didn't. It's rather a dreary place and Robert being crippled…" Her voice died away.

"That's all?"

"What else could there be?" Her voice was edged.

"Nothing, I suppose."

Or how about this scintillating passage?

"Anything on your mind, Shirley?"

"No, nothing," she said quickly.

"All the same, I wish you wouldn't go up to the chateau," he said presently. "Somehow I don't think it's a healthy place."

"You don't? For what reason?"

"Surely there's reason enough. Two deaths took place there." He spoke angrily. "Besides there's something about the setup I don't like. I'm not specially intuitive, but when I was up there I smelled danger."

She laughed unnaturally. "What are you trying to do?  Scare me off going? […] If you knew them … You haven't met either of them, have you?"

He shook his head. "No. I've never set eyes on either of them. At least," he added more slowly, "I don't think I have."

"Why the qualifying comment?" she asked sharply.

Even when a third-grader reading the novel would be ready to scream the novel's "secrets" to Shirley, she goes on ploddingly asking, "What do you mean?  What are you suggesting?  Why would you think that?  What could it mean?"  A little of which goes a long way.  When I reached the inevitable happy ending, I found myself expecting Shirley to say, "Marry you?  Why, what do you mean?  Why do you ask me that?  What are you implying?"

[For those of you who are D. E. Stevenson fans, I can't help but wonder if this is the type of heroine that Janetta Walters must have created so successfully.  What do you think?]

And yet, I read Dark Carnival in one addictive gulp.  I am even looking forward—heaven help me—to Honeymoons Arranged, one of the other Maysie Greigs I picked up last weekend, which looks to be a straightforward romance about Celia, who "planned happiness—for everyone but herself."  Oh, dear.

I don't think there's any real danger of me becoming a romance novel junky—or at least not a Maysie Greig junkie.  The book I put down for a day to read Dark Carnival was Elizabeth von Arnim's Mr. Skeffington, and when I picked it up again I felt like I was eating filet mignon after a week of ramen noodles.

But I'm still glad I got a chance to sample Greig's wares. Sure, I wished at times I could abandon Shirley to her befuddlement and follow one or more of the women of Trione to their homes, or—better still—track down Shirley's adventurous Aunt Cleo, a Cadell character just waiting to happen.  But an occasional foray into a simpler world is a good thing.

I won't mind, though, if Celia turns out to have a slightly less simple perspective than Shirley…  
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