Friday, December 6, 2013

Update: Digging Deeper

24 more writers this time around, including two that I've already spontaneously explored a little deeper and will be writing about soon.  I only found photos of a couple of the women themselves—for someone who's so accustomed to pulling up any information I need with a quick flick of the Google switch, it's kind of eerie how completely and thoroughly many of these writers have vanished.  Until now? And rather sad, as well, considering how well-known and acclaimed some of them were in their lifetimes.

There were seven writers out of this batch who particularly intrigued me:

JANET BEITH's debut novel, No Second Spring, a love story set on a Scottish manse, won a major literary prize worth $20,000 (no small potatoes in those days!), and her second novel, Sand Castle, also earned acclaim, but she then vanished for the better part of two decades before publishing one final novel.  Writer's block?  Childrearing?  Or some other explanation we may never know?

Janet Beith's highly acclaimed debut

MARY CROSBIE published six novels in the first third of the century, but it was her fifth, There and Back Again, about a mother who leaves her husband and children for a villa in France, but returns years later after tragedy strikes, which caught my eye.  Hopefully I'll be reviewing it here soon.

HESTER GORST, a descendent of Elizabeth Gaskell, is now best known for her tales of the supernatural, one of which appeared in The Virago Book of Ghost Stories and many of which appeared in various anthologies or periodicals and have never been collected in book form.

Many of Hester Gorst's stories appeared
in anthologies like this one, and have
never been collected

I already mentioned ANNA GORDON KEOWN in my recent post about book shopping, because I was instantly seduced by the premise of her first novel, The Cat Who Saw God, about the Emperor Nero occupying the body of a cat and making his home in a remote village with a heartbroken spinster.  A review to follow soon!

Keown's third novel, about a lazy parson doomed
to life in a parish built entirely on hills (seriously!)

CONSTANCE MILES was already on my "to research" list because of two humorous novels she published in the 1930s—Lady Richard in the Larder: An Extravaganza and Coffee, Please: The Story of a Lover's Dream, the latter about a man in the future—when a domestic servant crisis has swept Britain—seeking a wife who can still make coffee (!!).  But when I started digging, I found that her World War II diaries have recently been printed—as, appropriately enough, Mrs. Miles's Diary.  In the book's subtitle, she is referred to, predictably enough, as a housewife, and the intro seems to make no mention of her literary accomplishments! (Lyn at I Prefer Reading has recently done a nice post about the diary.)  Then, even more recently, I stumbled across her pseudonym Marjory Royce, which she used for children's books (including at least two with Barbara Euphan Todd, author of Persephone's Miss Ranskill Comes Home) and possibly for one or two more adult novels (The Desperate Marriage doesn't sound like any children's book I've come across).  Some of her early works as Marjory Royce could be of interest to fans of school stories and fiction for girls: The Unwilling Schoolgirl (1913) and The Girl With No Proposals: An Episode of 1913 (1918) sound rather amusing.

Constance Miles in her youth

A "housewife" who happened to have
published several novels

LYNETTE ROBERTS is best known as a poet, and I don't usually include poets here (even if I do think I may have to break down and actually read her war poems, for which she is most acclaimed), but I learned that her Diaries, Letters, and Recollections have also been collected and contain not only wartime diaries, but some short fiction as well, so I have a perfectly valid excuse to add her to my list.

Lynette Roberts, acclaimed poet and diarist

JOAN WALKER is sometimes claimed as a Canadian writer because she spent her later life there after immigrating as a war bride, but in fact she was born and raised in England.  Her memoir of her move to a remote Quebec town, Pardon My Parka, sounds delightful but isn't exactly easy to track down at a reasonable price.  One website I found had this excerpt: "Jim tried to tell me that life in the Canadian mining town of Val d'Or was just the smallest bit different from life in London, but I said, so what? Then I tried to explain that I couldn't cook—couldn't even boil the proverbial egg—and was the least domesticated of women, and it was his turn to say, so what? I could read a cook book, couldn't I? And he said he would rather marry a sense of humour and starve, than marry some domesticated little body, madly interested in the home, and suffer from mental indigestion."  Walker later wrote two novels, one of which, Repent at Leisure, is about the postwar stresses of a wartime marriage—I hope it wasn't autobiographical!

Joan Walker's humorous memoir of her
unexpected life as a war bride in Quebec
The first of Walker's two novels, about
the tribulations of marriage

Here's the full list of new authors, all of which have been added to the main list:

JANET BEITH (1905?-????)

Author of a highly praised debut novel, No Second Spring (1933), a tragic love story set on a Scottish manse, and a well-received second novel, Sand Castle (1936), who then published only one additional work, The Corbies (1955), about which little information is available.


Author of several well-received historical novels, most based on real persons, including Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston (1927), Alas Queen Anne (1929), and The Sancroft Sisters (1935); she received particular acclaim with For the Delight of Antonio (1932).

(aka John Inglis, aka Mrs. W. K. Clifford)

Playwright, children's author, and novelist whose salons included the likes of Leslie Stephen, Henry James, and Vernon Lee; known for the scandalous Mrs. Keith's Crime (1885), published anonymously; later works include Sir George's Objection (1910) and George Wendern Gave a Party (1912).

MARY CROSBIE (dates unknown)

Author of six novels from the 1900s to 1920s, including the intriguing There and Back Again (1927), about a mother returning to her husband and children after abandoning them years before; others include Kinsmen's Clay (1910), Escapade (1917), and The Old Road (1929).

ELISABETH FAGAN (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of at least four novels—Dear Ann (1923), All the Way (1927), Things Were Different (1927), and Penny Got (1933)—and one volume, From the Wings (1922), which appears to be a memoir of theatrical life.

ELLEN M. FOWKES (dates unknown)

Apparently the author of only two novels, Second Love (1920) and Looms of Destiny (1926), the latter a historical novel about the Manchester Radicals, about which Bookman makes the odd comment that "[l]ike most women writers the author succeeds best with her male characters" [??].

CICELY FRASER-SIMSON (dates unknown)

Author of children's fiction and mysteries; titles include the well-reviewed Footsteps in the Night (1927), Danger Follows (1929), Count the Hours (1940), and Another Spring (1953), as well as a children's series featuring a character called Golly Smith.

AMY GILMOUR (dates unknown)

Apparently the author of only one novel, The Lure of Islam (1933), a romance in which an English earl's son seems, from its description, to be lured by drugs and a beautiful Moroccan woman more than by Islam.

HESTER GORST (1887-1992)
(aka Hester Holland, aka Hester Holland Gaskell)

Great-niece of Elizabeth Gaskell, Gorst was a well-known painter, sculptor, and short story writer, as well as the author of four novels under her maiden name—A Man Must Live (1938), Under the Circumstances (1944), Week-Ends for Henry (1947), and There Is Always Oneself (1948).


More research needed; children's author and novelist whose fiction includes Children of the Fog: A Novel of Southwark (1927), The Yellow Pigeon (1928), Little Mascot (1936), and Scent of Magnolia (1934), about the culture conflicts of a young Anglo-Argentine.

MURIEL HARRIS (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of at least three novels in the 1930s—The Seventh Gate (1930), The Scornful Man (1932), and Probably Stormy (1933), about a struggling architect whom Norah Hoult, reviewing the book, described as "a completely selfish and indeed silly person."


Poet and author of four novels in the 1930s, including The Cat Who Saw God (1932), a comic novel about the Emperor Nero reincarnated as a cat living with an elderly spinster (no kidding); the other are Mr. Thompson in the Attic (1933), Mr. Theobald's Devil (1935), and Wickham's Fancy (1939).


More research needed; author of eight novels, including Echo (1923), Soames Green (1925), The Visiting Moon (1932), and Gory Knight (1937); Bookman called her 1924 novel Deep Meadows a "very long novel concerning marriage and its ramifications."

(full name Isa Constance Miles, née Nicoll, aka Marjory Royce)

Journalist and author of children's books (including some with Barbara Euphan Todd) and at least two adult novels—Lady Richard in the Larder (1932) and Coffee, Please (1933), about a future in which coffee-making is a precious skill; her WWII diary was published in 2013 as Mrs. Miles's Diary.

STELLA MORTON (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of more than a dozen novels about which little information is available, including Shadow of Wings (1940), The Convoys Pass (1942), "Out of Tomorrow—" (1947), Source of the River (1952), and The Strong Are Bound (1958).

MARIAN E[SSLEY]. NIXON (dates unknown)

Apparently the author of exactly one poetry collection, Four Wishes and Other Poems (1931), and one novel, Martha (1933), the latter described by the Londonderry Sentinel as "full of events, sometimes mirthful and sometimes sad, always gripping."


Romance writer from the 1920s to 1940s; a popular title was The Barbarian Lover (1923), about a stuffy girl's conflicted passion for a primitive he-man; other titles include Yesterday's Harvest (1926), Pitiless Choice (1933), Flame in the Wind (1937), and Not Heaven Itself (1941).

(full name Evelyn Beatrice Roberts)

Although best known for her poetry, especially from the WWII years, Roberts' wartime diaries, reminiscences of T. S. Eliot and the Sitwells, and short stories were published in 2008; Roberts also wrote one novel, Nesta (1944), which was never published and appears to have been lost.

RENÉE SHANN (1907?-1979)
(aka Carol Gaye)

Author of nearly 200 romance novels dating from the 1930s to 1970s; titles include Pound Foolish (1933), The Fond Fool (1936), Off the Main Road (1942), Third Party Risk (1947), and The Hasty Marriage (1953).

HILDA SILBERMAN (dates unknown)

Diarist whose letters to friends during World War II and the years immediately after were collected as Unimportant Letters of Important Years 1941-1951 (1951).


Best known for her historical fiction for children, such as Outcast (1955), set in ancient Rome and Britain, and The Shield Ring (1956), set among the Vikings, Sutcliff also wrote adult novels, including Lady in Waiting (1956), and the acclaimed memoir Blue Remembered Hills (1983).

JOAN WALKER (1908-????)

Journalist, novelist, and memoirist, best known for Pardon My Parka (1954), a humorous memoir of her experiences as a Canadian War Bride, Walker also wrote two novels—Repent at Leisure (1957), about a postwar marriage, and Marriage of a Harlequin (1962), about Richard Sheridan.

CECILIA WILLOUGHBY (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of three novels of the 1930s, including Friday's Moon (1932), which the Bookman compared (unfavorably) with Mary Webb's Precious Bane; her other novels were Mellory's Yard (1934) and The Silver Fountain (1935).

(aka Mrs. Alfred Wingate)

Novelist and historian who specialized in writing about China, including in A Servant of the Mightiest (1927), about Genghis Khan, and Jên (1928), about Marco Polo; other works include Before Sunset (1929), London Luck (1933), and Within a Generation (1939).

Many of Renee Shann's romances have
entertaining covers (check Google!)


  1. I suppose one should be grateful that there are so many good writers in the world and perhaps that would keep one from feeling utterly overwhelmed. Perhaps....Of these writers Rosemary Sutcliff is my favorite, and high on my list of favorites.

    1. Oh, lovely, I'm glad to know that, I'll bump Sutcliff up my "to read" list. Always great to know that a reader with good taste likes and recommends an author. Let me know if there's a particular favorite that I should make my first Sutcliff experience.

      I'm sure I will always feel overwhelmed by the number of writers I'll never have time to read, but at least it is certainly true that I'll NEVER be short of ideas for books to read!

  2. I think the Eagle of the Ninth is my favorite, and the Roman Britan novels.Her memoir is very interesting, but a little sad somehow for me.

    1. Thanks, Kristi. I'm making a note of those recommendations in my database and will check them out when I have a chance.

  3. Inspired by your wonderful list, I did some quick research on Cermel Haden-Guest (because of that distinctive surname) and discovered that she is, in fact, the grandmother of actor/writer/director, Christopher Guest ('This Is Spinal Tap', 'Best In Show', etc.) who is actually 5th Baron Haden-Guest and married to Jamie Lee-Curtis. So, there's definitely writing in those genes. Coincidentally, I've just finished reading 'War Wife' by Renee Shann.

    1. I think I might have realized the connection to Christopher Guest at some point, though I'm not sure I ever mentioned it here. I hadn't realized that made him a baron though! Does that mean that Jamie Lee Curtis is a Lady, or is that not how it works? I still get confused about these titles!

    2. She became Lady Haden-Guest when her husband inherited the Barony of Haden-Guest in 1996. Funny world, isn't it?


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