Sunday, May 18, 2014

Update: The "to read" list grows longer...

This update is already giving me a headache.  It's comprised of 15 more authors of (mainly) general fiction—all of whom wrote at least one book that seems like something I just have to track down and actually read.  Which means that my already rather intimidating "to read" list just got a lot longer.  Ah, the tribulations of an obsessive compulsive blogger!

PAMELA ARUNDALE—who from what I can tell is on the rather short list of writers from my blog's years who are happily still living—seems to have published only one novel, but it sounds irresistible.  About Bread and Olives the Spectator wrote:

Set in a Cyprus hard to recognise, it is an entertaining concoction of episodes at the village of Pefka, whose inhabitants form as varied a set of rogues and practical jokers as the indomitably cheerful Mrs. Morrow could ever have longed to meet. … A breath of South Wind sometimes steals over the island and there are moments, far apart though they may be, when Mrs. Morrow recalls Rose Macaulay's 'Aunt Dot.'

The plot sounds entertaining enough, but throw in a comparison to Rose Macaulay's amazing The Towers of Trebizond, one of my all-time favorite novels, and you know I'm hooked.

EILEEN BIGLAND wrote several intriguing books about her experiences travelling in Russia, beginning with Laughing Odyssey (1937), which the New York Times called "delightful," but her fiction is also intriguing.  Of the semi-autobiographical Gingerbread House (1934) Contemporary Authors said: "It tells of Sandra Pym, a young dreamer of mixed heritage who grows up running herd on her family full of eccentrics."  If you've exhausted the supply of eccentric family novels discussed by Nicola Humble, here's one to check out!

Illustration from Agnes Castle's
If Youth But Knew

It's difficult to find out much about SYBIL BOLITHO, whose early novel A Fiddle for Eighteenpence (1927) is about two girls travelling in France and whose My Shadow as I Pass (1934) is a sentimental tribute to her late husband.  But her collaboration with her next husband, Mrs. Rudd Writes Home (1936), about an eccentric theatre company staging The Pilgrim's Progress in Verona, could be of interest?

Illustration from Florence Kilpatrick's Our Elizabeth

AGNES CASTLE might have been an influence on Georgette Heyer, and the light, humorous, romantic novels of FLORENCE KILPATRICK, DOROTHY LAMBERT, and CONSTANCE ISABEL SMITH could admittedly go either way.  Humorous romance is much more difficult to pull off than it looks, I think, but who knows?  One of these might be another Elizabeth Cadell or Margery Sharp.

On the more serious side, ANNE CRONE, KATHARINE MORRIS, and ESMÉ WYNNE-TYSON are among those many authors who received critical acclaim in their day (Lord Dunsany called Anne Crone's Bridie Steen "one of the great novels of our time"!), but all have been more or less buried in the sands of time.  I'd love to find the time to dust them off a bit…

Bridget Chetwynd, from Getty Images

BRIDGET CHETWYND wrote in several genres, and they all intrigue me.  Sleeping and Waking (1944), about women's lives in World War II, sounds like my cup of tea, while Future Imperfect (1946) is an early science-fiction tale about a world run by women.  She later wrote two detective novels, Death Has Ten Thousand Doors (1951) and Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds (1952), which seem like must-reads.  Both feature Petunia Best, a former WAAF, and former British Intelligence officer Max Frend, who run their own detective agency.

HETTY SPIERS began as a costume designer for theatre and for early British silent films, but progressed to screenwriting and then, with her husband Herbert Langford Reed, to writing three novels.  The last of these, The Mantle of Methuselah (1939), sounds absolutely seductive.  The Catholic Herald said of it:

A devoted middle aged couple happened upon an Elixir of Life. The husband takes it and becomes on the spot an exuberant and high-spirited youth. Complications follow, and they are described with a sort of fluent humour that suits the theme, Pamela loves her husband and finds no comfort In the elusive and exasperating boy who has taken his place. Her desperate attempt to reunite herself with her husband brings about a crisis.

PADDY SYLVANUS is another author who could perhaps be very good or, well, not.  But the short descriptions I've found from various sources about her novels do pique my interest.  Ten to One in Sweden (1929) is apparently a diary-novel describing the author's own time as a governess in Sweden.  Too Saucy with the Gods (1931) is: "A novel of young English people before the World War, revolving around the romance of a madcap heroine with her cousin, who is in the diplomatic service."  And Thunder in the Offing (1946), is about a West Country village “in which the inhabitants lead their own secret lives. A place where love, hate, and superstition mingle to strange effect.”  Hmmmm.

And JOYCE COBB, who wrote only one novel praised for its "delicate grace and understanding and humor," and UPTON GRAY, who wrote three forgotten novels of country life, are perhaps long shots, but you just never know where you might come across a really worthwhile favorite—it happened (for me) with Celia Buckmaster, so perhaps it could happen again with Cobb or Gray?

The short bios for all 15 authors are below, and all have already been added to the main list.  Hope you find something intriguing!

PAMELA ARUNDALE (1919-     )

Apparently the author of a single novel, Bread and Olives: A Light-Hearted Tale of a Mediterranean Island (1957), which sounds distinctly entertaining, and whose main character The Spectator compared to Aunt Dot from Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond.

EILEEN BIGLAND (1898-1970)
(née Carstairs)

Novelist, travel writer, and author of biographies for young readers, Bigland's fiction includes the autobiographical Gingerbread House (1934) Alms for Oblivion (1937), and Tiger in the Heart (1940); after the war she published histories of the WRNS and the ATS (both 1946).

SYBIL BOLITHO (1892-1975)
(née Matesdorf, other married names Temple, Ryall, Hofmann-Beer, and Fearnley, aka Sybil Ryall)

Author of at least five novels, including A Fiddle for Eighteenpence (1927), about two girls travelling in France, My Shadow as I Pass (1934), a tribute to her late husband, and, collaboratively, Mrs. Rudd Writes Home (1936), I Ask No Pardon (1938), and A Goddess to a God (1948).

AGNES CASTLE (1863-1922)
(née Sweetman)

Sister of M. E. Francis and author, with her husband, of numerous novels, many of them historical; titles include The Bath Comedy (1900), which may have influenced Georgette Heyer, Chance the Piper (1912), Forlorn Adventurers (1915), and Pamela Pounce (1920).

(née Walsh, other married name Sykes)

Intriguing author of the 1940s and 1950; Sleeping and Waking (1944) deals with women's lives in WWII, while Future Imperfect (1946) is an early sci-fi tale of a world run by women; she wrote two detective novels, Death Has Ten Thousand Doors (1951) and Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds (1952).

JOYCE COBB (1890-1970)
(married name Gow)

After her first book of stories from Dickens adapted for children (1910), Cobb published a single novel, Jane and Herself (1922); Bookman praised its "delicate grace and understanding and humor," but alas, it seems that Cobb never published a follow-up.

ANNE CRONE (1915-1972)

Author of three novels, the most acclaimed of which—Bridie Steen (1948)—a tragedy centering on an Irish heroine caught between non-Irish Protestants on one side of her family and Irish Catholics on the other; Crone other novels are This Pleasant Lea (1951) and My Heart and I (1955).

UPTON GRAY (1889-1977)
(pseudonym of Gertrude Ethel Hulford)

Author of three rather intriguing novels of country life in the 1920s—Yellow Corn (1926), Heartsease Country (1927), and Down South (1929)—but little other information is available.

Illustration for Florence Kilpatrick's Our Elizabeth

(née Calvert, later married name Crowder)

Author of romances and humorous novels, many apparently featuring a main character called Elizabeth; titles include Our Elizabeth (1920), Camilla in a Caravan (1925), Getting George Married (1933), Elizabeth in Wartime (1942), and Elizabeth Finds the Body (1949).

(full name Alicia Dorothea Lambert, née Irwin)

Author of more than two dozen novels, many of which sound intriguingly like humorous romances—titles include Elizabeth, Who Wouldn't (1929), Aunts in Arcady: An Irish Idyll (1930), Scotch Mist (1936), Much Dithering: A Romance (1938), Birds on the Wing (1943), and Harvest Home (1950).

Katharine Morris

(aka Mollie Morris)

Quite forgotten but intriguing author of five novels dealing with English country life—New Harrowing (1933), Country Dance (1951), The Vixen's Club (1952), The House by the Water (1957), and The Long Meadow (1958)—after which she appears to have stopped publishing.

(aka Eleanor Reid, aka Isabel Beaumont)

A popular novelist of the 1920s and early 1930s who wrote under her own name as well as her pseudonyms; Marrying Madeleine (1922) and The Fortunate Woman (1922) appear to be witty romantic novels, and Smokeless Burning (1922) won the Melrose Prize.

(originally Spier, married name Reed)

Costume designer and screenwriter for silent films, mother of child star Joan Langford Reed, and author, with her husband, of three novels—Potter's Clay (1923), Daphne Grows Down (1925), and The Mantle of Methuselah (1939), a farce about a middle-aged couple who discover the fountain of youth.

PADDY SYLVANUS (1876-1967)
(pseudonym of Beatrice Maude Bartlett)

Author of four novels—Ten to One in Sweden (1929), about her time as a governess, Tremendous Gain (1930), Too Saucy with the Gods (1931), a romance, and the darker-sounding Thunder in the Offing (1946), about a village “where love, hate, and superstition mingle to strange effect.”

ESMÉ WYNNE-TYSON (1898-1972)
(pseudonym of Dorothy Estelle Esmé Innes Ripper, married name Tyson, aka Esnomel, aka Amanda, aka Diotima)

Child actress, playwright, philosopher, and novelist; her early novels—Security (1927), Quicksand (1927), Momus (1928), Melody (1929), and Incense and Sweet Cane (1930),—were often autobiographical; she later wrote three philosophical novels with John Davys Beresford.


  1. The cover art alone makes me want to start searching for and then reading them all!

  2. I know, Tom, I'm such a pushover for cover art. Judging a book by its cover indeed! I particularly love the first image, for Future Imperfect. Surely worth reading for the cover alone.

  3. Just have to chime in also about the covers. Makes you want to line them up, front cover out, for decoration.

    1. Thanks, Bobbi! I agree. How I wish I had the funds and space to acquire all of these books just to be able to do enormous displays of them. Alas, not practical for a San Francisco apartment!


    Hi. You might be interested in this programme on the BBC, Pulped Fiction, about writers who are lauded but then disappear. As to your latest list, almost all these are new to me and so intriguing! I may have a very faint memory of Petunia Best or I may just be deluding myself...

    1. Oh, how interesting. I may be hooked already! I was worried perhaps I wouldn't have access from the U.S., but was pleased to hear the show begin (and, soon after, to hear Virginia Woolf's voice coming at me--always such a surprise to hear her voice). Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. I just finished Eileen Bigland's Gingerbread House, which I ordered right away on reading your blog post, and absolutely loved it. I hope you get a chance to read it. You've led me to some fabulous books, particularly Ursula Orange, so thank you!

    1. Oh, wonderful, I haven't had a chance to read that one yet. Great to know that it's as worthwhile as it sounded! And thanks for letting me know about Ursula Orange too. I think you're the second or third person to say they read it and liked it. I hope some savvy reprint publisher will take note!


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