Monday, June 30, 2014

List Highlights: More wartime women

Since I know that many of you—like me—are fascinated with women's writing about wartime experiences, be they on the home front or on the front front, I wanted to single out eight authors added to my Overwhelming List in the most recent update.  Most of these published writings about either World War I or World War II, but one of them is included here because of her rather daring wartime experiences, despite the fact that (sadly) she never appears to have written about them in any depth.

Millicent Sutherland-Levison-Gower; presumably
she was dressed in more practical fashion when
she escaped from behind enemy lines...

Appropriately, as this is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, five of the eight are relevant to World War I.  I was struck to discover that an author I only just discovered had a particular relevance to recent London theatre productions.  The Handmaidens of Death (1919), by Maude L. Deuchar, who wrote under the pseudonym HERBERT TREMAINE, was recently revived by the Southwark Playhouse as part of their acclaimed "What the Women Did" series, along with plays by J. M. Barrie and Gwen John (apparently not the artist of the same name, but I haven't found enough information to determine if this Gwen John also belongs on my list or not).  The Spectator described Handmaidens of Death as follows: "At midnight a squadron of mysterious foreign soldiers start to flirt with a handful of jingoistic Englishwomen. The soldiers’ identity comes as an astonishing dramatic shock."  Hmmm. Deuchar/Tremaine also published a novel about the war, The Feet of the Young Men (1917).

EVA MABEL TENISON wrote at least two novels about or including World War I.  Alastair Gordon, R.N. (1921) is a story of the Royal Navy, taking place from 1894 until 1918 (apparently also partially set in Australia), while The Undiscovered Island (1924) is set in France during wartime.  She also wrote an earlier novel, The Valiant Heart (1920), but I can find no details about that one whatsoever.

A rather striking illustration from Helen Pearl Adam's Paris Sees It Through

HELEN PEARL ADAM was a journalist in Paris during World War I (along with her husband George Adam), and published her diary of that time as Paris Sees It Through (1919, available for free from Google Books).  She is also notable for having allowed the young Jean Rhys to stay with her and her husband for some time, and for editing Rhys' first novel, Triple Sec.  For trivia buffs and those who love familial and other connections between authors as much as I do, Adam's mother was Charlotte Eliza Humphry, one of the earliest successful women journalists, who is best known for writing—under the pseudonym "Madge"—one of the first women's advice columns, beginning in Truth magazine and continuing on to the Globe.

The much-maligned Jessie Pope looking wry about it all

JESSIE POPE was, in her day, a major, popular figure in World War I poetry, as well as humorous verse more generally.  In later years, however, she garnered much criticism—including from the more literary (and realistic) male poets of the war, such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfrid Owen—for her naïve, gung-ho attitude toward even the most horrific aspects of battle, such as her enthusiastic urging of young men into the trenches in the 1915 poem The Call.  She did also publish poems about women's war work and about social issues surrounding the war, but her reputation as a propagandist has lived on.  She was also the original editor of Robert Noonan's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, though here too her sentiment seems to have gotten the best of her, as critics note that her edition of the novel effectively censored most of Noonan's socialist content (an unbowdlerized version only appeared in 1955).  Pope published one short novel of her own, Love on Leave (1919), about a woman's love for an ANZAC soldier, but I have to say that her reputation doesn't really place it very high on my "to read" list...

MILLICENT SUTHERLAND-LEVESON-GOWER (quite a mouthful of a name!), the Duchess of Sutherland, was a prominent society hostess and a campaigner for social causes, but more interestingly for my purposes here she was known for organizing a World War I ambulance unit which saw active service in Belgium.  At one point, she had to escape from behind enemy lines, after which she directed field hospitals in northern France.  She wrote about her experiences in Belgium in Six Weeks at the War (1914, also available from Google Books).  She published two novels, One Hour and the Next (1899) and That Fool of a Woman (1924), the latter of which, described as a semi-autobiographical work making use of her own multiple marriages, sounds rather intriguing.

Doreen Hawkins with her husband Jack in 1956

The remaining three authors I'll mention here all published works about World War II.  DOREEN HAWKINS was an ENSA actress whose wartime diaries were published in 2009 as Drury Lane to Dimapur: Wartime Adventures of an Actress.

HESTER BURTON was a young schoolteacher during the war, who would later use her own experiences in one of her many children's books.  In Spite of All Terror (1968), about a young girl evacuee, sounds like an interesting story, and Barb at Leaves & Pages posted a review of it late last year.  Burton also published an acclaimed children's tale about the East Anglia floods, The Great Gale (1960), which likewise intrigues me.

Hester Burton

And finally, the most enigmatic figure in this post, MARJORIE APPLETON published two novels during World War II.  The first, Anything Can Happen (1942), inspired the following lukewarm review from the Spectator:

A domestic servant, Ivy Maud Barnes, is the too glamorous heroine of Miss Appleton's first novel, Anything Can Happen. She is conscripted and becomes a worker in a munitions factory. Ivy is one of a simple, rather religious Nonconformist family. The author obviously knows the conditions under which factory girls work. Much of her documentation is really excellent. She gives vivid and detailed descriptions of what happens in a machine shop and the various rules and regulations governing the production of war material. While she is content to be objective she extends our experience, but unfortunately she falls down badly in the creation of character. The book has many convincing scenes of war-time trials and triumphs ; one of the most vivid and convincing is devoted to the return of the troops from Dunkirk. Ivy, alas, is a not very convincing figure. If Miss Appleton will learn to check her ambitious flights and be content to write of what she really knows rather than of what she imagines, her next novel will be much more plausible.

Knowing how contemporary reviewers have often been clueless in reviewing some of the most enjoyable and interesting women writers, I take this with a grain of salt…  Appleton also published Under One Roof (1943), but information about this second work seems nonexistent.

Another image from Paris Sees It Through

The short bios for these women are shown below, and are already on the main list.  Was anyone already familiar with any of these authors, I wonder?

I solemnly vow that, at some point in the future, I'll be posting a full list of British women authors who published significant wartime or war-related works.  That's one of several lists I plan to do when time allows.  Consider this a teaser for that future list…  

In the meantime, I just stumbled across this impressive list of works by women about World War I.

HELEN PEARL ADAM (1882-1957)
(née Humphrey)
Journalist and diarist who also served as editor for Jean Rhys's first novel; Adam's diary of her WWI experiences were published as Paris Sees It Through (1919); she also published a cookbook cleverly entitled Kitchen Ranging: A Book of Dish-cover-y (1928).

More research needed; journalist, historian, and author of at least two novels, Anything Can Happen (1942)—about a domestic servant conscripted into work in a munitions factory—and Under One Roof (1943).

HESTER BURTON (1913-2000)
(née Wood-Hill)
Teacher, assistant editor of the Oxford Junior Encyclopedia, and historical children’s novelist; best-known titles include The Great Gale (1960), set during the East Anglia floods, In Spite of All Terror (1968), set during WWII, and Thomas (1969), set during the Great Plague of London.

DOREEN HAWKINS (1919-2013)
(née Lawrence)
ENSA actress whose memoirs of wartime life, published in 2009 as Drury Lane to Dimapur: Wartime Adventures of an Actress offer a unique variation on tales of WWII.

JESSIE POPE (1868-1941)
(married name Lenton)
Poet, humorist, editor of Robert Noonan's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, and author of a single novel, Love on Leave (1919), about a woman's love for an ANZAC soldier; acclaimed for her humorous verse, she aroused controversy with the overt propaganda of her WWI poems.

(née St. Clair-Erskine, later married names Fitzgerald and Hawes)
Society hostess, social reformer, and author of two novels—One Hour and the Next (1899) and That Fool of a Woman (1924), the latter semi-autobiographical about her three marriages; she was captured by and escaped from the Germans while nursing in France in WWI.

Historian, biographer, and novelist; she wrote a biography of poet Louise Imogen Guiney in 1923; she was also the author of at least three novels—The Valiant Heart (1920), Alastair Gordon, R.N. (1921), and The Undiscovered Island (1924), set in France during WWI.

(pseudonym of Maude L. Deuchar, née ?????)
Poet, playwright, and novelist; her WWI play The Handmaidens of Death (1919) was recently revived by the Southwark Playhouse in London; The Feet of the Young Men (1917) is a novel about the war; others include Two Months (1919), The Tribal God (1921), and Bricks and Mortals (1924).


  1. I'm amazed as usual by your diligence in tracking down these authors!

    The Great Gale is a very good book; see here

    1. Oh, wonderful, I missed that you had discussed it or I would have linked to it myself. Glad to know that the book is as good as it sounds.


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