Sunday, November 30, 2014


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British women writing about war 1910-1960

At long last, here is the fourth and final part of my genre list devoted to British women writers who tackled themes related to the World Wars. In this section, such ubiquitous authors as Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Thirkell, and D. E. Stevenson rub shoulders with lesser-known writers like Ethel Sidgwick, Marguerite Steen, and Susan Tweedsmuir.

One of my own favorites in this section (as you'll realize from the length of the entry on her) is Joan Wyndham, whose distinctly "naughty" diaries of World War II are completely one of a kind, if perhaps not for all tastes.

My own copy of the influential Mrs. Miniver
(alas, not quite a first edition)

I've been dipping occasionally into Sylvia Townsend Warner's Selected Stories ever since picking it up at the book sale in September, and I've been noting how much the war permeates even stories written many years later. Which makes it all the more odd and perhaps disappointing that Warner never wrote a novel with a wartime setting.

And I wonder if Les Girls, Constance Tomkinson's memoir of her life as a dancer travelling in wartime Europe, could possibly be as entertaining as it sounds? Has anyone read it?

Do keep the suggestions and comments coming about any authors or books I've forgotten. Undoubtedly there are many. Hope you've enjoyed the list!

Bomb damage to St. Paul's during World War II

(full name Victoria Mary Sackville-West, married name Nicolson)
Poet, travel writer, novelist, and the inspiration behind Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Sackville-West is known for The Edwardians (1930) and All Passion Spent (1931), both adapted for television. She also experimented with sci-fi in Grand Canyon (1941) and with mystery in Devil at Westease (1947). Grand Canyon imagined the outcome of a German victory in World War II. She also published Country Notes in Wartime (1941), a compilation of short pieces on country life and gardening which had first appeared in The New Statesman and Nation, and The Women's Land Army (1944). Some of her letters, such as those in Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (1992), also deal with the war, and Nicolson's diaries of the war years are themselves interesting and well-known.

(pseudonym of Maureen Kate Heard, married name Pretyman, aka Maureen Pretyman)
Author of two humorous mysteries now reprinted by Rue Morgue Press—Green December Fills the Graveyard (1945), set in a partially-bombed out manor house in the late years of the war, and A Dinner for None (1948). Sadly, Rue Morgue felt the need to give both books extraordinarily dull new titles for their reprints—Murder at Shots Hall and Murder at Beechlands respectively. Sarsfield also published one long-forgotten non-mystery, Gloriana (1946), and several children's books including Queen Victoria Lost Her Crown (1946).

Author of numerous children's books and adult novels including two with a school component—Redhead at School (1951) and The Golden Cap (1966); others are Pippin's House (1931), Moonshine in Candle Street (1937), Blue Fields (1947), Scarlet Plume (1953), and Breton Holiday (1963). Other of her works could deal with the war, but certainly Enemy Brothers (1943) belongs on this list—it's about a British airman who believes that a young German prisoner is actually his brother, who had been kidnapped many years before. Enemy Brothers was reprinted by American religious publisher Bethlehem Books in 2001. The physical version seems to be out of print, but the ebook is still available.

(married name Fleming)
Scholar and mystery writer known for her Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane novels, including Strong Poison (1930), Have His Carcase (1932), Murder Must Advertise (1934), and (the most acclaimed), The Nine Tailors (1934) and Gaudy Night (1935). After the 1930s, Sayers wrote no more novels, though she did write one short story featuring Lord Peter during World War II. "Tallboys," written in 1942, did not appear until 1971, in the collection Striding Folly (1971). She also published, in the Spectator in 1940, a series of fictional letters from and to Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, and others of their circle, very much focused on the early days of the war.

(née Raphael, earlier married name Mendl, aka Henrietta Leslie, aka Gladys Mendl)
Outspoken pacifist and author of numerous novels, including The Straight Road (1911), After Eight O'Clock (1930), Mother of Five (1934), and her historical Mogford Trilogy (1942-1946). A Mouse with Wings (1920) wrestles with feminine pacifism versus masculine idealism in the Great War. Mrs. Fischer's War (1930), her best-known work, was based on Schutze's own misfortunes in World War I as a result of her German name and husband.

(née Stapleton)
Prolific popular novelist whose debut, Invisible Tides (1919), deals with World War I from the perspective of a woman who stayed at home. Other titles include The Hopeful Journey (1923), Three Wives (1927), Maids and Mistresses (1932), Fool of Time (1940), and Buds of May (1947).

MARGERY SHARP (1905-1991)
(full name Clara Margery Melita Sharp, married name Castle)
Novelist and children's author known for her children’s series starting with The Rescuers (1959) and for numerous light humorous novels including The Nutmeg Tree (1937), Harlequin House (1939), The Stone of Chastity (1940), Cluny Brown (1944), and The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948). Sharp's own experiences living through the bombing of London show up in Britannia Mews (1946), considered one of her best novels. Cluny Brown, though published in wartime, is set in 1938. The Foolish Gentlewoman follows the inhabitants and neighbors of a country estate as they return home after the war.

JANE SHAW (1910-2000)
(pseudonym of Jean Bell Shaw Patrick, married name Evans, aka Jean Bell)
Prolific author of more than three dozen children's books, including family and adventure tales as well as the Susan series of school-related stories. Some of her other wartime books may include spy or other war-related themes, but House of the Glimmering Light (1943) is definitely a wartime spy adventure (thank you for that tidbit, CallMeMadam!).  Other titles include Breton Holiday (1939), Highland Holiday (1942), Susan Pulls the Strings (1952), Crooked Sixpence (1958), and Crooks Tour (1962).

ETHEL SIDGWICK (1877-1970)
Novelist whose early works received critical praise, while later works were lighter; best known are A Lady of Leisure (1914), Hatchways (1916), and Dorothy's Wedding (1931), the last intriguingly described as being about the minutiae of daily life in two villages. Jamesie (1918) is an epistolary novel about the impacts of World War I on an upper class English family.

EDITH SITWELL (1886-1964)
Important modernist poet and bestselling biographer—The Queens and the Hive (1962) focused on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots—Sitwell also wrote one experimental novel, I Live under a Black Sun (1937), which mixes autobiographical events with the life of Jonathan Swift. Sitwell wrote no fiction about the war, but was acclaimed for her wartime poetry, included in such collections as Street Songs (1942), The Song of the Cold (1945) and The Shadow of Cain (1947). In particular, her poem "Still Falls the Rain," about the Blitz, became famous, and was later set to music by Benjamin Britten.

(married names Connolly, Weidenfeld, and Jackson)
Author of two novels—A Young Girl's Touch (1956) and the darkly humorous A Love Match (1969)—and one story collection, Born Losers (1965).  Skelton is probably best known now for her memoirs Tears Before Bedtime (1987) and Weep No More (1989), the former of which includes her experiences in World War II.

(née Jones)
Novelist whose work ranged from romantic melodrama, as in Lost Hill (1952), to dark comedy, in Miss Plum and Miss Penny (1959), to the war-themed He Went for a Walk (1954), in which a boy made homeless by the Blitz finds his way across wartime England. The last has been recommended on the D. E. Stevenson discussion list. Other titles include My Lamp Is Bright (1948), The Lovely Day (1957), and Brief Flower (1966).

EMMA SMITH (1923-     )
(pseudonym of Elspeth Hallsmith, married name Stewart-Jones)
Best known for her novel The Far Cry (1949, reprinted by Persephone), Smith also wrote Maidens' Trip (1948, reprinted by Bloomsbury), a memoir of working on the canals of England during World War II, and a late novel, The Opportunity of a Lifetime (1978).

MAY SMITH (1914-2004)
Schoolteacher and diarist, whose witty war diaries, telling of life as a teacher in a village near Derby, were published by Virago as These Wonderful Rumours!: A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries 1939-1945 (2012).

STEVIE SMITH (1902-1971)
(full name Florence Margaret Smith)
Well-regarded poet and critic who also published three eccentric novels, Novel on Yellow Paper (1936), in which Smith’s alter-ego, a secretary named Pompey, is introduced, Over the Frontier (1938), and The Holiday (1949), all reprinted by Persephone. The last of these was actually written in the final years of the war, but when it was published a few years later the publisher felt that readers were no longer interested in the war. Smith revised the novel and removed or veiled many of the references to wartime conditions. It still retains an oddly claustrophobic feel, however, which surely comes from the pervasive fatigue and resignation to fate that seems to characterize the final years of the war. A few more short wartime writings appeared in Me Again, which collected numerous previously unpublished or uncollected pieces by Smith.

NANCY SPAIN (1917-1964)
Pioneering journalist, TV personality, biographer, children's author, and co-founder of the feminist She magazine, Spain wrote three memoirs as well as humorous mysteries such as Death Before Wicket (1946). Her novel The Kat Strikes (1955), set in postwar London, received particular acclaim. In addition, her first published work, Thank You, Nelson (1945), was a memoir of her own experiences in the war. The paperback edition featured the blurb, "The Irrepressible Nancy Spain's Witty, Vigourous and Inspiring Account of the W.R.N.S. at War."

MURIEL SPARK (1918-2006)
(née Camberg)
Major novelist whose works combine dark humor with a Catholic sensibility; her most acclaimed works include Memento Mori (1959), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), The Girls of Slender Means (1963), Loitering With Intent (1981), and A Far Cry from Kensington (1988). The Girls of Slender Means takes place in a London boarding-house for girls during the final days of World War II.

FREYA STARK (1893?-1993)
(married name Perowne)
Best known for travel books like The Valleys of the Assassins (1932) and A Winter in Arabia (1940), Stark also wrote several significant memoirs, including Traveller's Prelude (1950) and Dust in the Lion’s Paw (1961), the latter of which covers her wartime years, which included frequent travel in the Middle East and beyond in her work for the Ministry of Information.

(née Benson, aka Jane Nicholson, aka Lennox Dryden)
Popular novelist active from the 1920s-1970s; her novel Matador (1934) was a book club selection and The Sun Is My Undoing (1941), about the Atlantic slave trade, was a bestseller. Her 1942 novel Shelter, published under the pseudonym Jane Nicholson, is not necessarily the best example of "Blitz lit" available but is stylistically quite interesting, incorporating modernist techniques. Steen also published two memoirs of literary life, Looking Glass (1966) and Pier Glass (1968).

(married name Peploe)
Popular novelist whose best-known works include the hilarious Miss Buncle's Book (1934) and its sequels and the autobiographical Mrs. Tim series (1934-1952). The third Miss Buncle entry, The Two Mrs. Abbotts (1943), follows the characters into wartime, where food shortages and German spies are tackled as cheerfully as romantic entanglements and childrearing. Mrs. Tim also has a wartime entry, Mrs. Tim Carries On (1941), which is among my favorites. Other Stevenson works dealing with the war in one form or another include The English Air (1940), Spring Magic (1941), Crooked Adam (1942), Listening Valley (1944), Amberwell (1955), and Sarah Morris Remembers (1966). Celia's House (1943) has sections set during both World War I and World War II. The Four Graces (1946) is set in the final days of the wara, and Stevenson also published several novels after the war that deal prominently with postwar themes, including Mrs. Tim Gets a Job (1947), Kate Hardy (1947), Young Mrs. Savage (1948), Vittoria Cottage (1949), and Summerhills (1956). Still Glides the Stream (1959) also has a WWII connection, as its plot centers around a letter written by a soldier during the war but only received by his sister years later.

JOYCE STOREY (1917-2001)
Popular memoirist whose humorous and colorful work includes Our Joyce 1917-1939 (1987), Joyce's War (1990), and Joyce's Dream: The Post-War Years (1995); these three volumes were condensed into a one-volume edition called The House in South Road in 2004.

LESLEY STORM (1898-1975)
(pseudonym of Mabel Margaret Doran Clark, née Cowie)
Screenwriter, playwright, and novelist, known for her treatment of gender issues and marriage. Her novels include Lady, What of Life? (1927), Small Rain (1929), Robin and Robina (1931) and Just as I Am (1933), but she is largely remembered for her popular plays, including Heart of a City (1942), which takes place during the Blitz, and Great Day (1945), which presents preparations by the Women's Institute of an English village for a unexpected visit from Eleanor Roosevelt. Both were made into films.

Sister of Dorothy and Lytton, Marjorie Strachey published a collection, Savitri and Other Women (1920), and three novels—David the Son of Jesse (1921), The Nightingale (1925), about Chopin, and The Counterfeits (1927), about a woman adapting to peacetime life after nursing in WWI.

(aka Susan Scarlett)
Known for children's fiction such as Ballet Shoes (1936) and Curtain Up (1944, aka Theatre Shoes), Streatfeild wrote serious novels as well as her romantic and family-themed novels under the pseudonym Susan Scarlett. Of the latter, Summer Pudding (1943) and Murder While You Work (1944) are certainly set during the war, and Poppies for England (1946) is evocative in its immediate postwar setting. Among her "serious" novels, The Winter Is Past (1940) deals with life in a country house in wartime, I Ordered a Table for Six (1942) is bleak but intriguing, and Saplings (1945, reprinted by Persephone) is a compelling family story about the lingering effects of the Blitz. Among her children's fiction, The Children of Primrose Lane (1941) is an adventure story making use of wartime atmosphere, Harlequinade (1943) follows a group of circus children sent to the countryside to ride out the war, and Party Frock (1946) is about children in an English village at the very end and immediately after the war (one character's parents are in a prison camp). The aforementioned Curtain Up was originally set against the backdrop of war, but apparently most subsequent reprints of the book edit out the war-related content.

JAN STRUTHER (1901-1953)
(pseudonym of Joyce Anstruther, married names Graham and Placzek)
Poet and essayist immortalized by her creation of Mrs. Miniver (1939), derived from a series of articles she wrote for The Times about a family’s life in Chelsea just before WWII, and made into an Oscar-winning film in 1942 (which extended Struther's work to include the outbreak of war and the Blitz). Winston Churchill famously said that the book did more for the war effort than a flotilla of battleships. Struther’s other work includes poetry and the essay collections Try Anything Twice (1938) and A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946).

(aka Georgina Groves)
Known for a children's series featuring Pansy and Atalanta, two children who find themselves in major historical events, including the suffrage movement in Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges (1971); her three adult novels are All Souls (1950), French Windows (1952), and The Suckling (1969). Her novel Now and Then (1977, published in the U.S. as Crocuses Were Over, Hitler Was Dead) is a time-slip story of a girl moving with her family to a country estate and occasionally slipping back into World War II when she befriends meets a gardener and his dog from those earlier years.

ETHEL M[ARY]. TALBOT (1880-1944)
One of the major authors of girls' school stories from 1919 to the 1940s; titles include The School on the Moor (1919), Betty at St Benedick's (1924), The School at None-Go-By (1926), Schoolgirl Rose (1928), The Mascot of the School (1934), and The Warringtons in War-Time (1940).

LAURA TALBOT (1908-1966)
(pseudonym of Ursula Winifred Stewart Chetwynd-Talbot, married name Hamilton)
Wife of novelist Patrick Hamilton, known primarily for The Gentlewomen (1952), about disruptions of class identity brought about by World War II, which was reprinted by Virago in the 1980s. Talbot also wrote four other novels—Prairial (1950), Barcelona Road (1953), The Elopement (1958), and The Last of the Tenants (1961)—about which information is sparse.

(née Coles)
Acclaimed if still underrated author of twelve novels, four story collections, and a children's novel. Some of her most famous novels include At Mrs. Lippincote's (1945), A Game of Hide and Seek (1951), Angel (1957, filmed by François Ozon in 2007), Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971, filmed in 2005 with Joan Plowright in the lead), and Blaming (1976). Her incomparable short fiction has now been compiled in Virago's Collected Stories. Although her second novel, Palladian (1946), rather oddly seems to take place in a world where no war has occurred, At Mrs. Lippincote's is one of my favorite evocations of the fatigue and frayed nerves of the final years of the war, and A View of the Harbour (1947) is an atmospheric glimpse of life in the immediate aftermath of war. Several of Taylor's early stories also feature the war, either in the foreground or as a backdrop.

Historian, biographer, and novelist; she wrote a biography of poet Louise Imogen Guiney in 1923. Tenison 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.

JOSEPHINE TEY (1897-1952)
(pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh, aka Gordon Daviot)
Novelist, playwright, and mystery writer, known for Miss Pym Disposes (1946), a humorous mystery set at a girls' school, Brat Farrar (1949), To Love and Be Wise (1950), and The Daughter of Time (1951), which "solves" the mystery of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. None of her fiction seems to address World War II head-on, but The Franchise Affair (1948) is very distinctly set in the immediate postwar period and makes excellent use of that atmosphere.

(née Mackail, later married name McInnes)
Author of the popular Barsetshire Chronicles, nearly 30 humorous, interwoven novels set in the fictional county created by Trollope, beginning with High Rising (1933). Her wartime entries in the series are particularly entertaining, and include Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940), Northbridge Rectory (1941), Marling Hall (1942), Growing Up (1943), The Headmistress (1944), and Miss Bunting (1945). Peace Breaks Out (1946) features the transition into peacetime, returning soldiers, and the resulting recovery and readjustments of series characters. Thirkell's first postwar titles, such as Private Enterprise (1947) and Love Among the Ruins (1948), also trace postwar hardships and concerns.

HELEN THOMAS (1877-1967)
(née Noble)
Married to novelist and war poet Edward Thomas, who was killed in battle in 1917, Thomas later wrote two acclaimed memoirs of their life together, As It Was (1926) and World Without End (1931).

RUBY [SIDE] THOMPSON (1884-1970)
Diarist who used her diaries as a release from an unhappy marriage; Thompson's prewar diaries were published as Ruby: An Ordinary Woman in 1995; her great-granddaughter has now begun publishing her WWII diaries, starting with World War II London Blitz Diary (2013).

(married name Luling)
Novelist best known for The Hounds of Spring (1926), about the repercussions of World War I. The war is also a backdrop in The Rough Crossing (1921), and in Chariot Wheels (1929), according to Sharon Ouditt, "the war appears as snapshots of the past: a suffragette governess
becomes a WAAC; a mother cries when she sees her young son in uniform; a girl visits a wounded soldier." The Gulls Fly Inland (1941) is set during 1939-1940, so presumably includes some mentions of the war, but a contemporary review suggests that it focuses very much on interpersonal relations instead. And The People Opposite (1948) is set in the immediate postwar and deals lightly with two families—one rich and unhappy, the other poor and happy. Among the characters is a young invalided soldier trying to get back in the swing of things after a long hospitalization. Other of Thompson's titles include Battle of the Horizons (1928) Winter Comedy (1931), Breakfast in Bed (1934), and Third Act in Venice (1936).

(full name Anna Violet Thurstan)
Novelist and Red Cross nurse. Field Hospital and Flying Column (1915) is her journal about her experiences serving in Belgium and Russia, written while recovering from a shrapnel wound. Much later she published a memoir of the war entitled The Hounds of War Unleashed (1978). In the 1960s, Thurstan published two novels, Stormy Petrel (1964) and The Foolish Virgin (1966), about which little information is available.

(married name Lansdown)
Daughter of Ursula Orange, whom she discusses in Footprints in Paris: A Few Streets, A Few Lives (2009); author of a dozen novels beginning with No Name in the Street (1959), before turning in recent years to non-fiction centered on towns and cities. The Intruder (1979) is about a young Englishwoman and her son stuck in occupied France during World War II. Her other fiction includes The Water and the Sound (1961), The Youngest (1967), Fly Away Home (1971), and Looking Forward (1983).

Daughter of Ursula Orange, who writes about her mother in Footprints in Paris: A Few Streets, A Few Lives (2009); Tindall published a dozen novels beginning with No Name in the Street (1959), before turning in recent years to biographical non-fiction centered on towns and cities. Her novel The Intruder (1979) is about a young Englishwoman and her son stuck in occupied France during World War II.

LILY TOBIAS (1887-1984)
(née Shepherd)
Born in Wales to Jewish immigrant parents, Tobias is best known for Eunice Fleet (1933), a novel about conscientious objectors in World War I, which I first discovered from a review by dovegreyreader back in 2009.  Her other works include My Mother's House (1931), Tube (1935), and The Samaritan (1939, subtitled "An Anglo-Palestinian Novel").

(married name Bower, aka Barbara Euphan)
Playwright, poet, novelist and children's writer, author of the successful Worzel Gummidge children's books. Todd also wrote Miss Ranskill Comes Home (1946, reprinted by Persephone), a World War II comedy about a woman, stranded on an island since before the war, who is finally rescued and must adapt to wartime life. Darlene at Cosy Books reviewed it enthusiastically last year, and it's a favorite of mine too. Todd also collaborated on two novels with her husband, John Graham Bower—South Country Secrets and The Touchstone (both 1935).

(married name Weeks)
Daughter of a clergyman, Tomkinson debuted on Broadway at age 18; she remains best known for Les Girls (1956), a memoir of her time as a dancer in Europe during WWII; she wrote three more memoirs, African Follies (1958), What a Performance! (1962), and Dancing Attendance (1965).

P[AMELA]. L[YNDON]. TRAVERS (1899-1996)
[pseudonym of Helen Lyndon Goff)
Known for Mary Poppins (1934) and its sequels, including Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935), Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1944), and Mary Poppins in the Park (1952), Travers also wrote I Go by Land, I Go by Sea (1941), about evacuees in World War II, and the memoir Moscow Excursion (1934).

MARY TREADGOLD (1910-2005)
BBC radio producer and children's author, best known for her classic We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941), about children who miss the evacuation of a fictional Channel island (because they can't leave their horse behind) and end up aiding the resistance to the Nazis. That book is mentioned quite regularly in histories of World War II fiction and children's fiction. Apparently there's also a sequel, The Polly Harris (1949), which follows the children into the immediate postwar years. No Ponies (1946) is set in France just after the war and tackles the very adult issue of Nazi collaborators. Treadgold's later works include The Running Child (1951) and The Winter Princess (1962).

FRANCES [MARY] TURK (1915-2004)
Prolific popular author of light romantic novels. At least two of her works feature wartime themes: Candle Corner (1943) is about an RAF pilot recovering from injuries on a farm—naturally, romance follows; and The Five Grey Geese (1944) is a lively, gung-ho tale about a group of young Land Girls (who also, naturally, find romance)—I had fun with it, but don't expect too much… Other Turk titles include Ancestors (1947), Salutation (1949), and Dinny Lightfoot (1956).

(née Grosvenor, married name Buchan, Tweedsmuir comes from her title, Baroness Tweedsmuir)
Biographer, memoirist, children's writer, and novelist, known for Cousin Harriet (1957), about a pregnant unmarried girl in Victorian England. Other works include The Scent of Water (1937) and several memoirs starting with The Lilac and the Rose (1952). Her late novel, The Rainbow Through the Rain (1950), is apparently partly set in England and partly in Canada, and at least some of it takes place during World War II.

(née Arnold, aka Mrs. Humphry Ward)
Primarily known for Victorian novels like Robert Elsmere (1888) and David Grieve (1892), Ward produced two particularly well-received novels during World War I—Lady Connie (1916), set in 19th century Oxford, and Missing (1917), about a woman who finds "spiritual freedom" as a result of the war. Another novel from the war years which is probably less sympathetic for modern readers is her 1915 anti-suffrage novel Delia Blanchflower. Ward also wrote, at least initially with the encouragement of former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, three books of war reportage—or propaganda, depending on your perspective—which were credited with helping to bring the U.S. into the war. 

Novelist, poet, and expert on English church music. Her odd, passionate works include Lolly Willowes (1926), a brilliant novel of spinsterhood, Summer Will Show (1936), The Corner that Held Them (1948), a saga of a medieval convent, The Flint Anchor (1954), and many acclaimed stories. Among her stories are some powerful evocations of wartime England—particularly those collected in A Garland of Straw (1943) and The Museum of Cheats (1947). Her Diaries, published by Virago, are heavily edited but have some vivid thoughts and reactions to the events of the Blitz and the war in general.

HILARY WAYNE (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of Flora Sturgeon?)
Not to be confused with Joan Mary Wayne Brown, who sometimes wrote as Hilary Wayne, this author wrote a memoir, Two Odd Soldiers (1946), about her exploits with her daughter in the ATS during WWII. The British Library suggests this Wayne is a pseudonym for Flora Sturgeon, but I can't confirm.

BEATRICE WEBB (1858-1943)
(née Potter)
Prolific political writer, prominent socialist, and memoirist, whose autobiographies, beginning with My Apprenticeship (1922), provide important background to the politics of her day. But her diaries, which spanned six decades from 1873, when Webb was only 15, until not long before her death in 1943, are the more in-depth resource, and include her politically-engaged thoughts and actions during World War I and in the early years of World War II. The diaries were published in their most complete form in four volumes from 1982 to 1985, but there has since been a more manageable one-volume abridgement published in 2001.

(pseudonym of Dora Amy Elles, married names Dillon and Turnbull)
Novelist who published several historical romances before turning to her successful Miss Silver mystery series. She published regularly from 1910 until just before her death in 1961. Several of her wartime mysteries use the war as a backdrop, including The Chinese Shawl (1943), The Clock Strikes Twelve (1944), Miss Silver Deals With Death (1944, aka Miss Silver Intervenes), The Key (1944), and The Traveller Returns (1945, aka She Came Back), the last set just after the end of the war, when a woman thought to have been killed in France suddenly reappears. Several postwar titles make retrospective reference to the war, but The Case of William Smith (1948) is probably most prominent, featuring a returning soldier with amnesia. The deaf main character of The Listening Eye (1955) is described as having lost her hearing in a bombing raid during the Blitz.

REBECCA WEST (1892-1983)
(pseudonym of Cicily Isabel Andrews, née Fairfield)
Novelist, journalist, and travel writer, best known for the semi-autobiographical family saga The Fountain Overflows (1957); her debut, The Return of the Soldier (1918), in which a soldier with shellshock struggles to remember two very different women who love him, is considered an important novel of World War I. West does not seem to have written any major fiction about World War II, but The Phoenix: The Meaning of Treason (1949) focuses on Brits, including William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw), who worked for Germany during the war, and A Train of Powder (1955) features her accounts of the Nuremberg trials. Other works include The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), The Thinking Reed (1936), and The Birds Fall Down (1966), as well as Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), a massive exploration of the culture of the Balkans.

(née Stirrup)
Popular novelist whose works have been revived by Persephone in recent years, including High Wages (1930), Greenbanks (1932), The Priory (1939), They Were Sisters (1943), and her powerful final work, Someone at a Distance (1953), about the destruction of a happy marriage. The Priory is set during the leadup to the war, and features a poignant scene in which a pregnant woman imagines her chances of surviving a bombing raid. (As a side note, E. M. Delafield's Provincial Lady in Wartime, published the following year, recommends The Priory to a friend as the perfect wartime reading.) They Were Sisters (1943), though written during war, is actually set in the 1930s. The story collection Persephone put together a few years ago, The Closed Door and Other Stories includes some stories set during the war. And Whipple's final novel, Someone at a Distance (1953), is highly evocative of the postwar years, as well as recalling the characters' wartime experiences. Random Commentary (1966), published after Whipple's death, is subtitled Books and Journals Kept from 1925 Onwards and is compiled from her working notebooks. It contains fascinating glimpses of her earliest successes as an author, as well as the trials and concerns of day-to-day life, and the second half is composed of her impressions of wartime life, imbued with Whipple's charming personality.

BARBARA WHITTON (1921-      )
(pseudonym of Hazel Chitty)
Author of only one wartime novel, Green Hands (1943), a rather gung-ho portrayal of a group of girls in the Women's Land Army during World War II. The book was presumably a fair success, as it went through at least seven printings, but it was never reprinted and Whitton apparently published no more fiction. Not the strongest of wartime fiction, perhaps, but quite entertaining if you're interested in the Land Army (and if you can get your hands on a copy). Whitton is apparently still alive and living in a retirement home—one hopes she would enjoy being included here.

(née Harland)
Wife of art critic and historian Reginald Wilenski; the British Library lists only one title for her—Table Two (1942)—but it’s an intriguing one, set during the Blitz, about a group of elderly women translators in the Ministry of Foreign Intelligence. Barbara Pym mentions reading it in her diaries of the time.

ROMER WILSON (1891-1930)
(pseudonym of Florence Roma Muir Wilson, married name O'Brien)
Novelist, playwright, and biographer of Emily Brontë (1928), whose fiction focuses on artists and the impacts of war—in particular, If All These Young Men (1919), which the Orlando Project describes as "explor[ing] through male-female relationships the devastating intellectual, emotional, and practical effects of war." A later novel, Dragon's Blood (1926), focuses on postwar Germany and—again according to OP—"seems like a prophecy of the Nazi rise." Wilson's other titles include Martin Schüler (1918), The Death of Society (1921), The Grand Tour (1923), and Greenlow (1927). I have to admit that the recommendation of Wilson quoted on Neglected Books a few months ago doesn't make me all that excited about sampling her work, but perhaps others will have a different reaction.

AMY [LUCY] WOODWARD (1883-1974)
(née Temple)
Children's author and (possibly) novelist; titles include The Treasure Cave (1931), The Two Adventurers (1934), Mrs. Bunch's Caravan (1940), The Serpents (1947), and The Haunted Headland (1953); somewhat intiguing for possible (?) wartime content is her 1943 title Life Is Sweet: The Intimate Diary of an Author's Wife (1943).

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941)
(née Stephen)
A central figure in British literature, known for novels such as Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931), and for her voluminous diaries and letters. Many of her early works deal prominently with World War I, including Jacob's Room (1922) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925), which includes a traumatized ex-soldier among its cast. She wrote two very famous long essays, A Room of One’s Own (1929), about the difficulties for women of being creative artists, and Three Guineas (1938), a passionate condemnation of war and fascism. Woolf's final letters and diary entries are revealing about the war and its traumatic effect on her, which probably played a role in her suicide, and her musings about the war in "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" (1940) are also fascinating. Woolf's final novel, Between the Acts (1941), published posthumously, is set at a village pageant just before the outbreak of war. The approach of war remains muted on the surface of the novel, but is symbolically present throughout.

SUSAN WOOLFITT (1907-1978)
Memoirist and children's author, whose Escape to Adventure (1948), about youngsters having adventures on the canals of England, draws on her own experiences as a canal boat worker during World War II, recounted in her memoir Idle Women (1947).

(married name Hunt)
Author of three novels spread across more than 35 years, Wright is best known for Pilot's Wife's Tale (1942), a lightly fictionalized portrayal of her attempts to maintain a domestic life with her pilot husband during World War II, and his recovery from injuries sustained in the Battle of Britain. Wright's son Charles suggests that the book was published as a novel rather than a diary because censorship would not have allowed its details of locations and events to appear as nonfiction. Wright's other two novels are The Prophet Bird (1958), about a middle-class couple struggling in the postwar years, and A Vacant Chair (1979), a short eccentric tale involving two owners of a flower shop near Covent Garden in London.

(married names Rowdon and Shivarg)
Diarist whose World War II diaries, Love Lessons (1985) and Love Is Blue (1986), both reprinted by Virago, provide a rare view of sexually free, bohemian life during wartime (not to mention some of the only glimpses you'll ever find in this period—scattered here and there in the diaries—of gay and lesbian life in its natural habitat). Wyndham was only 17 when the war began, and she started her diary at the same time. Love Lessons focuses heavily on Wyndham's efforts to lose her virginity in the midst of the strains of war (she finally loses it the day after the first air-raid on London). It's certainly not for the strait-laced, but it's full of youthful energy and charm, and the ways in which her sexual awakening gets tied up with the dangers and the fragility of life in wartime are quite fascinating. Love Is Blue continues her diaries through the second half of the war, when Wyndham had become a WAAF. A third volume, Anything Goes (1992), continues her story into the post-war years, and Dawn Chorus (2004) is a memoir of her eccentric childhood (which certainly helps to explain her free love, live and let live attitudes which were so much before their time). The Mitford Society did a lovely post about Wyndham last year, complete with absolutely delicious photos I hadn't seen before.

A-C     D-K     L-R     S-Z


  1. Many Thanks Scott, for a great set of lists, which I will have to go over more carefully as I get time. Have you ever noticed a difference between fiction written about the wars DURING the wars, when the outcome/ending was still uncertain and the fiction written about the wars after the war was over? Even those people who lived through the war as adults and wrote novels set during the war at that time, I find differences in the books they write years later, but set back during the war. And, those authors who didn't live through the war or who were children during the war and then later wrote war time novels have yet a different "feel" to me.

    I find those novels written during the first year or two of WWII, when there was a realistic fear of invasion to be especially touching. Northbridge Rectory or Cheerfulness Breaks In by Thirkell, N & M by Christie, Spring Magic or Mrs. Tim Carries On by Stevenson, for examples.


    1. Thanks, Jerri. Yes, definitely I find a palpable difference between books written during the war versus after. I tend to prefer the wartime works as being more immediate and the anxiety and uncertainty tend to come through even if that's not an intended focus (as in some of the books you mentioned). I only rarely enjoy what might be called "historical" fiction written much later about the war, though there are exceptions. As you say, there also seems to be a discernible difference between books written at the beginning of the war versus those published near the end, which tend to be less about anxiety and more about exhaustion.

  2. I adored May Smith's wartime diaries ... so much more interesting and entertaining than Vere Hodgson's. Have you read Mrs Milburn's wartime diaries? They're currently out of print, and she's hard to like, but as I insist of thinking of you as a young man who doesn't dismiss middle-aged women as boring and having nothing to contribute I think you might like them.

    1. I have both on my TBR list, but I'll bump them up on your recommendation, Nomey. You're certainly right that I don't dismiss middle-aged women as boring, though I'm not so sure about your assessment of me as a young man! :-)

  3. Well, Scott, as you know, I ADORE Mrs. Thirkelll, particularly her wartime novels, so am very glad to see them mentioned, and I am also a Stevenson fan - "The English Air" was called, by herself, her war work. I own "Mrs. Miniver" which I found back in the late 70's in some dreary bookstore while on vacation and have always treasured it. All good work, and many thanks for all YOUR good work! Tom

    1. I'm embarrassed to admit I've still never read The English Air, Tom. I'll have to rectify that!

  4. Thank you thank you again, Scott. Really, my eyes glaze over. I don't think I have anything to add from my own library.

    Yes, absolutely read The English Air. If you haven't got it, snatch it up quick from Greyladies while you can.

    1. I'm afraid my whole brain is glazing over, Susan! But there will be a fair number of authors added to the list when I have a chance to update it.

  5. What a splendid list. I'm rushing off in search of Joan Wyndham: I'd encountered her in "The Assassin's Cloak", a good anthology of diaries, and had been meaning to follow that up.

    I'm guessing that Susan Tweedsmuir was married to John Buchan, of The Thirty-Nine Steps and other thrillers? He became Baron Tweedsmuir, and was governor-general of Canada.

    1. I hope you enjoy Wyndham as much as I have, Zoe! And yes, Tweedsmuir was John Buchan's wife (and Anna Buchan aka O. Douglas's sister-in-law).

  6. Hi Scott - another nifty WWII work (also filmed) by Lesley Storm that sort of bookends Heart of a City is her 3-act play Great Day. It's an ensemble dramedy about WI ladies in a typical village prepping for a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt despite their class-based issues & personal problems. The movie has a terrific cast - Flora Robson, Eric Portman, Sheila Sim (who'd previously been land girl Alison in Powell-Pressberger's A Canterbury Tale), etc. In fact, watching the movie is what prompted me to track down the stageplay. Both very enjoyable!
    - Grant Hurlock

    1. Well, now you've added yet another title to my TBR list, Grant. That one sounds right up my alley! Sort of The Village for the theatre-going crowd, perhaps?


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