One of the most enjoyable times I have in researching new writers for my Overwhelming List, such as the even-more-overwhelming-than-usual block of 300+ just added in my most recent update, is when I acquire or come across an old book the dust jacket of which has a handy list of other titles available from the same publisher. If the book in question is written by a woman, then very likely many of the other books being marketed to its readers are by women too.
Now, sometimes the list is disappointingly mainstream, and I already know about most of the authors shown. But occasionally I strike gold and find a list of titles by authors I've largely never heard of, and that happened twice while I was preparing the last update. Both Winifred Peck's Unseen Array (which I was thrilled to snag with a lovely dustjacket at a quite reasonable price) and Mollie Carpenter Hales' The Cat and the Medal (the acquisition of which I noted after the big book sale in September) had scintillating lists of largely unknown authors, which led me to some geekily fun exploration. I thought I'd share a little of that with you here.
First came the Hales book. I hate to admit that I still haven't managed to read it (based on a contemporary review, it doesn't sound like exactly my cup of tea, but you never know), but I had fun with the list it featured on its back cover:
Hmmm, apart from WINIFRED WATSON, a name most of you will know for the wonderful Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (though her other novels remain shrouded in obscurity) and of course Pearl Buck, it's not exactly an instantly recognizable lot, is it? I hoped that would mean a slew of new additions to the list, but my hopes were slightly damped by the discovery that no less than four of the authors were American.
LOUISE REDFIELD PEATTIE, it turned out, was an author of romances and big, sweeping American sagas:
CLARISSA FAIRCHILD CUSHMAN wrote romantic and family melodramas, including such titles as The Other Brother and Young Widow—the latter of which, at least, was apparently made into a film featuring Jane Russell:
JULIA TRUITT YENNI apparently wrote only four novels—Never Say Goodbye (1937), This is Me, Kathie (1938), House of the Sparrow (1942), and The Spellbound Village (1951)—about which not a lot of information seems to be available.
And CHRISTINE WHITING PARMENTER seems to be similarly forgotten, but her works include some intriguing titles, such as The Unknown Port, The Kings of Beacon Hill, and Fair Were the Days.
Obviously, there's an American version of the Overwhelming List just waiting to take shape. Anyone want to dive in and get it started?!
Happily for my own purposes, however, the list did include two new-to-me British women writers. BARBARA GOOLDEN, it turned out, published several dozen novels in all, and although the earliest few seem to have been seriously reviewed (the Spectator referred to The Conquering Star  as one of "her series of studies of post-War society" and concluded that it was "a story rich, like its predecessors, in varied portraiture and natural dialogue"), later works look pretty clearly like light romances or family stories—and some of those seem rather intriguing to me, though of course they could turn out to have the charm of an Elizabeth Cadell or the (in my experience) mundane banality of a Maysie Greig.
ELIZABETH CONNOR took just a bit more work to unpack. The name turned out to be a pseudonym used for two 1930s novels by Irish author UNA TROY, who started publishing under her own name by the 1950s and continued writing until the early 1980s. I'm pretty sure I will have to sample Troy's work eventually, as I can't quite get a handle on how it should be characterized. Most of her titles are set in Ireland, and most appear to be humorous in tone. But at least one or two of her novels were banned in Ireland due to their portrayals of sexuality and unmarried mothers, which certainly doesn't make them sound light and fluffy. Her 1955 novel We Are Seven was adapted in 1958 as a film called She Didn't Say No, a suggestive enough title.
Troy's 1973 novel Doctor, Go Home!, is similarly difficult to get a handle on. From a jacket blurb, it apparently follows a woman doctor who is left to care for her orphaned brother and sister, and moves with them to a post on an island off the southern coast of Ireland. Is this an Irish variant of Lillian Beckwith's charming tales of Scottish isolation? Well, perhaps not, the siblings appear to be verging on delinquency and are none too fond of their sister. The blurb ends by noting that all three "discover that the challenge awaiting them on Inishcarrig was greater than could ever have been foreseen."
Has anyone come across any of Troy's work? (By the way, as an interesting side note, apparently Troy left two unpublished novels behind at her death, and although neither has been published in English, one—English title Fly by These Nets—was translated into German and published in 2001. It seems that her earlier works were often published in German as well, so perhaps there are more German readers familiar with her work than readers of English?)
As might be expected from the fact that Winifred Peck was a better known and somewhat literary writer published by a major publisher (Faber), the list of books and authors on the back of Unseen Array was a bit more satisfying than the one on Hales' book. In addition to a few authors already on my list, such as Phyllis Bottome and Josephine Delves-Broughton, and even a few intriguing men, such as Vicars Bell, whose mysteries seem to be much sought-after among collectors (but, alas, not among reprint publishers), there were indeed a handful of new British women writers to explore.
First, the anti-climax. KATHLEEN WARREN was actually added to my list in my last update—she had been suggested by Tina Brooker, who had found Warren's name in a list of contributors to The Second Evening Standard Book of Strange Stories (1937). She published three novels in the early 1950s—The Locked Gates (1950), Intruder in the House (1951), and The Long Fidelity (1952). Sadly, however, her books have nearly ceased to exist, and even researcher John Herrington had to admit defeat in identifying her or finding details about her life.
CORAL HOPE is a similarly hopeless (sorry) lost author. She apparently published only three novels—Listening Hands (1944), The Play of a Lifetime (1946), and The Shadowed Hour (1951)—and one children's title, The Flapdoodle Who Always Knew Best (1945). John has so far had no luck tracking her down either. The only information I found about any of her books was a brief blurb about Listening Hands: it is the "[s]tory of a concert pianist who encounters a wraith from the past." Hmmmm.
I don't know much about the books published by LOUISE COLLIS, but at least she herself can be identified. She was the daughter of diplomat and author Maurice Collis and the niece of John Stewart Collis, whose acclaimed memoir The Worm Forgives the Plough (really two books originally, but they always seem to be published in one volume these days) recalled his experiences farming during World War II.
Collis published four novels in the 1950s—Without a Voice (1951), A Year Passed (1952), After the Holiday (1954), and The Angels' Name (1955)—after which she focused on historical works and biographies of the likes of Margery Kempe, Stanley Spencer, and Ethel Smyth. Without a Voice was described in one blurb as follows: "An inarticulate boy with a lively imagination is unable to deal with the real world, and withdraws to the point where he is unable to distinguish one world from the other." I'm intrigued.
We haven't been able to locate a death date for Collis. She certainly seems to have been alive in 2004, when she was listed in a directory of writers, and of course she might well be alive still (89 being an impressive but hardly astonishing age these days), but John did find references to a charitable trust set up in her name. If anyone happens to have information about this interesting author, do please let me know.
Happily, Terry at Footless Crow has already done much of my work in discussing the writings of ELIZABETH COXHEAD, who is clearly another author who was taken seriously in her day but has now more or less disappeared from reading lists. She published eight novels between 1934 and 1957. I'm interested in One Green Bottle (1951), the title that Terry particularly focuses on. But, with my interest in school stories of all kinds, I am also intrigued by A Play Toward (1952), described as "[t]he story of a grammar school performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the people who perform it." It could be lovely or dreadful, but I may have to find out for sure.
And finally, as with Elizabeth Connor, ANNE MEREDITH turned out to be a pseudonym, but Una Troy was an out-and-out slacker by comparison to LUCY BEATRICE MALLESON, who not only published several novels using the Meredith name, but a few as Lucy Egerton, a couple as J. Kilmeny Keith, and dozens under her best-known pseudonym, Anthony Gilbert. Her Meredith novels tended to be mainstream fiction, while the Gilbert novels were mysteries, including a popular series featuring Arthur Crook as main character. I can't help feeling particularly intrigued, however, by the title listed on the back of Peck's book. Who exactly is it who doesn't give "a fig for virtue"?
The short bios for these authors are below. There are some other particularly interesting new additions to the Overwhelming List that I'll discuss in future posts, and soon I'll start highlighting all of those hundreds (literally) of girls' school story authors that just got added. Stay tuned…
LOUISE [EDITH] COLLIS (1925- )
Daughter of diplomat and author Maurice Collis; biographer, historian, and author of four novels published by Faber in the 1950s—Without a Voice (1951), about a troubled boy retreating into fantasy, A Year Passed (1952), After the Holiday (1954), and The Angels' Name (1955).
ELIZABETH COXHEAD (1909-1979)
Novelist and biographer of the likes of Lady Gregory and Constance Spry; her fiction includes The Street of Shadows (1934), June in Skye (1938), A Wind in the West (1949), One Green Bottle (1951, discussed here), A Play Toward (1952), The House in the Heart (1959), and The Thankless Muse (1967).
BARBARA GOOLDEN (1900-1990)
Prolific author of popular fiction whose early work seems to have been seriously reviewed, but later work sounds like romance; titles include Children of the Peace (1928), The Conquering Star (1929), Call the Tune (1939), The China Pig (1953), Against the Grain (1961), and The Reluctant Wife (1968).
MOLLIE CARPENTER HALES (1911-1973)
(married name Lee)
Apparently the author of only one novel, The Cat and the Medal (1938), an odd allegorical tale of a man who loves only his kitten and his medal from the Crimean War, and what happens when a child deprives him of both.
More research needed; author of at least three novels—Listening Hands (1944), The Play of a Lifetime (1946), and The Shadowed Hour (1951)—about which little is known, and one children's book, The Flapdoodle Who Always Knew Best (1945).
LUCY BEATRICE MALLESON (1899-1973)
(aka Lucy Egerton, aka Anthony Gilbert, aka J. Kilmeny Keith, aka Sylvia Denys Hooke, aka Anne Meredith)
Prolific author of mysteries under her Gilbert pseudonym, featuring Arthur Crook, as well as mainstream fiction as Anne Meredith; titles include Death At Four Corners (1929), An Old Lady Dies (1934), Mrs Boot's Legacy (1941), A Fig for Virtue (1951), and Ring for a Noose (1963).
UNA TROY (1910-1993)
(married name Walsh, aka Elizabeth Connor)
Irish playwright and novelist whose portrayals of sexuality and unmarried mothers caused some of her work to be banned in Ireland; titles include Mount Prospect (1936), Dead Star's Light (1938), We Are Seven (1955), The Workhouse Graces (1959), Maggie (1959), and The Brimstone Halo (1975).