Saturday, July 11, 2015


The latest update to TheOverwhelming List has taken an even more inexcusably long time than the last one, which was more than seven months ago (and this one is smaller too!). But at long last it has gone live, with a net gain of 110 authors, to bring us to the rather staggering total of 1,537 British women writers included on the list. A new PDF version of the list (coming in at 262 pages) has been posted in each section—and, for good measure, here—and I've also updated the Mystery List and War List with appropriate new authors. (I still have some additions to make to the World War II Book List, and will get to that soon.)

I've already started posting about some of the new additions to the list, and more such posts will follow, but for now, I'll focus on some exclusions and revisions.

I have to specify that the new total is a net gain, because in fact there are a few more than 110 new authors being added to the list. It's just that there are also a few being removed. In every case, this is thanks to the research efforts of John Herrington, whose assistance in using his research skills and sharing his knowledge is always invaluable to me and to this blog.

A sneaky American mystery author

As it turns out, a couple of Americans had crept onto my list (sneaky devils that they are). Mystery writer ANITA BOUTELL proved to have been born in Newark, New Jersey. She did spend at least a portion of her life in England, and she may also have been a professional dancer for a time, but she certainly doesn't belong on my list of British authors. And then there's FRANCES CARPENTER, a school story author who has been on my list for some time, who has the effrontery to have been born in Washington DC and attended Smith College.

And a sneaky Aussie

It's also easy for Aussies to slip onto my list sometimes—particularly when relatively little is known about the writers to begin with. School story author MARJORIE BUCKINGHAM hadn't been identified anywhere online that I could find, but John discovered that she was born in Melbourne and spent a goodly portion of her life as a lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Another school story author, ANNE CHESNEY, who published only a single book, Leslie Wins Through (1947), was also Australian, though she did live in England for much of her adult life. Sims & Clare had noted that her book was published in Australia, but that it seemed to be English in tone, so Chesney had obviously had time to absorb British culture. She worked as a journalist.

And it turned out that DOROTA FLATAU was born in New South Wales. She got married in 1906 in England, however, and appears to have spent most of the rest of her life there. If anyone is thinking of starting an Australian Overwhelming List, by all means also include Dorota's sister Hermione Flatau (1879-1946), who published a single novel, Drama of Mount Street, in 1930.

We also found that one South African, HELEN M. FAIRLEY, had slipped onto my list. From the fact that some, at least, of her six novels were set in India, one might have assumed she had lived there, but in fact she was born in Natal, South Africa, and appears to have spent most of her adult life in England, where she died in 1940. Of course, this doesn't preclude any number of trips to India, but she does not appear to have been a longtime resident there.

These are all examples of authors who—by the standards of my list of British women writers, at least—turn out not to be British. But of course, the most egregious going-astray that can be found on my list from time to time is the presence of an author who turns out not to be a woman at all. We know now, thanks to John, that such is the case with the so-called "MRS. FRANCES EVERARD," who is in fact nothing more than a pseudonym of Cecil Henry Bullivant, who was apparently a prolific author under other names as well. Very tricky of him!

Surely even more sad than the authors removed from my list are a few who never made it to the list at all. Among the authors I researched for this update are four who turned out—mostly thanks to John's research—not to belong at all. JOAN BUTLER seemed quite promising for "her" impressive array of humorous novels, often compared to those of Wodehouse. I got all excited, and it seemed beyond doubt that "she" was in fact British. I couldn’t imagine how I had missed "her." Then, of course, (you guessed it) a little further digging led to the information that "she" was in fact Irish novelist Robert William Alexander. Drat! But I wonder if anyone has ever read one of "her" books? They do sound potentially entertaining. But "she" still doesn't belong on my list.

Perhaps I should have guessed that ELLA CROSBY HEATH was American from the fact that one of her two novels features a prominent American character. The novels do seem potentially entertaining—Henrietta Taking Notes (1912, aka Henrietta) is narrated by the 11-year-old daughter of a drama critic, while Enter an American (1915) is set in a boarding-house primarily occupied by women, who are disprupted by the arrival of a wealthy American. But, although she did finally take British citizenship a few years before her death, she doesn't qualify for my list.

ELIZABETH HOUGHTON GILZEAN wouldn't have been a terribly exciting addition to my list anyway, unless you happen to be an aficionado of hospital romance novels. But I mention her here because she turned out to be the daughter of Muriel Wylie Blanchet, author of The Curve of Time (1961), a memoir of Blanchet's experiences as a recent widow who takes her children boating around the coast of British Columbia. That book has become a classic of Canadian non-fiction. So, for anyone compiling a Canadian Overwhelming List, make a note…

And finally, what would a list of exclusions from my list be without a New Zealander? GRACE PHIPPS was a fairly prolific author of romance novels (including more of those ever-popular hospital love stories), but she was also born in Christchurch and spent her life in New Zealand, where she also wrote for Australian and New Zealand radio. New Zealand Overwhelming List, anyone?

But an update isn't just about adding and deleting authors. Sometimes the information I have about an author simply improves significantly, either through John's efforts or through lucky finds.

Dustjacket with author photo, courtesy of Tina Brooker

Among the latter is an email from Tina Brooker, whose happy habit of sifting through E-bay listings and other sources has provided me with numerous new names for my list over the past couple of years (and I'll be posting soon about another of her most recent finds). A couple of months ago, Tina emailed me that she had acquired a book by MOLLIE HALES. She wondered if there might be a connection to Mollie Carpenter Hales, an author I had come across at a book sale and one I thought had published only a single novel, The Cat and the Medal (1938), the book I had acquired (and which, I am ashamed to say, remains unread on my shelves). As it happens, it did indeed turn out to be the same author. Hales published one novel using her middle name, fell silent for a decade, and then published three more without the middle name 1949-1961. This positive identification also led to the additional information (courtesy of a hitherto-unknown Wikipedia page) that she was also the Mollie Lee who frequently appeared on the Woman's Hour on BBC Radio. So, yet another big thanks to Tina for allowing this improvement to Hales' list entry.

A similarly fortuitous tidbit of information came to me via an email from Peter Andrews, and concerns the author of a single World War II novel which I read and enjoyed. I had never been able to find any information at all about BARBARA WHITTON, who published Green Hands (1943), a cheerful, gung ho tale of a group of land girls making the best of the war. But Peter recalled having gotten to know Whitton when she joined a writers' group he was running in County Durham a few years back, and his subsequent research had led him to a notice regarding her adoption of a pen name, revealing that her real name was Hazel Chitty. This in turn was sufficient for John Herrington to track down her 1921 birth record. It appears that Chitty/Whitton is in fact still alive and living in a retirement home in England. I hope that, were she to be aware of her mentions on this blog, she would be pleased that her one novel has gotten a small amount of renewed attention. If you ever happen to have a chance to read Green Hands, I recommend it—it really is a charming look at an aspect of women's lives in wartime that didn't get as much attention at the time as one might expect. And thanks again very much to Peter for his information (and for the photos above and below)!

John Herrington also came across a website called Mundus, which I had never heard of, and which is subtitled "Gateway to Missionary Collections in the United Kingdom" (should anyone be on a quest for information about British missionaries). It proved very useful in regard to one missionary in particular—one MARGUERITE BUTLER, the author of one work of fiction, Tulsi: The Story of an Indian Schoolgirl (1934), discussed briefly by Sims & Clare. I learned her dates (1879-1951), and that she trained as a teacher at Cambridge, followed by training at the Women's Missionary College in Edinburgh. She went to Bangalore, India, and developed the Girls' High School there. She apparently retired in 1921 but remained in India until 1944. All of which is interesting and would undoubtedly add to one's enjoyment of her school story.

While Butler probably didn't have widespread fame even in her lifetime, ISABEL CAMERON must have been practically a household name, reportedly selling more than a million copies of her oft-reprinted series of tales and novels about "The Doctor" before branching out into other novels, which themselves apparently sold 650,000 copies. And yet, in an awesome example of the fleetingness of fame, I had never come across any personal information about her. John's searches finally yielded a sort of obituary from 1957, from which we can guess that she must have been born in about 1873 and that her maiden name was Noble. Shocking that such fame could end with one being so utterly forgotten.

(I should note that in addition to these tidbits of improved information, I have been fortunate enough to receive a couple more since I started finalizing this update. Those will be added to the next update—assuming I'm able to wait that long to talk about them—it's always so exciting to hear from children and grandchildren and, indeed, step-grandchildren [in one recent case] of the authors on my list!)

Finally, just a couple of notes about new information that led me to add authors to my Mystery List or War List:

Who knew that PHYLLIS BOTTOME, a popular novelist who often concerned herself with the socially, economically, or politically downtrodden, also published two novels that qualified her for the Mystery LIst? The Depths of Prosperity (1924), written with American author Dorothy Thompson and set in the U.S., has been described as a mystery about a woman violently jealous of her own daughter. Her later novel, Level Crossing (1936), apparently also contains thriller elements, dealing with a kidnapped woman and the complex relationship that develops between her and the kidnapper's girlfriend.

Speaking of the Mystery List, I was intrigued to find that Olivia Manning, famous for the novels which formed the basis of TV's Fortunes of War series, began her career with four "lurid serials" which might qualify her for the list. Ultimately, however, I could find so little information about them, and they were never published in book form or reprinted in any way and so are virtually nonexistent these days, that I decided there was little point in highlighting them.

There were also at least two new additions to the War List—most intriguingly MONICA BALDWIN. I was already considering her memoir I Leap Over the Wall (1949)—about her departure from a convent after 28 years and her difficulties in readjusting to secular life—a must-read. But then Jerri, in a comment on an earlier post, pointed out that Baldwin's return to secular life just happened to take place in late 1941, in the middle of the worst period of World War II, and I knew it had to be bumped further up my TBR list. Thanks, Jerri!

Not an exciting cover, but the best I could do
for this hard-to-find title

I also added girls' author JANE SHAW to the War List, after Barbara from Call Me Madam noted that House of the Glimmering Light (1943) is a wartime spy adventure. Thank you, Barbara!

And I already mentioned, in my recent post on the charming ELIZABETH FAIR, that I had made the unprecedented move of adding her to my Not-Quite-So-Overwhelming List. From the response to my post on Fair, I think my instinct was correct on that point…

There may have been other additions or enhancements—it's a constant process and my poor overwhelmed brain finds it hard to stay on top of it all—but these are some of the highlights.

I've already come across at least a dozen or more new authors that will have to go on the next update, and I'm planning to renew my excavations in earnest in the coming weeks in search of even more British women who belong on my list. So the milestone mark of 2,000 authors is not at all out of reach!

Though I'm a little bit tired just thinking of it…


  1. Well, as far as Elizabeth Fair, I have only read one novel, "The Mingham AIr," and loved it, and want more (which are not easy to get!) As far as Monica Baldwin, I came to her via the Angela Thirkell folks, as they were cousins, because of Mrs. Thirkell's "cousinship" on her mother's side with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
    By the way, Isabekl Cameron's "That Blurred Address," - LOVE the cover - sort of a gypsy version of "Oklahoma!"

    1. I know, I would be happy to grab a copy of Cameron's book if I ever had a chance just because the dustjacket is so entertaining!


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