Thursday, March 23, 2017


100-91    90-81    80-71    70-61    60-51

50-41    40-31    30-21    20-11    10-1

Thank you again to all of you who have commented on this list so far. I haven't managed to reply individually to comments as I usually do, but I've greatly enjoyed and been encouraged by them.

If you've missed the first two sections of this list, please look back at part 1—which includes a loooooonnngg explanation of the list's purpose.

Those first two sections included a couple of my more quirky personal selections, as well as a few true obscurities that are worth tracking down if you can. There are still a handful of rather obscure selections to come, and a couple more of my quirky selections, but we'll gradually be progressing to more widely-known (and, mostly, readily available) titles and authors. For that matter, we've already had a few authors who were bestsellers in their day, such as Mary Stewart and Storm Jameson, as well as fan favorites like Monica Dickens and Elizabeth Cadell.

Despite the fact that my main list of British women writers includes nearly 2,000 authors, I have still been amazed, in compiling this list, by how many genuinely good authors there were in this period. Even including 100 authors, I had to make some difficult decisions about who to exclude.

But without further ado, here now are titles by ten more of them.

G. B. Stern

80) G. B. STERN, The Matriarch (1924, aka Tents of Israel)

I regret to say I haven't yet read this tale of a wealthy Jewish family and the woman who rules it with an iron fist, but judging from other reviewers it certainly belongs here. Book Snob reviewed it here. In print in the UK from Daunt Books, paperback & e-book, out of print in the US, but old Virago copies are available second hand.

Joanna Cannan

79) JOANNA CANNAN, Princes in the Land (1938)

Subtle and powerful novel about a woman facing the disappointments of motherhood and questioning the meaning of her life. Dovegreyreader reviewed it here. In print from Persephone.

Susan Ertz

78) SUSAN ERTZ, Madame Claire (1923)

Ertz was a bestselling author in her day, though largely forgotten today. Her debut novel is a highly entertaining blend of humor and melodrama, centered around a dysfunctional family and the woman who attempts to steer its members to smoother waters. I reviewed it here (with some additional rambling about Cyrano de Bergerac, of all things). In print in the US in a sort of low-end (but high priced) facsimile edition. Out of print in the UK.

77) GLADYS MITCHELL, When Last I Died (1941)

How to choose the best and most middlebrow of Mitchell's quirky mysteries? Ultimately, I just chose to go with one that is consistently rated one of her best. In print in e-book and paperback in the UK, apparently only in paperback in the US.

Naomi Mitchison

76) NAOMI MITCHISON, The Bull Calves (1947)

Though often historical in theme, Mitchison's novels never fail to comment on contemporary situations. This postwar novel is no exception—though it's set in the mid-1700s in Scotland, ODND said that "much of what Mitchison felt for and against the war, about issues of femininity, and most of all about Scottish issues comes to life in this humane, wise novel." In print from Kennedy & Boyd in both the US and UK.

75) MARY BELL, Summer's Day (1951)

Charming and sometimes darkly funny grown-up school story, equally adept in portraying students, teachers, staff, and family members. The tragedy is that Bell never published another novel. I raved about it at length here. Out of print, but copies of a Greyladies edition from a few years ago can be found second hand.

74) JANE DUNCAN, My Friend Muriel (1959)

Reportedly the volume Duncan herself intended as the first volume of her underrated "friends" series, but the publisher chose to go with My Friends the Miss Boyds, about the heroine's childhood, instead. Funny but surprisingly serious as well. In print, e-book version only in the US, e-book and paperback in the UK.

Amber Reeves

73) AMBER REEVES, A Lady and Her Husband (1914)

One of the earliest titles on this list, about a well-to-do woman who, bored with upper-crust married life, takes an interest in her husband's chain of tea shops. Margaret Drabble, writing about Reeves and her relationship with H. G. Wells here, described the novel as Reeves' best, concerned with "domestic finance, patriarchal authority, and with the nature of capitalism itself." In print from Persephone.

Rose Allatini

72) ROSE ALLATINI (as A. T. Fitzroy), Despised and Rejected (1918)

As important in its way as The Well of Loneliness, though less well-known, Allatini's daring novel—featuring a gay male pacifist and an array of other unconventional characters—was also banned on first publication. In print in UK and US.

Stella Benson

71) STELLA BENSON, Living Alone (1919)

Set during World War I, this quirky fantasy about magic and witches is, according to the Orlando Project, "an examination of human isolation." I admit I find Benson fairly bewildering, but there's no question that's she's one of the serious, challenging authors of her day. Public domain in US and UK.


  1. How nice to see Jane Duncan here! I have all the 'My Friend' series, as well as the 4 written as Janet Sandison, and her children's books - and of course Letter from Reachfar, her 'not-biography'!

  2. My dear Friend Jane Duncan - the most underrated writer of the 20th c. I've never seen that cover for 'Muriel' - the US edition used a Vasilu cover but switched to the Hamilton covers later.

    If you have not read the Miss Boyds, you should!

    Also, for pics of Jane see:

  3. To me one of the things that makes the My Friend series interesting is that once you have read the entire series, if you go back and read the books again you get quite a deeper and different view of many things, since the entire series story arc works as a whole. One thing I dislike about the series is that she (or an editor/publisher?) seems to have decided that every book has to have a "dark" or "nasty" element. And sometimes this dark bit seems to me to be a natural fit and work toward the strength of both that book and the story arc as a whole. But in a few books that dark element seems to me (my personal view) to not be a natural fit, but somehow added in to make sure that every book has a dark element, to keep the book from being too nice/light, and I struggle with those books. Can't give details as they would be to spoilerish. Just my feelings.

    On the whole a great author. I also have the 4 volume Janet Sanderson books, and some of the Janet Reachfar children's picture books. Love the picture books, a great introduction to Scots history, etc. for children.


  4. Very much enjoying your list.
    I have read and blogged on all the My Friend books over the past couple of years - except for Muriel which I didn't want to write about. It was one of my least favourite of the whole series. If anyone is interested, you can find a list of all the books with links to my reviews here


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