Thursday, March 26, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: TBR potential (part 2 of 2)

Twelve more particularly intriguing authors this time around. These are authors who, to the extent that I can find details about their work, sound like they could be worth tracking down. In some cases, attempts to track them down may well prove hopeless, but hope springs eternal!

Isobel Strachey

It seems particularly striking that an author who achieved the apparent fame and success that ISOBEL STRACHEY did would not only have fallen off the world's radar but didn't even make it onto my radar until now. She was an artist and author of seven witty, sophisticated novels that were widely enough read in their day for a Guardian critic in 1963 to be able to suggest that Margaret Drabble, then a newcomer, was "by Elizabeth Bowen out of Isobel Strachey" and assume her readers would understand the reference. The Younger Sister (1951), which seems to have been one of her most acclaimed, is about a prudish young woman, fresh from school, who is horrified to find her married sister contemplating an affair and determines to sabotage the relationship. The Melbourne Age called it "a delightful book with its amused, gently satirical view of youthful idealism." 

Review of Isobel Strachey's The Younger
, from the Melbourne Age

Her other published titles are First Impressions (1945), A Summer in Buenos Aires (1947), Quick Bright Things (1953), Suzanna (1956), For Change of Scene (1959), and The Perfectionists (1961). According to her Observer obituary, she had completed a final novel just before her 1987 death, The Dressing Gown, which remains unpublished. She was married to a nephew of Lytton Strachey, and spent much of her childhood in Argentina where her father worked with the railway.

Image from Neglected Books (see link below)

KATHLEEN SULLY also received significant acclaim in her lifetime, though judging from reviews by Neglected Books, who has been extraordinarily thorough in documenting her work (see here, and I've swiped a couple of his gorgeous cover images as well), it might be a bit more understandable how her dark, disturbing visions could have fallen out of fashion. She began her publishing career with two short children's books, Stony Stream and Small Creatures, both in 1946. Nearly a decade later, she began publishing her adult novels, which were praised for their dark but brilliant portrayals. Of her debut, Canal in Moonlight (1955), set in an impoverished canal-side neighborhood, John Betjeman wrote, "It is no good my going on describing this book or trying to convey its at once hopeful and desolating climax. … Her book will either disgust you or do what it did to me, purge you with pity and frighten you with its sense of loneliness." 

Image from Neglected Books (see link above)

Of her third, Merrily to the Grave (1958), Elizabeth Bowen wrote of the author's "forceful, bizarre, singular gifts." Her other novels are Through the Wall (1957), Burden of the Seed (1958), A Man Talking to Seagulls (1959), Skrine (1960), Shade of Eden (1960), The Undesired (1961), A Man on the Roof (1961), The Fractured Smile (1965), Not Tonight (1966), Dear Wolf (1967), Horizontal Image (1968), A Breeze on a Lonely Road (1969), Island in Moonlight (1970), and A Look at the Tadpoles (1970). Canaille (1956) is a collection of two novellas. I'm inclined to think that Sully won't be a favorite for me, but her perspective sounds so unique and original that I think I must at least sample her work.

Review of Marjorie F. Bacon's Men Have Their Dreams,
from The Guardian

Both Strachey and Sully are reasonably accessible from libraries, at least, but MARJORIE F. BACON's two novels look considerably more elusive. Men Have Their Dreams (1941) is about a teacher in a secretarial training school and the interactions and relationships of some of her students. It could really go either way, but according to the Guardian, "Miss Bacon has held before her the ideal of being unfailingly direct and amusing in the telling of her story, and as she ls remarkably knowledgeable about the material with which she deals, witty, and the mistress of an admirable narrative style she succeeds in holding our attention." Her second novel, about which I've found no details, was The Devil's Shilling (1942).

Cover image courtesy of Grant Hurlock

Definitely enticing, but impossibly elusive if not for the intervention of the generous Grant Hurlock, is JANE LYLE, the unidentified author of 9 romantic novels. Usually, I'm not so absolutely enticed by "romantic" authors, but some snippets of reviews and blurbs make Lyle an exception. Sparty Lea (1934) is about a young woman who moves to a country cottage on the strength of a small legacy. Chit for Chat (1936) in particular seems to have garnered praise for its humor, and To-Morrow and To-Morrow (1938) was described as "a charming story of village life." 

Others are Three Times Round (1934), Full Measure (1935), Yours Respectably (1937), Nuts in May (1937), Together We Live (1938), and Such Ridiculous People (1940). I'm going to dive into a couple of these when time allows, courtesy of Grant. According to a 1938 review, the author was then living in Edinburgh, so she could be Jane Allan Lyle née Peacock, 1858-1939, but somehow having sampled a bit of Chit for Chat it doesn't quite seem like it was written by a woman of nearly 80. So far there's no way to establish her identity further, and it's also entirely possible the name was a pseudonym. More to come about Lyle.

I was also intrigued enough by C. A. (CELIA ANNA) NICHOLSON to snag a copy of Hell and the Duchess (1928), which was described in an advertisement as a "glittering chain of intrigues and escapades, fantastic sins and consciencious scruples." No details as to plot, though, and of course I haven't found time to dip into it yet. Nicholson was a well known designer and illustrator before her marriage, and later the author of more than a dozen novels. 

Tough to find details of most of her other books as well, but it appears that The Dawn Fulfilled (1925) is a tragic tale of a brilliant neurologist, while The Bridge Is Love (1930), set in "aristocratic France," was praised by the Times Literary Supplement for Nicholson's "eye, even in tragic moments, for social comedy." The Bookman called the intriguingly titled A Boswell to Her Cook (1931) "a haunting chronicle, clear as a bit of daily life, yet touched with a glamour indescribable." Other titles under her own name include Martin, Son of John (1918), Their Chosen People (1923), The Dancer's Cat (1925), and Wrath of the Shades (1933). She also published two novels under the pseudonym Diana Forbes—The Man Behind the Tinted Glasses (1924) and Whose the Hand? (1925)—which appear to be thrillers.

NANCY J. JOHNSTONE is one of those authors that could easily go either way. She had most success with three memoir/travel titles—Hotel in Spain (1937), about she and her husband opening a hotel in a Spanish coastal village, Hotel in Flight (1939), about their subsequent adventures during the Spanish Civil War and their efforts to get 60 children safely to the French border, and Sombreros Are Becoming (1941), about their regrouping and opening of a new hotel in Mexico. But she did also publish a single novel, Temperate Zone (1941), a humorous look at Brits and Americans in Mexico, which could be as charming as it sounds, or not… She and her husband split by the late 1940s and she remarried in Guatemala. The last sighting of her in public records is traveling to Russia in 1950 or 1951.

I'm also intrigued enough by DOROTHY WRIGHT to check out at least one of her books. Wright was a teacher and writer on basketmaking, a playwright, a screenwriter, and the author of six novels. The Gentle Phoenix (1938), a comedy about a young woman from a family of artists, earned a comparison to Margaret Kennedy's The Constant Nymph. Laurian and the Wolf (1957) is about a couple of young newlyweds on honeymoon in Italy and back home in London, and Among the Cedars (1959), a copy of which is currently winging its way to me, is about the neglected daughter of a divorced couple, who spends a summer in Austria with a young widow and her family. Her other novels are Shadows in Sunlight (1936), Queens Wilde (1950), and Advance in Love (1953). In spite of a mini-bio here, which provided the dates 1910-1996, I've so far been unable to trace her in public records.

Review of Hildegarde Huntsman's
Mad Fingers (aka The Laughing
), from the Pittsburgh

The first of HILDEGARDE HUNTSMAN's three novels, The Laughing String (1929, published in the U.S. as Mad Fingers), may also owe something to The Constant Nymph: "A well-written English story of an irresponsible artist's family, more particularly of Anna, practical and level-headed, a balance wheel in confusion." That's not a lot to go on, but there is potential, no? And also in regard to her second novel, Butterflies Have Wings (1931), about the frustrations of a young girl whose parents don't realize she's growing up. I could find no details her final novel, Martha and Mary (1935). In the 1950s, Huntsman published two one-act plays for all-women casts. According to an Ancestry family tree, she may have gone by the nickname "Garda".

Dustjacket scan courtesy of my Fairy Godmother

My information about the earliest novels by PRUDENCE SUMMERHAYES is even more vague, but I'm still intrigued. She published four novels in all. Of her debut, Cobweb Child (1934), I only have a blurb from the Daily Independent saying, "There is a sweetness and calmness that is extremely attractive," and about the second, World's Memory (1935), I have one from the Evening Standard calling it "A delightfully unpretentious novel … a book to read with quiet pleasure." But you have to admit both blurbs sounds enticing, if only it were possible to track down the books. 

She published a third novel, The Speaking Mirror, in 1938, before falling silent until after World War II, when she published Girls in Green (1949), "a novel of library life between the two wars." One modern critic seemed to enjoy it, noting that "the librarians' characters are remarkably filled out," while another summed up, "The novel is sufficiently somniferous that the reader's search for stereotypes runs neck-and-neck with the efforts of the Sandman to bring a merciful end to the business." Yikes. A capsule bio from an Australian newspaper says Summerhayes was the daughter of a country doctor and spent time working in a bookshop and on a Rocky Mountain ranch.

F. H. DORSET, pseudonym of Frances Beatrice Caroline Llewellyn-Thomas (née Carré), published five novels that seem to have been well-reviewed. The most famous (admittedly a highly relative term applied to a completely forgotten author) may be her last, The Marching Cloud (1937), which reflects the women's suffrage movement and women's changing social roles through the life of one woman. The Observer reviewer compared it to Trollope, no less. According to BBC Talk, Surging Tide (1931) "ends with a long and dramatic trial scene which will key you up deliciously," and Beggarman's Fortune (1934) is about a wealthy man whose legacy to his nephews and nieces takes the form of a treasure hunt, complicated by jewel thieves. Her other novels are Silent Meadows (1932) and The Window of the World (1932).

I also know very little about the last two authors in this post, but what little I do know seems intriguing. GWEN SYMS was the author of five novels—Nightingale in the Forest (1929), The Implacable Hunter (1930), Shannon Lister (1931), Unwilling Trinity (1933), and Along This Road (1937). Of Implacable Hunter, the Yorkshire Post said, "Everyone in the book is vividly done, especially the horrific ex-beauty of a mother, and the dialogue is full of rather cynical humour." As we all know, cynical humour can go either way—is it Dorothy Parker-ish or Barbara Pym-ish cynical humour, or is it a hateful trainwreck like the Hazel Pynegar WWII book I mentioned a while back? Happily, thanks yet again to Grant Hurlock, I have it queued up on my TBR list.

Hogarth Press cover of Allinson's A Childhood
(image from Modernist Archives, see link below)

Francesca Allinson, age 16 (image from
Modernist Archives, see link below)

And finally, it's always nice to come across even a fringe figure of the Bloomsbury circle, and perhaps FRANCESCA ALLINSON can just barely qualify, since her single autobiographical novel, A Childhood (1937), was published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at Hogarth Press. Allinson was also a musician, composer, and scholar of English folk songs. She appears to have committed suicide in 1945. A biography of Allinson appeared in 2017. You can find additional information about her here. Thanks are due again to Mark Harris for flagging this one for me.

And that's that for the authors that jumped out at me as having particular interest (and that didn't fall readily into the mystery posts I've already done or my upcoming posts on children's writers). I have 24 authors from the last update who published at least some children's fiction, and some of those are very much potential TBR additions as well.


  1. Plot and review of Cobweb child:
    Plot and review of The Laughing String:

    1. Thank you! I always forget to check this site and also Trove. I have to remember for the future.

  2. As always loving the covers. BUT - Scott, per Suzanna, even I know she should have removed those stunning gloves by that point in their meal!

    1. Good point Tom. I have to assume the gloves (or just one glove?) pay a pivotal role in the plot?


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