I’m sure that a lot of you are already familiar with Furrowed Middlebrow‘s fantastic and comprehensive ‘British Women Writers of Fiction, 1910-1960’ list (here). If not, US blogger Scott has compiled an enormous list of just what it says above; British women writers, both popular and forgotten. He has recently teamed up with Dean Street Press to bring some of the more neglected female authors back into the public eye, making their work more easily accessible to the modern reader.
With this in mind, I have perused the list and picked out ten novels which I very much like the look of, and will try my best to find in the weeks to come. I would love nothing more than to work my way through Scott’s entire list, but this seems a little unrealistic, particularly with a thesis to write, and after yesterday’s announcement that I’m not doing that well with 2017’s reading challenges!
I have chosen books which I have never heard discussed for this list, and whilst all of the Dean Street Press publications (yes, all of them) appeal to me, I have deliberately not included any of them. (That said, please go and read Ursula Orange and Frances Faviell immediately. They are fantastic.) For many of my choices, I have been unable to find a blurb, but have used the information which Scott has very helpfully written alongside his entries.
1. Perronelle by Valentina Hawtrey
This 1904 novel is set within fifteenth-century Paris, and is by an author who received most success with a translation of a book on Mary Magdalene. You can read a 1904 review of the novel on the New York Times‘ site (here).
2. Island Farm by Hilda Brearley
This children’s book was published in 1940, and was the first of the author’s three novels. I cannot find much information about it aside from the following, but it sounds quirky and Enid Blyton-esque; what’s not to like?: ‘3 children are the family of 2 unconventional archaeologists, and are sent to stay at an east-coast farmhouse.’
3. The Chinese Goose by Jean Edminson (aka Helen Robertson)
This 1960 novel sounds wonderfully strange; it is a mystery novel which revolves around a woman killed by swans. I’ve never read anything quite like it, but am suitably intrigued!
4. Alice by Elizabeth Eliot
Alice was published in 1950, and compared to Nancy Mitford. Scott deems it ‘clever’ and ‘darkly humorous’. Kirkus Review writes the following: ‘A first novel which has considerable charm, an insouciant brightness, and a definite knowledge of the rather worldly world from which it derives- the indolent, elegant upper classes in England between the wars. As told by Margaret, her oldest friend, this follows the story of Alice from the time when they attend a rather impossible finishing school. Everything Alice does goes badly; she seems attuned to failure in her search for emotional security, the only thing she wants. The first boy she loves is appropriated by her older sister; she marries Cassius Skeffington, a self-absorbed, self-indulgent exquisite; she has an affair with a bluff but bad-tempered older man; and as finally she makes a success in the theatre, she obliterates reality when she loses her memory, her identity… The early scenes here, of both these jeunes filles en fleur and their devastating deflation of their elders and betters are highly entertaining; and if the wit here is more disarming and not quite as deadly as Nancy Mitford’s- who deals with much this same type of milieu- there should be a parallel public.’
5. A Thing of Nought by Hilda Vaughan
This 1934 novel is Vaughan’s most famous, and is set in her native Wales. It tells a couple who fall in love, but have to be separated when Penry Price, the youngest of five sons of a farming family, has to go to Australia in order to make enough money to marry his sweetheart. Scott’s beguiling review of A Thing of Nought can be found here.
6. The Two Windows by Mary Cleland
I can find hardly any information about this 1922 novel, but Scott has found a charming quote from the Queenslander, which deems it ‘something fragrant, delicate, and altogether charming’.
7. The House by the Sea by Jon Godden
Jon Godden, real name Winsome Ruth Key Godden, was the older sister of the far more famous Rumer. She wrote twelve novels of her own, and the siblings also co-authored several tomes. This particular novel is about a woman named Edwina, who is able to embark on her own, free life after being left some money. The lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock wrote an utterly splendid review of The House by the Sea, which can be found here.
8. Before the Wind by Janet Laing
Before the Wind is a 1918 novel, an ‘energetic comedy’, which focuses upon a young woman who serves as a companion to ‘two eccentric women in wartime Scotland’. It sounds as though it includes everything I look for in a novel, and I shall be very pleased indeed when I can find my own copy!
9. Sallypark by Margaret Hassett
‘This entertaining story by the author of ‘Educating Elizabeth’ etc., tells of the experience of Mrs. Warmbath, a widow, when visiting her cousins the Hartes in Cork. The atmosphere at Sallypark is extremely well done. The father is a local doctor, who keeps his three daughters in subjection and refuses to let any of them marry; the daughters, while paying respect to their father, carry on their love affairs behind his back; Mrs. Warmbath, against her will, gets involved in these affairs, and manages the father so successfully that the family become suspicious of her motive. However all ends well in this highly amusing tale.‘
10. The Tinsel November by Julia Rhys
This 1962 children’s book is wonderfully described as as: “A fantasy tale of a gloomy All Hallow’s Eve, an old English house, some mysterious antique marionettes and a magical time of dark November days which will usher in the candle-glow of Christmas.” It sounds utterly splendid, and I’m hoping that copies won’t be too difficult to find by the time the year is out!
Have you read any of these books? Are you, too, wishing that you could work through the entirety of the Furrowed Middlebrow list, or are you actually in the process of doing so? If so, which has been your favourite discovery to date?