Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A "Possibly Persephone" of My Own, or, 20 Novels that Should Be in Print but Aren't

One of the things that's rather extraordinary about what Persephone Books has achieved is that so many people seem to fantasize about the titles they should publish. People (myself certainly included!) are always saying that Persephone should reprint this or that—so much so that they've hosted "Possibly Persephone" events, where folks can suggest and discuss titles they think Persephone might want to reprint.  It seems rather unique for a publisher to inspire that sort of interest, to have developed such a unique and cohesive publishing agenda that we start to apply Persephone's selection criteria to other books we read.  I mean, I really can't imagine, for example, someone saying, "Wow, this would really be a perfect title for Penguin!" or "This book has HarperCollins written all over it!" Can you?

So that's my little heartfelt ode to Persephone, because the idea for this post came quite a while back when I was reviewing a list of titles suggested at a Possibly Persephone event (two of the titles below were even included on the list).

All the same, though, the title of this post could be "Possibly Virago."  Or "Possibly Greyladies."  Or "Possibly Bloomsbury." Etc.  It could even be "Possibly HarperCollins," as far as I'm concerned.  "Possibly someone," is the main point here.

The post could also be called "Fantasy Publishing" because, in addition to fantasizing about what books Persephone should reprint, I do occasionally engage in a pleasurable reverie about bypassing the whole issue by launching my own publishing houseFurrowed Middlebrow Books, perhaps?  Hmmm.  

If only it weren't for all of the pesky work and expense that would be requiredand how that would cut into my reading and blogging time… 

[In fact, I might as well confess here that, before my obsession with unknown writers settled on mid-twentieth century British writers, I even took my fantasy publishing so far as to create a print-on-demand book of public domain short stories by American women writers.  It has even sold a handful of copies, though it was mostly for the fun of setting it all up—choosing the fonts and the layout and design, editing it, etc.  I like how it turned out, but whew! What a lot of work!  I certainly had newfound respect for small independent publishers after that experience.]

At any rate, following are the first titles I would choose if I could make my publishing fantasies a reality without any significant effort or investment.  The list contains only titles that I've read and really loved or found striking and worthwhile.  Only books I think other readers would enjoy too.  And of course, only titles that are currently (inexplicably, criminally, tragically, etc.) out-of-print. 

I haven't reviewed most of these here yet, but I've linked to those I have done.  And I should note that, with the exception of the first novel, which is my current obsession and therefore seems most criminally overlooked to me, the titles are in no particular order.

And on the topic of the first author mentioned below, Kristi from the DES discussion list just made the most amazing find on Ebay after my query of the group whether anyone knew about Ursula Orange: an actual photo of her and a fascinating, if short, tale about her rise to public attention (see text on photo below).  The photo comes from the archives of the Baltimore Sun newspaper (and it's still available here, or you can spend many hours browsing many, many more such pictures by visiting the Tribune Photo Archives store at Ebay here—I found a whole slew of other author photos, including several more impossibly obscure writers I never thought I'd find photos of).  It's lovely to be able to put a face with the name and the wonderful writing!

Hope you find some new titles on this list, and perhaps some old favorites too.  Please do feel free to add your own suggestions ("Possibly Furrowed Middlebrow"???) via comments or email.


This would be my very first selection of a book to reprint.  It's unfathomable that no one has reprinted it already.  Like a D. E. Stevenson novel diffused through an E. M. Delafield lens, in which a jaded London wife and mother is evacuated to a country village to stay with an old school friend, delves into the village's affairs, and learns a bit about herself and happiness in the process.  A fitting title for Persephone or Greyladies.


And while I'm at it, I've just finished this earlier Orange tale (the only other one I've tracked down so far).  It follows four young women who were together at Oxford and are now attempting to maintain their youthful, intellectual ideals while navigating the realities of jobs, relationships, independence, and the pursuit of happiness.  If at times Orange's debut novel reads a bit less like a novel than a case study—or a dramatization of part of Ruth Adam's brilliant history, A Woman's Place—it is no less fascinating and addictive (and even historically significant) for all that.  There are quotable perspectives on virtually every page.  Review to follow soon.

The Seraphim Room (1932)

Of course.  If you've read the rest of this blog, you know of my undying love for Olivier, and this one (published in the U.S. as Mr. Chilvester's Daughters) is the ultimate achievement of her quirky brilliance.  Her earlier novel, The Love-Child (1927), is the only one to have been reprinted (by Virago in the 1980s, now long out-of-print again), but for me this is her best—a rather loony tale of a tyrannous father (almost certainly based on Olivier's own) and his campaign against indoor plumbing.  No kidding!  I started reviewing her novels in chronological order, and haven't gotten to this one because I keep getting distracted by new discoveries, but someday...

4 & 5
Village Story (1951) & Family Ties (1952)

It started with a casual reference to Buckmaster in Nicola Beauman's The Other Elizabeth Taylor, continued with my obsessive search for details of the forgotten Buckmaster's life and work, and ended up with the only two novels she published finding a permanent place among my all-time favorites.  They are vivid, compassionate, sometimes funny, always powerful evocations of village life, and both should be more widely read.

The Stone of Chastity (1940)

I've enjoyed other of Margery Sharp's novels, many of which should undoubtedly be in print as well, but The Stone of Chastity is the silliest, daftest, and most laugh-out-loud joyful.  One of my top picks for a rainy day re-read, or a bad cold re-read, or just a bad day re-read, this is the story of a professor who thinks he's discovered an ancient stone in a village stream that's possessed of special powers—no impure woman can step on the stone without falling into the water.  Outraged sensibilities and outrageous antics result.

House Under Mars (1946)

Out of my obsessive World War II home front reading a few years ago, this one stood out.  It's dark, it's cynical, it's a bit depressing, but it's also a brilliant character study, set in a boarding-house late in the war with mostly women tenants.  The women snip and snipe and sneak because the stresses and deprivations of wartime have left them exhausted and ready to claw for whatever advantage or happiness they can find.  Reminiscent of Patrick Hamilton's also-wonderful and similarly dark wartime novel The Slaves of Solitude (1947), House Under Mars lives up to Hoult's haunting earlier novel There Were No Windows (1944), already reprinted by Persephone—hint hint…

A Wreath for the Enemy (1954)

Admittedly, I'm surprised that most of the novels on this list aren't in print, but in this case I'm downright amazed that A Wreath for the Enemy isn't considered a classic and read in high schools alongside Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.  It's a gorgeous novel about a young girl’s life-altering experiences one summer in the bohemian Riviera hotel owned by her parents.  If anything, it's probably better than Salinger, and at the least would form a powerful antidote to Salinger's male angst.  Perfect for Persephone, but for that matter why (apart from the usual reasons, of course) is it not already a Penguin Modern Classic?

Summer's Day (1951)

This one was actually reprinted by Greyladies a few years back (thankfully, or I might never have come across it at all), but it has lapsed back out of print again.  My only guess as to its continuing obscurity is that it sounds much lighter and fluffier than it really is.  Stories set in girls' schools seem to evoke, for better or worse, stories for schoolgirls.  This one is one of the former but not one of the latter.  It's an entertaining, hilarious, and nevertheless thoughtful and serious meditation on time and eternity, youth and aging, love and heartbreak, joy and melancholy.  Balancing hilarity and heartbreak is quite an accomplishment for any writer, and Summer's Day is now one of my favorite novels.  It's lent an extra air of mystery (and sadness) by the fact that no one knows who Mary Bell was.  [Happily, this is no longer the case.  See my subsequent post on Bell's real identity here.] Grab a used copy of the Greyladies edition before they're all snatched up!

Guard Your Daughters (1953)

(As I was finalizing this post, I stumbled across a mention of a possible reprint of this one by Hesperus Press set for March of next year.  It's about time!  The Hesperus website makes no mention of it, however, so I'm leaving it on my list for now.  If the reprint does happen, I'll be overjoyed to say, "1 down, 19 to go!")

I'm very late to the party here, as numerous bloggers have been recommending this novel for years, and Nicola Humble discusses it at some length in her classic critical text The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s (2001).  And yet it's still out-of-print, which I find so surprising I wonder if Tutton's heirs have been refusing permission—it's absence from bookstore shelves is otherwise inexplicable.  The novel is a bit Dodie Smith, a bit early Barbara Pym, and (more than it might first appear) a bit of the darker side of Ivy Compton-Burnett.  This tale of a family of sisters trying to meet men despite their mother's phobic dread of letting them into the real world is funny and fascinating, and its dark undercurrents only enhance its pleasures.

The World My Wilderness (1950)

Another novel whose unavailability is genuinely shocking—I'm hoping it's just an oversight and Virago will be printing a new edition very soon.  For me, this is one of the great novels of the immediate postwar, about a seventeen-year-old girl’s difficulty in adjusting to bomb-ravaged London after years of working for the French underground.  It makes powerful and atmospheric use of the scarred ruins of London, and is a brilliant and sensitive precursor to later novels of teenage disillusionment and delinquency.  Also a perfect companion-piece for Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows.  (And, honestly, if it does get reprinted, why not use the gorgeous original cover above?  At least, that's what Furrowed Middlebrow Books would do...)

Cousin Harriet (1957)

Set in the Victorian period and written in a typically Victorian, epistolary style, Cousin Harriet reads like a lost 19th century classic—undoubtedly too scandalous to be published in its time.  Following the difficulties of a smart, moral young woman living at home with her father as she tries to help a female cousin pregnant out of wedlock, the novel's style lends it a sense of immediacy and gives the reader a feeling of having glimpsed a reality hidden from public view.  Cousin Harriet was reprinted by Penguin not long after its first publication, but has been missing from bookstore shelves ever since.

Bel Lamington (1961)

Some of Stevenson's works have been slowly returning to print recently (Persephone now publishes three, Bloomsbury one, Sourcebooks several, and Greyladies has brought to light more hitherto unknown and unpublished works, as well as her impossible-to-find debut, Peter West—and what could be a better testimonial to Stevenson's broad appeal than the array of publishers she's collected?!?!), but there are still many more worth reprinting—in particular, three more "Mrs. Tim" novels that continue from Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, reprinted by Bloomsbury.  But for this list I'm going with my most recent favorite, which the DES discussion list is just finishing—the tale of a shy girl, left alone after her father's death, making her way in a London office and making her getaway to the Scottish Highlands where she gets a new lease on life.  Charming and completely irresistible.


Author of the Virago (and now Bloomsbury) favorite The Brontës Went to Woolworth's (1931) and the wonderful Persephone reprint Alas, Poor Lady (1937), Ferguson still deserves more attention than she gets.  For me, A Footman for the Peacock rivals both of her more widely-read titles, and it has the advantage of combining the daft hilarity of Brontës with the outraged satire of Alas.  In a nutshell, it revolves around a cruelly mistreated medieval footman reincarnated as a Nazi-sympathizing peacock on the estate of a loathsome family of impoverished gentry in the early days of World War II.  Need I say more?  It's a brilliant skewering of snobbishness, entitlement, and casual indifference to the suffering of others.


A novel that appears to divide readers, Miss Plum and Miss Penny is one of my favorite discoveries of this year and was one of the titles suggested as "possible Persephone" a couple of years back. The tale of a spinster (Miss Penny) who rescues a young woman (Miss Plum) from suicide, only to find her life taken over by the manipulative Miss Plum, it's admittedly possessed of a rather dark, sarcastic sense of humor (for example: “I do not anticipate for one moment that Miss Plum has been murdered, though I should have some slight sympathy with her assassin if she had”). And the darkness is cloaked in what would otherwise be the perfect setting and situation for a perfectly light, cozy novel of village life, lending it a distinctly "uncozy" edge. But I found it to be quite perceptive about the darker side of character motivations as well as the ordinary side.  More importantly, no book has made me laugh harder this year.

Apricot Sky (1952)

From an "uncozy" to a novel that—were there justice in the world—would be read by cozy fans everywhere.  A family comedy set in the Scottish countryside, Apricot Sky is the best approximation I've found of a D. E. Stevenson novel not written by Stevenson herself.  Ferguson's earlier novel, Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary (1937), is one of Persephone's best-loved titles (and one of mine as well).  This one seems like a perfect choice for Greyladies…

Beowulf (1956)

Another favorite from my WWII home front reading, Beowulf is an excellent example of "Blitz lit."  Apparently including autobiographical elements of Bryher's and partner H.D. (Hilda Dolittle)'s lives during the war, the novel focuses on two women running a London tea shop—their tensions, their interactions with customers, friends, and staff, their difficulties with food supplies, and (of course) the little matter of falling bombs.  Not to mention one hideous statue of an English bulldog that forms a central symbol in the book.  Bryher, who also wrote historical fiction, has been overshadowed by Dolittle, but she was a talent in her own right (and had a fascinating life as well).


Adam is certainly an underappreciated writer.  Apart from her masterful history of women's roles through much of the twentieth century, A Woman's Place 1910-1975—a must-read that's available from Persephone—only her second novel, I'm Not Complaining (1938), has ever been reprinted, by Virago in the 1980s.  Other of her works, such as There Needs No Ghost (1939), about Bloomsbury's reactions to the approach of war, or So Sweet a Changeling (1954), about adoption, have been completely neglected.  She also wrote fiction for girls, which you can read about here. But this one is my favorite so far—a comedy about a group of friends in the immediate postwar who decide to live communally in an old manor house.  It's hilarious, but the problems they encounter provide a vivid and still-relevant antidote to fantasies of Downton Abbey-esque lifestyles.

Night Shift (1941)

One final wartime work.  With all the interest in the home front and women's roles in wartime, it's hard to believe this one hasn't come to light, but Holden—a talented novelist who worked from the 1920s until the 1950s—has dipped into serious obscurity, now mentioned more in relation to her friendships with George Orwell and Anthony Powell than for the quality of her work.  Night Shift is a short but powerful look at life in a wartime aircraft factory.  Episodic and even experimental in style, it focuses more on the overall mood and activity of the factory than on specific characters, but the effect is vivid and memorable. 


And now for something completely different…  Dodie Smith is probably the most widely read author on this list, due to her authorship of The Hundred and One Dalmations (1956) and I Capture the Castle (1948), but her five later novels for adults have been seriously neglected.  That was partly rectified when Corsair heroically reprinted the first three last year, so that they're at least in print in the U.K.  But the final two remain unavailable and increasingly unaffordable to buy second-hand.  I still haven't tracked down Smith's final novel, The Girl from the Candle-lit Bath (1978), but I unearthed this one, her second to last, at a book sale a while back.  It has had mixed reviews online too, but I've been rather haunted by it ever since I finished it—it's hilarious and disturbing by turns, and even a bit edgy, but always entertaining.

[Note: I'll be taking a few days off from posting (and from work—yay!) to relax with Andy and enjoy our long Thanksgiving weekend.  But in the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to those in the U.S. and ... well ... happy last weekend in November for the rest of you!]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

URSULA ORANGE, Ask Me No Questions (aka Tom Tiddler's Ground) (1941)

Never heard of Ursula Orange?  Neither had I until recently (and neither, apparently, has Google).  But when I came across a review of her second novel To Sea in a Sieve (1937), wherein Orange was compared to E. M. Delafield (albeit not entirely favorably), I spontaneously requested the one easily available novel by her from the library—thus bypassing, willy-nilly, a looooonnnnggg list of other titles already on my "to read" list.

There must have been some kind of gut instinct involved, as Ask Me No Questions (originally published in the U.K. as Tom Tiddler's Ground), turns out to be exactly the kind of book that keeps me obsessively digging for unknown writers.  It has immediately become a favorite, and—as so often happens—it has me scratching my head as to why none of Orange's novels have ever been reprinted.  She apparently wrote only six—Begin Again (1936), To Sea in a Sieve (1937), Have Your Cake (1942), Company in the Evening (1944), Portrait of Adrian (1945), and this one. My first thought was that she must have written additional titles under a pseudonym, or perhaps Ursula Orange was her pseudonym.  It just seemed that she was too talented and polished a writer for her entire output to have been six novels.

However, with a bit of help from Andy (who has become extraordinarily talented and doggedly persistent in tracking down writers after I whine that I can't find any information about them—it can be a quite addictive pursuit), I discovered the sad truth—or part of it at least.  After publishing her final novel in 1945, Orange lived only another 10 years before dying at the tragically young age of 46.  We haven't located any details of how this came about, or much of anything beyond her life dates and her family names (her father was Hugh William Orange, who was knighted for his contributions to education), but her silence in the years before her death could perhaps suggest a long illness.  Regardless of the cause, I think anyone who reads the present novel will feel a tinge at the premature loss of Ursula Orange.

The novel opens in July, 1939, with Caroline Cameron awakening in the new house she and her husband of eight years, John, have just moved into.  She lies in bed questioning the taste of the furniture selected by her earlier self after her marriage—recalling that her mother was overheard to say of the dressing-table Caroline had selected, "My dear, I am giving my daughter a surgeon's trolley. It appears that that is what she really wants." Caroline muses:

She was quite ready to repudiate her past taste in furniture, together with most of her past opinions and ambitions. That perverted lamp-stand over there, for instance. That had been another horrible error of taste, and even John, who was not observant over such things, had said "My God!" when first it had risen from its wrappings in all its tormented, writhing, chromium ingenuity.

Although this seems like an (appropriately) idle and frivolous meditation on her part, in fact Caroline's questioning of her past, and even her present, soon becomes a significant plot element.

It's a somewhat bold move, I think, in what is basically a cozy, comforting novel of the very early days of World War II, for Orange to have presented her reader with a heroine who starts out quite lazy, superficial, and immoral.  Charming perhaps, and witty, but unquestionably selfish and self-absorbed.  She is exasperated and flustered by her rather spoiled daughter, Marguerite:

Caroline sometimes trembled aghast at the inexorable compulsion of life. Move on, move on, all the time like a policeman. Develop or die, no half-measures. Exhausting process! Fancy anyone choosing to be a children's nurse, Caroline would think, rushing to the sherry cupboard when Marguerite was at last safely in bed after Nanny's day off. (That absurd, that awful battle in the park. Anything for the sake of peace, but you can't let them take strange children's golliwogs home with them.)

And, more importantly, she is preparing, as the novel opens, to launch herself on an adulterous affair with a stage actor because she has become bored with her husband, who insistently babies her in an effort to make up for his shoddy treatment of his first wife.

This is more, you might think, like the setup of Peyton Place or a Jacqueline Susann novel than a warm, cozy tale of village life.  But it's a gutsy move for Orange to have made—presenting readers with a rather unsympathetic heroine who, in the course of the novel, gains self-knowledge, questions her own behavior, and makes amends.  And I found it very effective.  If it's not exactly Miss Buncle's Book, it's not as far off as it might sound.  Perhaps this novel is what would result from the mating of Miss Buncle's Book and one of E. M. Delafield's non-Provincial Lady, more seriously satirical works (with, okay, perhaps a bit of gene-splicing from Peyton Place).

In the second chapter, however, to ease any tension from having an initially-unsympathetic heroine, Orange presents us with a genuine D. E. Stevenson character, Caroline's old school-friend Constance Smith, who lives in the rural village of Chesterford.  Here is as warm-hearted, social, and loving a character as Stevenson herself could have created—a former social worker who takes the time and energy to really understand the people around her and try to help them.  But she is a bit naïve in her own relationships and has made a catastrophic marriage to the slimy Alfred, a social-climbing car salesman (though she doesn't quite realize yet just how catastrophic).

This type of Ursula Orange I was able to find a photo of, but
it's almost certainly not the one who wrote this lovely novel

We meet Constance first when the billeting officer, exhausted from making the rounds of the village and listening to various excuses as to why no evacuees can possibly be accommodated, shows up at her door:

"Wait till you hear what I've come about before you say you're glad to see me," interrupted Mrs. Latchford warningly. Everyone always interrupted Constance Smith. It was the only way of bringing the warmhearted, impulsive, voluble creature to the point.

But Mrs. Latchford underestimates Constance, who explains that she has already invited Caroline and Madeleine to stay with her but has another spare room.  She asks if Mrs. Latchford has any mothers with infants left:

"Any left! My dear Constance! What everybody says, if you want to know, is that a mother and baby is the one thing they absolutely and definitely draw the line at!"

"What, even people who are mothers themselves?" cried Constance, horrified.

"Oh, all the more so!"

"They'd rather have children?"

"Children of school age—yes!"

"Of course, children of school age are very interesting, but I'm afraid they'll find it more difficult than they think," said Constance rather surprisingly.

"Oh, do you?" (Of course, it will be perfectly frightful, but I should have thought she'd have taken the sentimental point of view.)

"Yes—school age, you know, eight or nine—it's too late already. You can't catch them too young in this job, you can't really. So terribly soon it's too late."

Job? Light suddenly dawned on Mrs. Latchford. Of course! Social work! That had been Constance's job before her mother died and she had come home to look after her father. A "Club Leader" in North Kensington or something of the sort. Fancy her forgetting!

(Of course, the unquestioned assumption here is that all the evacuated children will be a "job"—that all the urban mothers will have been incompetent at raising their own children to such an extent that a social worker with no children of her own will know what's better for them.  And in fact, the mother, when she arrives, is conveniently indifferent to her child and thankful for the opportunity to abandon all responsibility for him.)  At any rate, we soon see Constance's maternal instincts kick in and realize the extent of her discontent that the loathsome Alfred refuses to have children.

Caroline and Constance are perfect contrasts for one another.  Caroline begins to write a witty play for her actor lover, mocking and making light of the problems of Constance and the other villagers, but as she becomes more involved and more attached to the people in question, she loses interest in the play (and, finally, in her actor lover as well).  Constance brings out the empathy and depth in Caroline, and Caroline's sophistication and wit help the rather doormat-ish Constance face the realities of her unhappy marriage.  Complicating the situation are Constance's brother George, who has a history with Caroline's husband and his first wife; Alfred's working class half-sister, Mary, of whom he is ashamed (but whom Constance, predictably, loves); the naïve Lavinia Conway, daughter of Alfred's benefactor, who fancies herself in love with him; and the unexpected reappearance of Alfred's first wife, of whose existence Constance remains unaware.

It all gets worked out in predictable enough yet entertaining ways, and I just couldn't put it down.  There's not a lot in the way of riotous humor to quote—it's more a matter of charm and compulsive readability—but there are certainly moments of mirth.  In the closing of Caroline's first letter to her husband who has remained in London, we might wonder if there's a question of infidelity on his side as well as hers:

P.S.-Of course I loathe not being in London. Is Florence looking after the house all right? I thought it was rather touching of her to say she would like to stay and be bombed with you. Mind you put her underneath when you're lying down flat in an air-raid.

And Caroline's actor's phone call to her makes quite a contrast with the quiet life she's leading in Chesterford:

"Hello, darling. I say, we're having a terrific party in an air-raid shelter. I felt I must ring you up. I pinched the warden's telephone and he doesn't like it at all. Darling, how are you, and when are you coming up to see me?"

The wartime content of the novel generally takes a back seat to domestic complications, but there are still references here and there to shelters and blackouts and the ominous approach of war.  One comment that Caroline makes early on, about how she and John refuse to acknowledge the threat of war, somewhat bewildered me: "I mean John and I are pooh-poohers. Like Gugnuncs, you know, only not in the least like."  I tried to determine the meaning of "Gugnuncs," and found two articles about the World War I-era cartoons from which the name seems to come—this one and this one.  But I have to say neither gets me a lot closer to understanding Caroline's use of the term, which seems to imply a sort of ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand quality.  Anyone out there able to shed any light?

I admit that when I finished reading this novel, I was seriously tempted to turn back to page one and start all over again.  Although people are always saying such things, and it's a great way of stressing that a book really is quite good, it's not something I genuinely feel very often.  But in this case I did.  The novel is not a masterpiece.  It's not brilliant or profound or heartrendingly eloquent.  It's not War and Peace or Sense and Sensibility.  But it's definitely an addictive slice of life that will merit an occasional, blissful re-read. 

If other, more sporting types can have their Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball leagues, perhaps I should start my own Fantasy Publishing league?  At any rate, I've found the first title for "Furrowed Middlebrow Books" to reprint!  And I'm already in hot pursuit of Ursula Orange's other five novels, so you haven't heard the last of her here...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Update: Literary Archaeology

More and more, my research into forgotten writers is feeling a bit like an archaeological dig.  600+ writers into my list, I feel relatively confident that most of the "low hanging fruit" has been found.  From here on, my searches will likely involve some digging and sifting, using a toothbrush to shift the sands of time.  Only metaphorically, of course (toothbrushes being ineffective for Google searches and library research).

But I do love a challenge!  And here I bring you 17 more writers about whom little information is available—and, sadly, even fewer photographs.  Some of them sound quite interesting, however, once the cobwebs have been dusted off.  Here are some highlights:

URSULA ORANGE, the most interesting new addition for me (because I just finished one of her novels and loved it—but more on that later), was the author of at least six novels in the 1930s and 1940s—Begin Again (1936), To Sea in a Sieve (1937), Tom Tiddler's Ground (1941, published in the U.S. as Ask Me No Questions), Have Your Cake (1942), Company in the Evening (1944), and Portrait of Adrian (1945).  Reviewing To Sea in a Sieve, the Saturday Review compared Orange to Delafield.  Although they decided Delafield was better, I'm not so sure…  I could find no bios or discussions of Orange, so she remains a bit of a mystery, but one I'll definitely be following up on.

The enticing cover of a novel by the forgotten Ursula Orange

ADELAIDE VICTORIA ARNOLD (who wrote as MRS. J. O. ARNOLD), a holdover Edwardian, was an archaeological dig all to herself.  I could initially find no trace of her anywhere, despite the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction's assurance that she existed.  It turns out that, though she published as "Mrs. J. O. Arnold," the British Library rather oddly lists her as "Mrs. A. V. Arnold."  Now that the dust is at least partly blown away, I can assert that some of her later novels, such as The Woman in Blue and The Merlewood Mystery, sound like cousins to Ruby Ferguson's "R. C. Ashby" thrillers.  Arnold's early work has received some feminist attention, though it sounds a bit bleak.

JOY BAINES wrote several novels, one of which, Bitter Comedy, was vividly described in a review by H. E. Bates as "the type of novel in which the characters go through three hundred pages of misunderstanding, heart-searchings, and noble pretences of pride and hatred simply in order to arrive at a single paragraph in which they realize that they have 'blind, blind and stupid,' and where 'his hold tightened on her slim body.  His heart shouted with the wind.  The bitter comedy of the past year was ended.  Before him lay his heart's desire, his for the taking.'"  Now, I usually take reviews—especially by men, and especially of lighter, romantic novels by women—with several grains of sand, but the quote leads me to think Bates was being relatively fair in this case.  [Coincidentally, in the same review, Bates discusses Kathleen Wallace, another writer in this update—see below.]

Monica Ewer, who might not look like a
"light, romantic" kind of writer, but she was

MONICA EWER is probably still best known for having been the drama and film critic of the Daily Herald for many years.  She and her husband, Norman, were members of the Communist Party, and at least one source says that Norman spied for the Soviet Union, though he was never prosecuted.  Though the photo above might not make one think of the author of dozens of light romantic novels, Ewer was indeed successful in that field, and she often used her knowledge of film, the theatre, and Fleet Street to inform her novels.  For that reason, I'd like to track one down—perhaps Insecurity (1930), which the Spectator said "tells how the fittest survive in Fleet Street to-day, and it tells its tale gaily."  Oddly, despite the dearth of detailed information about Ewer online, I do know what her and Norman's bookplates looked like, thanks to this blog:

MARJORIE FIRMINGER seems to have been a stereotypically self-destructive Jazz Age figure, and you can read about her in some detail in this article by Joshua Cohen from New Haven Review.  She had a relationship with novelist, poet, and painter Wyndham Lewis (heaven help her!), and her career imploded with publication of her one novel, Jam To-day (1931), a vicious satire about all of her friends and acquaintances in the London literary world—most of which, unsurprisingly, shunned her thereafter.  Cohen reports that she worked in later life selling hats in a department store.  Cocktails with Elvira wrote a couple of posts on Firminger and her circle, including a few small photos in which you can vaguely make Firminger out.

BRIDGET LOWRY, author of five novels from the 1930s, whose To-Morrow's Giants sounds seductive but seems, alas, to be impossible to get hold of.  A Bookman review says: "The optimism of the book is no flowery sentimental emotion,  but the optimism of courage. Katharine Harvey-Adams has lost her only child, her husband is imprisoned for fraud, and she goes into a Suffolk village to start life afresh and to have a home ready for him to come to on his release. The story ends on the eve of his return, and in the interval we have penetrated the lives of the people of the village, rich and poor, and know each one with an intimacy that renders all their small joys and sorrows matters of infinite importance."  I'm practically drooling, but the book may well end up on my heartbreaking Hopeless Wish List.

ELEANOR SCOTT may be known to some readers as the author of an acclaimed collection of ghost stories, Randalls Round, some of which have been reprinted in anthologies.  The short bio of Scott from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories quotes a review of her novel Puss in the Corner which called it "a witty and discerning observer of female character, and more especially of the reactions of women to one another."   Sounds like something I'll need to track down…

KATHLEEN WALLACE, also the recipient of H. E. Bates's disapproval in the same review quoted above, wrote numerous novels from the 1930s to 1950s, as well as children's fiction.  Bates compares her 1933 novel Without a Stair, about a woman missionary in China, to Joy Baines' novel: "Here again is competence, seriousness, and at the same time dullness and lifelessness."  Norah Hoult was similarly unenthusiastic in the Bookman: "Briefly it is a story in which the characters endure a deal of unhappiness, but whose agonies and amours leave us a little cold for the reason that we are convinced that they will be quite all right at the end of the chapter. An efficient but not a memorable book."  But I have to point out one of Wallace's later books, which could be of interest to some readers.  The Prize Essay (1953) is apparently about a young girl writing a school essay on the Brontës, who seems to travel back in time to observe the Brontës in their daily lives.  Some potential there?

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, who wrote poetry
and sketches in Yorkshire dialect

Ishbel Ross, known for biographies of American women,
but not for her five novels of the 1930s

Below are the bios of all 17 new writers, which have already been added to the main list:

MRS. J. O. ARNOLD (1858-1933)
(pseudonym of Adelaide Victoria Arnold, née England [listed in British Library catalogue as "Mrs. A. V. Arnold"])

Wife of a crime novelist, John Arnold, and author of ten novels of her own, including Fire i' the Flint (1911), which some sources call a feminist novel, the bleak Megan of the Dark Isle (1914), and later supernatural thrillers such as The Woman in Blue (1922) and The Merlewood Mystery (1928).

JOY BAINES (dates unknown)

Author of six light novels, including Wife to Hugo (1930), Seventh Sin (1931), Bitter Comedy (1933)—which reviewer Norah Hoult called "a trifle too familiar" but "bright and efficient"—Fiddler's Folly (1935), The Master of Chetwynd (1937), and Sweet Briar (1941).

EVELYNE CLOSE (dates unknown)

More research needed; novelist whose works, including The Harvest (1911), Cherry Isle (1920), and When Aloes Bloom (1925), sound a bit Mary Webb-esque; Forum described Through the Lattice (1929) as "wrought out of the mists and fog and loneliness of England's north country."

MONICA EWER (1889-1964)

Well known as drama and film critic for the Daily Herald, Ewer reportedly wrote 50+ romantic novels, though the British Library lists fewer; some, like Insecurity (1930), make use of her knowledge of journalism, film, and the theatre; Ring o' Roses (1939) was adapted for the screen.


Famous for an affair with novelist Wyndham Lewis and for her one novel, Jam To-day (1931), which viciously satirized the London literary scene, Firminger reportedly worked on other novels, but none were finished; she apparently spent her later life working in a department store.

DIANA MURRAY HILL (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of a novel about women factory workers in World War II, Ladies May Now Leave Their Machines (1944); she appears to have also written one play, The Wonderful Ingredient (1934).

JUDITH KELLY (dates unknown)

More research needed; romance novelist, author of at least two novels, Marriage is a Private Affair (1941) and A Diplomatic Incident (1950).

BRIDGET LOWRY (dates unknown)

Author of five novels in the 1930s—Burden's End (1930), The Losers (1932), A Stone for Sharpening (1934), I Carry the Wood (1939), and To-Morrow's Giants (1933), the last of which, about a woman recovering from tragedy in an English village, sounds promising.

URSULA ORANGE (dates unknown)

Forgotten author whose light, humorous novels sound intriguing, including To Sea in a Sieve (1937), which Saturday Review compared to E. M. Delafield, and Tom Tiddler's Ground (1941), in which a young evacuated mother in the early days of WWII snoops into village affairs.

(née Clough)

More research needed; author of poetry, plays, character studies, and apparently inaccurate memoirs, Ratcliffe was best known for her poems and sketches in Yorkshire dialect; one of her perhaps fictionalized memoirs is Mrs. Buffey in Wartime (1942).

ISHBEL ROSS (1890-1965)

Best known for her journalism and for biographies of American women such as Clara Barton and Mary Todd Lincoln, Ross also published five novels—Promenade Deck (1932), Marriage in Gotham (1933), Highland Twilight (1934), Fifty Years a Woman (1938), and Isle of Escape (1942).

ELEANOR SCOTT (1892-1965)
(pseudonym of Helen M. Leys)

Author of five novels—War Among Ladies (1928), The Forgotten Image (1930), Swings and Roundabouts (1933), Beggars Would Ride (1933), and Puss in the Corner (1934)—as well as an acclaimed collection of ghost stories, Randalls Round (1929).

MARGARET SKELTON (dates unknown)

Apparently the author of only two novels—The Book of Youth (1920), which "plunges into the broth of modern London life," and Below the Watchtowers (1926), about two German children brought up in England in the years before and during World War I.

KATHLEEN WALLACE (dates unknown)

More research needed; children's author and novelist whose work included fiction about the Brontës; titles include Without a Stair (1933), set in China, Ancestral Tablet (1938), Without Signposts (1941), The Gentle Shadows (1947), and Pathway for Celia (1955).


More research needed; Scottish writer whose work included one novel written with her sister Mary (see below); other works are Pot Holes: A Adventure in the Diamond Fields (1928), Bullion: A Tale of Buried Treasure and the Bush (1933), and Ceremony of Innocence (1949).


More research needed; Scottish poet and novelist who lived in South Africa; her novels were Evergreen (1929), The Schoolhouse (1933), High Altitude (1949), written with her sister Elizabeth Charlotte Webster (see above), The Slave of the Lamp (1950), and A Village Scandal (1965).


Biographer and novelist, a Quaker who married an American and moved to Pennsylvania, Whitney wrote romantic novels of 19th century Quakers, including Jennifer (1941), Judith (1944), Intrigue in Baltimore (1952), The Ilex Avenue (1956), and Not for Ransom (1959).

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