Monday 15 June 2015

Guest Post: Little Known Female Contemporaries of Virginia Woolf, by Louisa Treger.

Little Known Female Contemporaries of Virginia Woolf
by Louisa Treger

Virginia Woolf was a towering literary figure, possessing talent, connections and her own printing press. Not only did she overshadow her female peers, she was also somewhat grudging in her attitude to many of them, most notably Katherine Mansfield. Had Virginia recognized and promoted these writers, literary history might look quite different. Below are a few of her less well-known contemporaries who need not stand in her shadow.

New Zealand born Katherine Mansfield is perhaps the best known. She revolutionized the twentieth century English short story, breaking away from narrative conventions like structured plots and endings. Mood and character were paramount; she was preoccupied with the many nuances of thought and feelings, the ambiguities of identity. I recommend The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922).

Dorothy Richardson was a literary pioneer who deserves recognition. In her day, she was considered Virginia Woolf’s equal, she wrote stream of consciousness before anyone else, and Virginia credited her with creating “a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.” Dorothy’s life work was a twelve-volume autobiographical novel-sequence called Pilgrimage. On 15 May 2015, a blue plaque was unveiled in Dorothy’s memory. My biographical novel about her, The Lodger, was released on June 1st and scholarly editions of her fiction are in preparation for publication by Oxford University Press. So perhaps a Dorothy Richardson revival is under way!

Like Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair remains an obscure figure, despite her significant contribution to modernist literature. Not only did she write twenty-three novels, she was also a poet, philosopher, translator, and critic. In a review of Richardson’s Pilgrimage written in 1918, she coined the phrase "stream of consciousness". Sinclair’s fiction displays aspects of modernism, like stream-of-consciousness narration and formal experimentation, yet it is accessible and readable. Sadly, The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922) is the only one of her novels still in print today.

Published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press, Rosamund Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz (1932) was reissued more recently by Virago as part of a series of women’s coming-of-age stories. Like the other authors I have mentioned, Lehmann broke with convention by shifting focus from the external world to the inner world, from the omniscient narrator to the limited point of view, and from action to reflection. She writes exceptionally well about the life of the emotions: love and longing, despair and hope.

Of course, there are many more wonderful writers from this era: Mary Butts and Stella Gibbons, to name but two. The ones I have chosen are personal favorites; I hope you will want to try their books yourselves.

The Lodger, by Louisa Treger, is out now


You can buy The Lodger on Amazon here or add it to your Goodreads TBR.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post about these great writers who shouldn't be forgotten. I loved An Invitation to the Waltz and I'm looking forward to reading The Lodger. Hope it does well, Louisa.


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