Writing Women … Then and Now …

I’ve had wonderful luck in recent years browsing the library’s reserve fiction stock. I’ve found out of print works by authors I’d discovered thanks to Virago and Persephone, I’ve found books that had been reprinted but I couldn’t quite justify buying,  I’ve found books that I read about in books like Nicola Beauman’s ‘A Very Great Profession’, and I’ve found books just by random luck and following links.

A few days ago I ordered up the first volume of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals, and while I was there I thought I’d check a few other authors who would work for my Canadian reading challenge. I searched for Margaret Lawrence, a Canadian author from the Virago Modern Classics list, and I found a title I didn’t know that intrigued me. It was a book titled ‘We Write as Women’ that had been published in 1937. I placed my order.

Today I picked the book up, and I decided that I had found a gem.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“Sappho wrote her beautiful lines, and then there was a long silence. It was a silence broken here and there by the letters women wrote, and the diaries they kept, but these were personal, and so we do not have them to show as the writing of women. The little songs that were made to sing to children, the little phrases made to say to a lover, all of these were the very fabric of a woman’s expression of herself, but they could not be kept as literature. They were too fleeting. They were like prayers, something a woman who would not put them down to show. But there must have been many of them.”

This words gave me hope that there was a wonderful journey in front of me. And when I saw the author’s name in the table of contents I knew that there was.

The early selections were obvious: Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot …. but I loved seeing George Eliot described thus: ‘Who sat like the recording angel and wrote.’

And then I spotted twenty-two – yes twenty-two – authors from the Virago Modern Classics list.

How many of then do you recognise I wonder?

1 Women Who Write

Among the others I found familiar names – Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Pearl Buck. I found others I have in my sights – Sylvia Thompson, Clemence Dane, Phyllis Bottome. And I found just a few new names to investigate – Mary Borden, Beatrice Kean Seymour, Margaret Goldsmith.

And I should tell you the names of those Virago authors. I found that some faces were familiar but others I knew not at all. From the top:

G B Stern
Margaret Kennedy
E H Young
May Sinclair
Sylvia Townsend Warner

Kate O’Brien
Dorothy Richardson
Dorothy Canfield
Rosamond Lehmann
Winifred Holtby
E M Delafield

Willa Cather
Daphne Du Maurier
Rebecca West
Naomi Mitchison
Edith Wharton
Vita Sackville-West

Katharine Mansfield
Mary Webb
Rose Macaulay
Olive Schreiner
Radclyffe Hall

And now I realise that Storm Jameson was in there too. No slight was intended, far from it, and here she is:


Now at this point I had planned to write that it was wonderful to think that the authors celebrated and the author celebrating them had been brought together again by Virago decades later. But those who know their Canadain woman authors better that I do will have spotted my mistake.

The Virago author I was thinking of was Margaret Laurence not Margaret Lawrence. And she was born in 1926 and so it’s unlikely she would have published a work like this at the age of eleven!

There’s a more recent author called Margaret Lawrence, but this book is too early for her, and so I have no idea who this Margaret Lawrence is. I might do a little more digging, or I might not, but I think I’ll begin working my way through her book.

I may be some time, because I have a feeling it’s going to inspire me to pluck any number of books from my shelves along the way, but I’ve ordered a copy to keep.

Because I’m still thrilled I found so many wonderful woman authors being celebrated in the same book!

14 responses

  1. There are several authors here that I’ve learned about through blogs like yours, but whose books I’ve yet to read – and then others still unknown! I love seeing their faces – I did recognize Dorothy Canfied, but I wouldn’t have known Winifred Holtby from that picture.

  2. Very interesting – a great find! I googled Margaret Lawrence and found this – http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IJwyLyaT9KYC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=We+Write+as+Women+Lawrence&source=bl&ots=TR_KU0OBft&sig=pxkpuF2HhvvEb3P2VoxzyNYdZN0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OhEOUZn6BaHK0AXEmYCoDA&ved=0CC8Q6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=We%20Write%20as%20Women%20Lawrence&f=false

    Margaret Lawrence 1896 – 1973, author of The School of Femininity, also published as We Write as Women.

  3. That sounds like a wonderful book to have fallen upon serendipitously! Love the photos too. There is a Persephone connection anyway to the Canadian Margaret Laurence anyway. Ethel Wilson (author of Hetty Dorval which Persephone reprinted) was a great friend and mentor I believe. CBC radio has some wonderful old interviews with Margaret Laurence where she talks about some of her novels – well worth exploring too if you have the time -such an erudite and wonderful writer.

  4. It sounds a wonderful book. I recognised all the authors pictured but had trouble trying to guess them from the images, so many women that have drifted into just names and Persephone endpapers it’s shocking!

  5. How wonderful! I have certainly written down this title before, but clearly I haven’t got as far as actually reading any of it, because I couldn’t have imagined such glories!

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