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Wednesday 29 December 2021

She was Chloe, or maybe Olivia

 Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a laboratory together. . .’ I read on and discovered that these two young women were engaged in mincing liver, which is, it seems, a cure for pernicious anaemia

A famous line from Virginia Woolf's famous essay of 1928, A Room of One's Own, describing the imaginary novel, Life's Adventure, by the equally fictitious novelist, Mary Carmichael.

And yes, these are both fictitious and not rather poor covers for the 1928 novel by Marie Stopes under her pseudonym of 'Marie Carmichael', Love's Creation. Chronology alone would suggest that Woolf could not have encountered this work while preparing AROOO. The novelist's name fits in with the other Marys in the text, who echo the 'Ballad of the Queen's Maries' - 'Call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please—it is not a matter of any importance'. I discussed this misapprehension and the unlikeness between the imaginary novel and Stopes' work in my chapter 'Uniting Science and Sensibility: Marie Stopes and the narratives of marriage in the 1920s' in Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers 1889-1939 edited by Angela Ingram and Daphne Patai, University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

The fact that Chloe and Olivia are mincing liver to cure pernicious anaemia surely identifies them with Janet Vaughan, daughter of her friend and relative Madge Vaughan, who devised that pioneering treatment - recently mentioned in a 2019 article in The Lancet by Patricia Fara, 'Battling for life: the wartime work of Janet Vaughan', The Lancet, 394(10202), 910–911. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(19)3209. Fara makes this same identification, and I briefly mentioned the Woolf-Vaughan connection in 'Chloe, Olivia, Isabel, Letitia, Harriette, Honor and many more: women in medicine and biomedical science in Britain, 1914-1939', in This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s)in Britain 1914-45 edited by Sybil Oldfield, Taylor and Francis, London, 1994

(I was led to think about this by reading something which rather underplayed Vaughan's significance in another context - she had one of those varied careers that perhaps do not lead people to make cross-connections they might.)