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Monday 28 August 2023

Forgotten vs somewhat neglected novelists

I was recently brought up short during a re-read of Dorothy Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, when Wimsey scans Ann Dorland's bookshelves: 'Dorothy Richardson—Virginia Woolf—E. B. C. Jones—May Sinclair—Katherine Mansfield—the modern female writers are well represented, aren’t they?' I think Richardson, Woolf, Sinclair and Mansfield would be familiar names to anyone with some acquaintance with women writers of the early decades of the twentieth century - but E. B. C. Jones?

In fact, Emily Beatrix Coursolles ("Topsy") Jones (1893-1966), has a remarkably substantial Wikipedia entry, which says her novels

focused on the social and psychological traumas of World War I, on large-family dynamics among young adult siblings, and on relationships among the young "liberated" middle-class intelligentsia of the Twenties. She was also known in the interwar period as a reviewer of contemporary fiction in British literary journals.

provides a useful biographical summary and plot outlines of the novels. She also has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

I have managed to gain a sight of a few of her novels, Quiet Interior (1920), The Singing Captives (1922), and The Wedgwood Medallion (1923), well worth reading and would like to read the others.

I shall now be adding Jones to my webpage British Women Novelists, 1910s-1960s: The 'middle-brows' along with some additional updates - I discover that there is interest being taken in Romer Wilson, and that Sarah Salt's Sense and Sensuality (1929) has lately been republished by Cutting Edge Books.

But considering these works and authors which can reasonably described as having been 'forgotten' at least for a signficant length of time, made me think of certain works and authors claimed to have been 'rediscovered' e.g. by Virago Press, but I wonder if they had ever been truly entirely lost.

There is a difference between a book which may have made a great sensation in the 1920s and then vanished, and other books which may never have gained enormous critical cred but have gone on not only being read, enjoyed and recommended, but continuing to be republished. Books which appeared in cheap reprint editions and in Penguin and later mass-market paperback formats (a substantial portion of my Winifred Holtby collection consists of the Corgi paperback editions issued, one suspects, in the wake of the success of the Yorkshire TV South Riding) - and also circulated in public libraries.

The popularity of certain works with library patrons led to the production by Cedric Chivers of Bath of New Portway Reprints, robust hardbacks specifically for libraries of works that librarians knew would be much borrowed. Paula Byrne notes in The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym that Pym was a little cheered during her years in the wilderness of publishers' lack of interest by reprints of four of her earlier books as 'Library Association reprints by Chivers of Bath'.

I surmise that there may be studies to be done on these books which are neither critically-acknowledged  'classics' nor perennially popular genre bestsellers but go on having what was perhaps a word of mouth reputation. 

Just possibly these might be what Stella Gibbons was alluding to as ' the minor classic, a type of book that has perhaps given more pure pleasure to more readers than any other kind'? (In My American, 1939).