Though I always find some sort of interest in my studies, occasionally a lit crit book comes along which is such a pleasure to read that I almost feel guilty alloting work time to it. Step forward Alison Light, and Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars. If the name rings a bell, then perhaps you’ve read her more recent book, Mrs. Woolf and the Servants (which has made it from my must-read-very-soon shelf to my bedside table, about as far as a book can get before it’s actually in my hands).
Forever England was published in 1991 and is essentially the outcome of Light’s dissertation – not as wide-ranging as Nicola Humble’s The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920s-1950s (see my post here), Light’s book is instead specifically about four authors, each with a chapter devoted to them. And they are all authors who’ve cropped up on Stuck-in-a-Book in the past – Ivy Compton-Burnett; Agatha Christie; Jan Struther (well, Mrs. Miniver really); Daphne du Maurier. Light treats them as serious authors, not amusing side-notes in a literary history, and that is what is so refreshing about Forever England. Not that she claims more for them than is there, but rather she values the role of these writers for what they are. Christie was professedly lowbrow; ICB has a complex way of presenting dialogue; Jan Struther wasn’t a proto-feminist; D du M had an odd relationship with her family in her writing – all of this is true and acknowledged, but each writer is also re-evaluated and investigated with honest interest.
Not sure how available this book is; I have a feeling it might be quite tricky to track down, but perhaps libraries will have copies, or can get them. Unlike most literary criticsm, I would recommend this as a cover-to-cover read, utterly accessible without being insulting to the intellect. While the scope of Humble’s book makes that remain the first port of call for me, Light’s contribution to the specifics of these four writers is fascinating and genuinely enjoyable to read.