Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Women Writers, Women's Lives. . .

Coming soon are three new biographies that I'm extremely interested in reading.
Once upon a time, I had grandiose notions of writing a PhD thesis on Storm Jameson (abandoned alas, because a gal has to pay the rent). I'm always fascinated by writers - particularly women - who lived through, and wrote about both world wars and Jameson's additional work in publishing and for PEN made her all the more fascinating to me. So I'm very excited about Margaret Storm Jameson: A Life by Jennifer Birkett. I've read Jameson's own memoir, Journey From the North, but while beautifully written, it's a bit coy about her personal life and doesn't focus as much on her books as this biography promises to.

I've dipped into Frances Partridge's diaries from time to time and have come across bits of her story as a minor figure in the biographies of Carrington, Lytton Strachey and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group. But I'm delighted she'll take center stage in Anne Chisholm's upcoming book, Frances Partridge: The Biography. I first heard about it listening to this delightful podcast from the Guardian, interviewing the indomitable Diana Athill, whose latest book, Somewhere Towards the End, is also on my to-be-read pile. At one point Athill talks about her love affairs with married men and mentions she is reading a proof of Chisholm's book. She admires Partridge's tolerant attitude to her husband's affairs and her disdain of the "geometrical approach to emotional relationships". This, Athill contends, closes one to the "tender curvaceousness" of life and love that is everywhere in the world. I love that phrase and as Athill acknowledges, "there was plenty of tender curvaceousness going on in that set!".

And finally, I can't wait for Nicola Beauman's biography of writer Elizabeth Taylor, being published by her own Persephone Books. There's no information yet on the Persephone site, but The Other Elizabeth Taylor is coming out in April, so I imagine one will be able to order it soon. I've read a few of Taylor's novels - Blaming, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and At Mrs. Lippincote's - and have several more on my shelves. In particular, I want to read Angel, as I just saw the movie version, directed by Fran├žois Ozon and starring a rather stunning Romola Garai. The story follows the rise of Angel Deverell, a poor girl with a vivid imagination who finds fame and fortune writing bestselling romances, but who lives in her own fantasy world, constructed like one of her plots, and face up to the reality that surrounds her, particularly turning a blind eye to her philandering husband who has only married her for her money. Ozon filmed it completely over the top - Anne Shirley meets Scarlett O'Hara - but I thought it worked wonderfully as a visual metaphor for the type of books Angel inhabited. And the costumes and make-up were incredible. If you liked Ozon's 8 Women, you'll enjoy this; it has some of the same - almost camp - humour. I find Ozon to be a very interesting director who clearly is fascinated with the ongoing relationships and resonances of the written word. I love his movie Under the Sand (the wonderful Charlotte Rampling plays a professor who teaches Woolf, trying to cope with the grief of her husband's disappearance) and The Swimming Pool (Rampling again, playing a thriller writer who escapes to a French house to try and write her next novel, but encounters more than she'd bargained for). Rampling also has a role in Angel.


Nicola said...

Hi, found your lovely blog while searching for Storm Jameson after she was featured on Women's Hour on Friday. I'd like to read her work but not sure where to start.

Blithe Spirit said...

Hi Nicola - thanks for your kind words.
Unfortunately most of Storm's work is out of print, although you can find her novels in libraries and I usually come across the odd Virago edition in used bookstores (Virago published a number of her novels several years ago). I would start either with her memoir Journey From the North (sometimes published as 2 volumes, sometimes in one collected volume) as it really gives you an idea of the times she lived in and the political issues she was involved with - she's the type of writer that always tried to engage with those contempory issues in her writing. Then, to get a flavour of her writing, try to find Women Against Men, which is three novellas. One of them, "A Day Off" is my favourite - a very moving story about an aging prostitute who knows she's too old and losing her clients and doesn't know how she's going to survive. She spends her "day off" travelling around London, musing on her life. I think it's a very interesting work to compare with something like Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. If you like dystopian fiction - try In the Second Year which is still in print. Or try her Mirror in Darkness trilogy (Company Parade, Love in Winter and None Turn Back) following a woman writer's political and emotional journey in the interwar years.

Nicola said...

Hi, thanks for your detailed reply. I'll look out for A Day Off, I like the sound of that story. I'm not a huge Woolf fan, but I have read Mrs Dalloway so I can compare.

Blithe Spirit said...

Don't worry, Jameson doesn't write like Woolf at all - it's just interesting to compare how both writers view their female characters - two very different women, from completely different classes and situations, but both out and about the city of London and reflecting on their lives.
Jameson is very much an interesting writer, not for her style or even her plots and characters. As she admits herself in her autobiography, she wrote far too much, and too fast. But she's an interesting writer to read for the ideas she tried to explore and the amazing life she led.