Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Female Writer's Apology; Or, Then and Now

Welcome to the SilverWood Books Blog Hop!

A few of our authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment. There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs. Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 

To find their blogs follow the links at the bottom of the page. (Links will be live from 17 April 2014.)

Have fun!

Helen Hart
Publishing Director, SilverWood Books 

And here is my blog...The Female Writer's Apology; Or, Then and Now

In my eighteenth-century thriller, To The Fair Land, Ben Dearlove’s adventures start when he tries to find the anonymous author of a book about a voyage to the South Seas. His first clue to the writer’s identity is the realisation that the book cannot be by a woman because:

“No woman ever launched a volume on the world without apologising for it first. ‘Took up my pen with no thought of publication... Nothing but the necessity to provide for a young family could have induced me to lay this trifle before the public... Beg the reader will look kindly upon it for all its demerits.’ ” (Chapter 5).

Why did this detail matter to me?

Partly, of course, because it reflects a view that Ben would very likely have held: women couldn’t write serious books. It also says something about the eighteenth-century literary scene. It was common practice for writers to preface their books with a modest disclaimer about its literary worth, which was usually a sly way of proclaiming its merits: “it’s not very good, but...”

Sheridan’s preface to The Rivals is a long apology for the defects of an earlier draft of the play, which he says fully deserved criticism. Few writers, he adds, “do not wish to palliate the faults which they acknowledge” and “second their confession of its deficiencies, by whatever plea seems least disgraceful to their ability” – his plea is inexperience. Even so, Sheridan has enough confidence to refer to his “ability” and to defend his work from “little puny critics” who are “spleen-swoln”.

William Godwin, in an introduction to the 1831 edition of St Leon, originally published in 1799, refers to the “diffidence” which kept him from attempting another novel after the publication of Caleb Williams in 1794. Evidently, he got over it. In his preface to Tom Jones, Henry Fielding asks the reader “that he will not expect to find perfection in this work;...and...that he will excuse some parts of it, if they fall short of that little merit which may appear in others”. At the same time, had he “been sensible of any great demerit in the work” he would not have sought patronage for it.

Even when mocking the parade of false modesty, writers were rarely able to stray from it. In his memoirs, bookseller James Lackington, ostensibly rejecting the custom of pointing out his “weaknesses and imperfections”, self-deprecatingly would consider himself “amply rewarded” if the reader deems his memoir “not the worst” ever written. For all that, he claims there is merit in his work. It shows what can be achieved by “a persevering habit of industry, and an upright conscientious demeanour in trade”.

Samuel Richardson’s own trumpet-blowing in Pamela – “he thinks any apology for it unnecessary” – seems almost refreshing by comparison. Almost.

There was one thing the men never apologised for, and that was their gender. When a woman took up her pen she had to come up with a good excuse for trespassing on male territory. There was nothing frivolous about this, even if the excuses were often thin. A common one was the need to earn a living. Elizabeth Inchbald in A Simple Story says she was driven to write by “Necessity! – thou, who art the instigator of so many bad authors and actors”. Charlotte Smith in her preface to her radical novel Desmond referred to the “affairs of my family” which forced her to write for money (her estranged husband claimed her earnings, as he was legally entitled to do), and she also confronts the criticism that “women...have no business with politics”.

The ultimate apology a woman could make was anonymity. Of course, many men published anonymously, for example to avoid prosecution, or to protect their professional status – Henry Fielding published some works anonymously because he was a magistrate. However, the male writer had only to hide his name, not his gender.

Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall was written by “A Gentleman on his Travels”. Frances Burney published her first novel Evelina in secret, sparking off an excited debate about whether the writer was a man or a woman. Revealing their gender was a serious undertaking for women writers. When Clara Reeve published a revised edition of The Old English Baron it was only after a great deal of persuasion and “with extreme reluctance” that she could “suffer my name to appear in the title page”.

Sarah Fielding’s authorship of The Adventures of David Simple was only made known when the rumour got about that her brother Henry had written the book and he felt the need to defend himself from accusations of hypocrisy (he had vowed never to publish anonymously). The second edition revealed Sarah’s authorship, but it was Henry who wrote the preface which focuses on – Henry.  

However, the main reason the detail mattered to me is that women writers are still concealing their gender. J K Rowling published her Harry Potter books using initials on the advice of publishers who said boys would not read the books if they knew a woman wrote them. She went on to publish her detective novels under a man’s name (there’s a long tradition for this – the Brontes, George Eliot...). The use of initials by women authors is common in fantasy, science fiction and thrillers. Manda Scott changed to M C Scott because, she says, most men do not buy books by women. It’s harder for women to get their books reviewed too – in March 2013 a Guardian survey found that 8.7% of books reviewed in the London Review of Books were by women; 26.1% in the New Statesmen; and 34.1% in the Guardian. The figures are no better in America, as the VIDA project’s annual count shows.

Historical fiction is as much about the present as the past. It reflects our own situation and preoccupations, and for me that’s what makes it relevant. It’s a way of asking: how much has changed? As Ben Dearlove’s remarks suggest, for women writers it sometimes seems not very much.

Why Women Writers Still Take Male Names, Wall Street Journal, 6 December 2012, 

Year of Reading Women Declared for 2014, The Guardian, 22 January 2014
Gender Bias in Books Journalism Remains Acute, The Guardian, 2 March 2012 

The Gender Balance of UK Literary Culture, The Guardian, 8 June 2013 

Book Review Byline Tally Shows Gender Disparity, The New York Times, 23 February 2014

The VIDA Count – project set up in 2009 to investigate US literary magazines

Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a prize draw to win a signed copy of To The Fair Land.  (Comment form at bottom of page.)

And look! You've found an Easter egg...

There are six in all scattered throughout the Blog Hop. Collect them all and feel free to use them on your own Blog or Facebook – or wherever you like!



And now hop along to more Easter blogs by following these links:-

Helen Hollick  Let us Talk of Many Things  Fictional Reality.  

Alison Morton Roma Nova How the Romans Celebrated Spring  

Anna Belfrage Step inside...   Is Freezing in a Garret a Prerequisite? 

Edward Hancox Iceland Defrosted Seaweed and cocoa

Matlock the Hare  Matlock the Hare Blog Pid-padding the Self-Published Pathway...  

Michael Wills  Michael Wills A Doomed Army

Isabel Burt Friday Fruitfulness   Flees for the Easter Hop..

John Rigg  An Ordinary Spectator Television Lines
Debbie Young  Young By NameThe Alchemy of Chocolate

Peter St John  Jenno's Blog My Village

Caz Greenham Caz's Devon Blog Diary Springtime and Hanging Baskets

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

2nd Lt John Alfred Raymond Andrews

Phyllis of the Die-Hards

I recently bought on eBay a First World War postcard: Phyllis of the Die-Hards. My interest in the card is in the image, which is one of many representations of women at work during the war.

The card was posted in West Ealing, London on 1 October 1917, with the following message:  

“Est-ce que tu me reconnaisse? Nous sommes tres saufes apr├Ęs les visites d’airoplanes. Avec beaucoup amour. P[signature illegible – could it be Phyllis?]”  

It was addressed to “2nd Lieut J A R Andrews, 6th Lincolnshire Regt, BEF, France”.  

I was intrigued by the message and the fact that it had been sent to a soldier. It also seemed to me that it provided a lot of information, and that although Andrews is not an uncommon surname, the initials “J A R” are. Not really expecting much to come of it, I did a Google search. To my astonishment, I came upon an entry about 2nd Lieut Andrews of the 6th Lincolnshire at, from which I discovered (inter alia) that his name was John Alfred Raymond and that he was killed in action on 14 April 1918.

A name, a history, a grave 

Suddenly the addressee of  my postcard had a name, a history and, movingly, a grave. But that was not all my Google search revealed. There was a War Office record about Mr Andrews in the National Archives at Kew. Any of you who are used to researching soldiers of the First World War will perhaps not be surprised by this, but it had not occurred to me.  

My curiosity thoroughly piqued by now, I sent off for the record. I won’t go into the labyrinthine detail of my subsequent research. I had pieced together quite a bit about John Andrews’s life and death when I discovered that Mr Nicholas McCarthy of Stamford School was compiling a list of the school’s teachers and pupils who died during the First World War. John Andrews was on that list.    

This was exciting! I got in touch with Mr McCarthy and he very kindly sent me the results of his own detailed and thorough research. It included the text of letters sent to Mr and Mrs Andrews after their son’s death by his commanding officer and a friend, as well as an obituary from the Stamford and Rutland News. John Andrews was described as an affable young man, a regular church-goer, popular with his colleagues, and always “the first to volunteer for dangerous work”.  

Mr McCarthy also sent me a photograph.

This is 2nd Lieutenant John Alfred Raymond Andrews

The outline of a life: John Alfred Raymond Andrews  

John Andrews was born in Stamford on 4 June 1896 to Fred Andrews, a solicitor, and his wife Ada. He had a sister, Ada Phyllis Andrews. They lived in Adelaide Street, Stamford. He attended Stamford Grammar School between 1909 and 1911 on a County Scholarship. When he left school he worked as a bank clerk.  

He enlisted as a volunteer into the Queen’s Westminsters in 1916, served in the trenches, and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. He was attached to the Royal Air Service, and after training was posted to No 4 Squadron RAF on 12 April 1918. Only two days later he was flying as an observer for Lieut Albert Edward Doughty when they took off from Choques Aerodrome, north west of Bethune. They were both killed in a flying accident and were buried in Aire Communal Cemetery. 

A tribute 

John Alfred Raymond Andrews is no longer just a name on a postcard. I had no idea I would learn so much about a man I had never heard of and had no connection with. It seems wondrous that such flimsy, fragile relics can forge links between the living and the dead. I wonder how the card came into my hands. Where has it been for the best part of a hundred years? Was it still in his keeping when he died, and if so what did it mean to him? At what point did it fall away from the possessions he left behind? Why has it survived – did someone else treasure it for his sake?  

In a few days it will be the anniversary of the death of 2nd Lieut J A R Andrews. This blog is a tribute to him and all the men, women and children whose lives have been sacrificed because of the world’s failure to find a better way of resolving conflict than going to war. May they rest in peace. 

With special thanks to Mr Nicholas McCarthy for the information and the photograph.

Roll of Honour – Lincolnshire Stamford School    

The National Archives