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A Very Great Profession: The Woman's Novel, 1914-39 (Virago Classic Non-fiction)

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A portrayal of middle-class English women in the period between the wars. Drawing on novelists such as May Sinclair, Elinor Glyn, Rebecca West, and E.M. Delafield, the author gives new perspectives on women's lives - romantic love, sex and domestic life - as recorded in the fiction of the time. A portrayal of middle-class English women in the period between the wars. Drawing on novelists such as May Sinclair, Elinor Glyn, Rebecca West, and E.M. Delafield, the author gives new perspectives on women's lives - romantic love, sex and domestic life - as recorded in the fiction of the time.


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A portrayal of middle-class English women in the period between the wars. Drawing on novelists such as May Sinclair, Elinor Glyn, Rebecca West, and E.M. Delafield, the author gives new perspectives on women's lives - romantic love, sex and domestic life - as recorded in the fiction of the time. A portrayal of middle-class English women in the period between the wars. Drawing on novelists such as May Sinclair, Elinor Glyn, Rebecca West, and E.M. Delafield, the author gives new perspectives on women's lives - romantic love, sex and domestic life - as recorded in the fiction of the time.

30 review for A Very Great Profession: The Woman's Novel, 1914-39 (Virago Classic Non-fiction)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tania

    I now want to read most of the novels in this book, and re-read the ones I've already read. I now want to read most of the novels in this book, and re-read the ones I've already read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mirte

    "This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room." Virginia Woolf says in A Room of One's Own. Nicola Beauman proves, once and for all, that these so-called insignificant books are by no means inferior to their counterparts written by male authors andin fact chronicle the position of middle-class women throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This is the first book I re "This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room." Virginia Woolf says in A Room of One's Own. Nicola Beauman proves, once and for all, that these so-called insignificant books are by no means inferior to their counterparts written by male authors andin fact chronicle the position of middle-class women throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This is the first book I read for my research on Persephone Books and its plethora of unexplored women writers, and I am glad I picked this one to be the first. Beauman founded Persephone Books several years after A Very Great Profession was finished, and it was quite enlightening to see where she was coming from. Other than that, reading about her own research and drive strongly motivated me, giving me a sense of purpose, of perhaps continuing the work into the 21st century. Possibly due to Beauman's isolation from academia, her prose is clear and understandable, which means reading this is quite easy, despite the pages being packed with information and sharp observations. The division into themes is functional, though some themes seem to overlap at certain points, resulting in an incidentally repeated conclusion. However, the whole is an enormously informative book on female novelists in the inter-war period; the connection of their fiction to the real-life situation of the average housewife makes reading the excerpt and quotes the more interesting and moving. The historical background is enlightening and will very likely improve my reading experience when trying my hand at the long list of to-read novels I took away from this book. Any fan of Persephone Books will find this an invaluable companion book. Anyone unfamiliar with the Persephone Books catalogue, but willing to give it a try, this might be a good place to start for a little background to the gems you're about to read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Starfish

    I'd only really considered the woman writers of the inter-war years in terms of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction -- Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and the fourth one, whose name I can't remember (Margery Allingham?). None of them feature in this book, so I found it a really useful counterbalance to my already existing views. It's also really nice to see Katharine Mansfield in a context other than a 'New Zealander' or 'New Zealander abroad' setting -- she's used just as every I'd only really considered the woman writers of the inter-war years in terms of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction -- Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and the fourth one, whose name I can't remember (Margery Allingham?). None of them feature in this book, so I found it a really useful counterbalance to my already existing views. It's also really nice to see Katharine Mansfield in a context other than a 'New Zealander' or 'New Zealander abroad' setting -- she's used just as every other woman author the author uses, and I like her better for it. Basically, however, this book looks at what woman in the Inter-War period's were interested in, what their lives were like and what they wrote and read. I've now got a good number of books and authors I want to investigate. The author's style is very engaging although it sits somewhat awkwardly between popular and literary approaches -- something like its subject matter does. It's somewhat disconcerting to realise how little the issues surrounding popular fiction have changed in the last century or so. I've seen someone tag this book with 'snooty' which I feel is totally undeserved -- the author frankly admits that she chose to include books solely on the basis of whether she liked them, and her backword describes the writing process without any pretences. Unless by 'snooty' she means 'author knows what she is talking about' which I agree with, so.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bronwyn

    I really enjoyed this! A book about books, what’s not to enjoy? And about women writers and not well known ones... it’s excellent. I’ve added so many books to my various wish lists too! So many are available free online, and others are put out by amazing companies like Virago and Persephone (I wonder why? ;) ) I loved how the book chapters were each on a theme, and I was able to read most chapters in just a few days. The themes are what caused me to stall out for so long though - I just wasn’t in I really enjoyed this! A book about books, what’s not to enjoy? And about women writers and not well known ones... it’s excellent. I’ve added so many books to my various wish lists too! So many are available free online, and others are put out by amazing companies like Virago and Persephone (I wonder why? ;) ) I loved how the book chapters were each on a theme, and I was able to read most chapters in just a few days. The themes are what caused me to stall out for so long though - I just wasn’t interested in the psychoanalysis chapter. I’m sure other people enjoyed that one though, so, nothing against the book in that regard. My favorites were probably the chapters on feminism and love and romance; Beauman’s afterword was really interesting too - I loved the reflection on how the book was written and what she thinks of it after many years.

  5. 4 out of 5

    kymdotcom

    I was all panicked about not being able to get copies of the books mentioned by the author, and then I realised that Persephone publishes most of them. So win.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Rounded up to 3.5 stars - As a lifelong Anglophile, I was excited to read about English women authors and the novels they wrote from the beginning of the first world war to the beginning of the second. So much changed for society as a whole and for women because of WWI and because of advances in technology such as the wireless radio, automobiles, and labor saving devices for the home. The servant class largely disappeared as a result of the war, so upper class women had a harder time finding hel Rounded up to 3.5 stars - As a lifelong Anglophile, I was excited to read about English women authors and the novels they wrote from the beginning of the first world war to the beginning of the second. So much changed for society as a whole and for women because of WWI and because of advances in technology such as the wireless radio, automobiles, and labor saving devices for the home. The servant class largely disappeared as a result of the war, so upper class women had a harder time finding help and middle class women had to manage their own households without help at all. Women who would never have dreamed of working outside the home before the war found jobs in various low paying professions. These and many other changes in society are reflected in novels from this time period. Women authors finally wrote about women who had an interest in sex and who had interests other than staying home painting and sewing and visiting with other society women every day. The leisurely world of Jane Austen and George Eliot's main characters was gone for good except for the extremely wealthy. The novels analyzed in this book more accurately represent the lives of women that we can relate to now. But the lives of many of the characters are not happy lives. They had more responsibility than Victorian women to work and raise their children rather than servants performing those functions. They were still constrained by society's expectations to get married and to be subordinate in their marriage. The women in novels from this era began to question their role as wives and mothers as never before. The ideas of feminism began to be an actual theme in some novels. Beauman's analysis of various themes are fascinating but it became somewhat bogged down by many long quotes from various novels. She could have made her points equally well without resorting to including a plethora of lengthy direct quotes which began to feel like padding. Nevertheless I hadn't heard of all of the authors mentioned so now I have more new authors to explore now.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary

    A great book for Persephone fans. Nicola Beauman is the founder of Persephone Books, and although this was first published in the 1980s, it covers many of the authors and even some of the specific books that she later reissued in dove-grey covers. It considers women writing (and writing for women) during the First World War and between the wars, including many writers who are forgotten today and covering popular fiction such as the romances of Ethel M. Dell and Ruby M. Ayres as well as the obvio A great book for Persephone fans. Nicola Beauman is the founder of Persephone Books, and although this was first published in the 1980s, it covers many of the authors and even some of the specific books that she later reissued in dove-grey covers. It considers women writing (and writing for women) during the First World War and between the wars, including many writers who are forgotten today and covering popular fiction such as the romances of Ethel M. Dell and Ruby M. Ayres as well as the obvious writers like Virginia Woolf and Rosamond Lehmann. It may not be ground-breaking literary criticism but it's an interesting read for those of us who love the 'woman's novel' of that period.

  8. 4 out of 5

    VG

    A very comprehensive look at female writers, arranged thematically, focusing particularly on the inter-war years of the twentieth century. My biggest criticism was the level of spoilers - I felt that many of the points made in reference to particular books could have been argued without detailed descriptions of the endings. Luckily, as an avid Persephone Books fan, I had read a number of the stories mentioned already, but there were others that I have not, and found myself trying to remember to A very comprehensive look at female writers, arranged thematically, focusing particularly on the inter-war years of the twentieth century. My biggest criticism was the level of spoilers - I felt that many of the points made in reference to particular books could have been argued without detailed descriptions of the endings. Luckily, as an avid Persephone Books fan, I had read a number of the stories mentioned already, but there were others that I have not, and found myself trying to remember to skip whole paragraphs to avoid ruining them. If you are already well-versed in the Persephone back catalogue, this is an excellent accompaniment; if not, keep this on the back-burner until then.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    I really enjoyed this book, and I read it with a notebook and pen at the ready, so that I could take note of authors I had never heard of before. The book examines women's fiction, or fiction about women's lives, in the UK between the two world wars. The author states that fiction describing the daily lives of women has been neglected or considered less important than the classical "male" type of novel dealing with war, anger and the like. So she set out to correct this, both by publishing this I really enjoyed this book, and I read it with a notebook and pen at the ready, so that I could take note of authors I had never heard of before. The book examines women's fiction, or fiction about women's lives, in the UK between the two world wars. The author states that fiction describing the daily lives of women has been neglected or considered less important than the classical "male" type of novel dealing with war, anger and the like. So she set out to correct this, both by publishing this systematic study of the woman's novel between the war, and founding Persephone press, which reprints such novels. This premise, that the daily lives of women are fertile ground for novelistic interpretation, and that a critical review of such novels is a worthy literary endeavor, is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. And so I enjoyed the book. I especially liked the organization by chapters on specific themes like "War", "Feminism", "Romance". That made a lot of sense to me. Perhaps the best way to evaluate the success/impact of a book like this, is whether it inspires the reader to read the novelists mentioned. By that measure, this book had a big impact on me. Not only has it encouraged me to read Virginia Woolf (an author I'd always avoided because stream-of-consciousness writing is not my favorite style) , but it's provided me with pages full of names and titles to check out. Onward to the library!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pimpawan

    Thematic study of interwar women writers. Fun and easy read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa of Hopewell

    I learned of this book here: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2020/... I learned of this book here: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2020/...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    By the founder of Persephone Books in London, this labour of love describes what women authors in the inter-war period were writing about and as such is a view of very post-Pankhurst feminism in the UK. I learnt the term "Aga saga" and can't wait to read more of them. Persephone is a publisher to work through, possibly in quiet moments when the kids have gone off to boarding school, the kitchen has been tidied after a roast, and the Aga is still warm. I need to build a new shelf for these books. By the founder of Persephone Books in London, this labour of love describes what women authors in the inter-war period were writing about and as such is a view of very post-Pankhurst feminism in the UK. I learnt the term "Aga saga" and can't wait to read more of them. Persephone is a publisher to work through, possibly in quiet moments when the kids have gone off to boarding school, the kitchen has been tidied after a roast, and the Aga is still warm. I need to build a new shelf for these books.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kit

    Really good, though, by necessity, of VERY narrow focus.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    So inspiring that I based a whole month’s worth of blog posts around it in April! Also invaluable for my MA and PhD research.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Susan Daly

    An interesting survey of women's popular fiction and how it both reflected and influenced the lives of women in Britain from 1914 to 1939. An interesting survey of women's popular fiction and how it both reflected and influenced the lives of women in Britain from 1914 to 1939.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    823 B378 2008

  17. 4 out of 5

    Odette

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

  20. 5 out of 5

    Frocker

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ali

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eliza Holland

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ruslan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Toni White

  26. 5 out of 5

    Deirdre

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  28. 5 out of 5

    7

  29. 4 out of 5

    Něžná

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maria

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