There was always a wind blowing

Dear Monica, Do you know this feeling of slowly being enveloped by coldness? Like at the end of a sunny day: with the faint memory of the sun on our skin, we are caught unawares by the first wind. That’s more or less how your novel The Winds of Heaven (1955) feels like: as an…

Flesh is a function of enchantment

Dear Angela, While reading your novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), I could not stop thinking to myself: this must be how it feels to go through a reverse out-of-body experience. My mind is there with you, catching the references, the twisted sense of humour, the symbolic spins, the sharp satire, and all that;…

Angela Carter

Angela Olive Carter-Pearce (née Stalker, 7 May 1940 – 16 February 1992) was an English writer. She studied English literature at the University of Bristol, worked as journalist, and was writer in residence at the University of Sheffield, Brown University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of East Anglia. She died of lung cancer in 1992. Awards 1984 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for…

We’re ourselves, and what does it signify?

Dear Elizabeth, Your book The Runaway (1872) is a Victorian children’s novel that quietly subverted everything I normally expect from the genre. The story revolves around a pair of children. The fifteen-year-old Clarice is the only daughter of a widowed merchant. One day, while strolling through her garden, she comes across a mysterious girl, Olga (the…

Elizabeth Anna Hart

Elizabeth Anna Hart (née Smedley, 1822-1890) was an English writer,  also known as Fanny Wheeler Hart. Books Try, and you Will: a Story for Youth, 1859 Mrs. Jerningham’s Journal, 1869 The Runaway: a Story for the Young (1872) A Very Young Couple, 1873 Paws and Claws: Being True Stories of Clever Creatures, Tame and Wild, 1874 Miss Hitchcock’s…

The sky was red and all my life was in it.

Dear Jean, In your novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), you seem to be holding up a distorting mirror to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): if we look at this mirror for too long, illusion and reality will gradually lose their once sharp outlines; madness will be less a departure than a never-ending journey back home,…

Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys (born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams, 24 August 1890 – 14 May 1979) was a British-Dominican writer. She was born and grew up in Dominica, and moved to England when she was 16. Her father was Welsh and her mother was Dominican (with Scots ancestry). Jean Rhys studied at the Perse School for Girls in…

She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment

Dear Daphne, In My Cousin Rachel (1951), you build up tension, chapter after chapter, by unravelling the personality of the eponymous character in all its complexity and ambiguity: as if it were a game of hide-and-seek, where we follow a clue, only to have it undermined a few steps ahead; much like a dog, running…

To show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business

Dear Sylvia, Lolly Willowes (1926) is a satirical comedy of manners centred on an unmarried woman who suddenly decides to escape the claustrophobic domestic role her family tries to force on her. Funnily enough, the means she will use to fight against her family are no less morally equivocal than the life they were trying to…

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner (6 December 1893 – 1 May 1978) was an English writer. She was home-schooled by her father. At the outbreak of World War I, she moved to London and worked in a munitions factory. During the rise of fascism, Warner campaigned on behalf of the Communist Party. She published novels, poetry, and short-stories. She was also a musicologist, and…

Virtue can sometimes be a little depressing

Dear Barbara, Excellent Women (1952) is a comedy of manners about a spinster surrounded by people who cannot see why she shouldn’t suffer for being single. She is perfectly fine, though – if anything, the married people in the book are the ones really struggling, or in pain. The narrator, Mildred Lathbury, is an unmarried…

Barbara Pym

Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (2 June 1913 – 11 January 1980) was an English writer. She studied at Queen’s Park School, in Oswestry, and attended Huyton College, near Liverpool. She then studied English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. During World War II, Pym served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. After the war, she worked at the International African Institute in London,…