I always lacked common sense when taken by surprise

Dear Anne, Agnes Grey (1847) had for me the strange quality of a double-pointed sword: we must read it carefully, or else it may kill precisely what it had promised to protect. Agnes, the eponymous protagonist and narrator of the story, is the youngest daughter of Richard Grey, a clergyman of modest means. Her mother…

Anne Brontë

Anne Brontë (17 January 1820 – 28 May 1849) was an English writer. She was educated at home, and later attended a boarding school in Mirfield, between 1836 and 1837. Anne worked as a governess between 1839 and 1845. Her poems and novels were first published under the pen name of Acton Bell. She died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the…

Florence Marryat

Florence Marryat (9 July 1833 – 27 October 1899) was a British writer. She was privately educated. After her marriage to an officer of the British Army, she travelled extensively through India, and returned alone to England in 1860. The couple had eight children. In the 1870’s, Florence lived together with a Colonel of the Royal Marine Light…

I’d forgotten it was summer outside

Dear Barbara, In your novel The Vet’s Daughter (1959), I felt I was being lured into a strange place, tender and cruel. I was being lured by a voice, tenuous but powerful, pushing me through the door into a confined domestic horror. It was lonely, dangerous and grotesque, but it was a voice I very…

Barbara Comyns

Barbara Comyns (Barbara Irene Veronica Comyns Carr, 1907 – 1992) was an English writer. She attended art school in Stratford-upon-Avon, and later moved to London to attend Heatherley School of Fine Art. She had various jobs (dealing in antiques, breeding dogs, drawing for commercial advertisements, cooking in a country house), and began to write professionally in the 1940’s….

Trespassing on one’s own ground

Dear Monica, The atmosphere in your novel Mariana (1940) feels like a bright surface tinted by an added layer of nostalgia, and a pervading sense of loss. Like a moss-covered surface, damp to the touch, but, for that very reason, very much alive. When the book opens, Mary Shannon is spending a weekend alone with…

Monica Dickens

Monica Enid Dickens (10 May 1915 – 25 December 1992) was an English writer. After being expelled from St Paul’s Girls’ School, in London, she went into domestic service, and worked as cook and general servant. She then worked as a nurse and in an aircraft factory. Later, she became a regular columnist for the local newspaper Hertfordshire Express and for the British…

Mary Renault

Mary Renault (born Eileen Mary Challans, 4 September 1905 – 13 December 1983) was an English writer. Renault received an undergraduate degree in English from St Hugh’s College, Oxford, in 1928. She then trained as a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, where she met her lifelong partner, the nurse Julie Mullard. Renault worked as a nurse until…