Tuesday 3 March 2009

Forever England

Though I always find some sort of interest in my studies, occasionally a lit crit book comes along which is such a pleasure to read that I almost feel guilty alloting work time to it. Step forward Alison Light, and Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars. If the name rings a bell, then perhaps you've read her more recent book, Mrs. Woolf and the Servants (which has made it from my must-read-very-soon shelf to my bedside table, about as far as a book can get before it's actually in my hands).

Forever England was published in 1991 and is essentially the outcome of Light's dissertation - not as wide-ranging as Nicola Humble's The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920s-1950s (see my post here), Light's book is instead specifically about four authors, each with a chapter devoted to them. And they are all authors who've cropped up on Stuck-in-a-Book in the past - Ivy Compton-Burnett; Agatha Christie; Jan Struther (well, Mrs. Miniver really); Daphne du Maurier. Light treats them as serious authors, not amusing side-notes in a literary history, and that is what is so refreshing about Forever England. Not that she claims more for them than is there, but rather she values the role of these writers for what they are. Christie was professedly lowbrow; ICB has a complex way of presenting dialogue; Jan Struther wasn't a proto-feminist; D du M had an odd relationship with her family in her writing - all of this is true and acknowledged, but each writer is also re-evaluated and investigated with honest interest.

Not sure how available this book is; I have a feeling it might be quite tricky to track down, but perhaps libraries will have copies, or can get them. Unlike most literary criticsm, I would recommend this as a cover-to-cover read, utterly accessible without being insulting to the intellect. While the scope of Humble's book makes that remain the first port of call for me, Light's contribution to the specifics of these four writers is fascinating and genuinely enjoyable to read.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation - as a result, I've just now requested Forever England via the local 5-Colleges online catalog. The other day I brought home The Feminine Middlebrow Novel as well as The Nesbit Tradition (The Children's Novel, 1915-1970) from one of the colleges.

  2. Thank you for this recommendation. I love the cover on your book, it reminds me of a place I like to sit down here in Newquay. I would be interested to know where the photograph was taken. Any idea? What a shame that my library does not stock this book or the Nicola Humble one.

  3. Simon, the book is easy (if expensive) to obtain. Any proper bookseller should be able to get a copy at fairly short notice.

  4. This is something to keep my eyes out for. I really enjoyed Light's style of writing in Mrs Woolf & the Servants, informative without being dry.

  5. What a splendid cover. And I do tend to judge books by them, or at least, they feed my interest. I went looking for Forever England online, and found there is an extremely unattractive version from Routledge, who perhaps see it as a dry, academic tome, not something you'd take to the park to sit and read on a spring day.


    (there are less exorbitant copies at Abebooks)

  6. Hmmm thanks for recommending this, I wouldnt have thought of it as something I would read before but you have proved me wrong! Cheers Simon!

  7. There are a small number of relatively inexpensive copies on the French and German Amazon sites. They are English langauge copies. Trying European websites for Enlgish langauge books that are a bit hard to find/over priced in the UK or the USA is a good tip!

    other than Amazon Marelibri is a useful European website http://www.marelibri.com/


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