An unusual group biography of five literary women: the poet H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), novelist Dorothy L Sayers, classicist and translator Jane Ellen Harrison, historian and broadcaster Eileen Power, writer and publisher Virginia Woolf. They are all linked by Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury, where they lived in the interwar period (not all at the same time).
I enjoyed the author’s enthusiasm for the subjects. She has carefully researched them, demonstrating the links and differences between their careers and how their months or years at Mecklenburgh Square were crucial turning points in their lives. ‘Freedom’ and ‘a room of one’s own’ are the main themes of the book – the women were all relatively privileged yet there were still barriers to living how they wanted to and being taken seriously in the literary world, not just the muses, lovers and helpers of their male colleagues.
The only subject of the book I already knew a lot about was Woolf. I’d read some of H. D., had heard of Sayers but not read her work, vaguely heard of Eileen Power and not heard of Harrison before. It was interesting to learn about them all and not be committed to reading a full-length biography – approx. 60 pages are devoted to each woman, which is enough to get to know them but not to become tired of them. I did skim over some of the Harrison chapter as I’m not interested in the classics.
There are a few well-chosen images and a copious amount of notes, which would be useful for readers studying the subjects but the casual reader will skip these.
First published in 2020 by Faber and Faber.