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Showing posts from August, 2014

Why Keep a Good Woman Down?

Why is ‘women’s writing’ a category? Does it have any purchase? Should it? I’ve been arguing with myself about this (again) this week.

After catching the last dramatizations of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles on Radio 4, I’ve been looking for the books in charity shops ever since. Finding the first three books this week (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion) has meant that I’ve finally been able to give them a go.

Her books have been celebrated by Julian Barnes and Sybil Bedford. Martin Amis credits Howard, who was married to his father Kingsley Amis for over twenty years, with forming his literary education. But by calling her ‘the most interesting woman writer of her generation’, Amis’ praise is double-edged.

For a woman who constantly battled against being pigeon-holed as a writer only for women – and thus secondary – the books are horribly designed. No man will pick up a book with melancholy empty chairs and girly cursive and a large sticker saying ‘As heard on BBC…

Then & Now

This is the last evening, and I am on the road tomorrow. In a little while I’ll go out and stand on the Fen near Laundress Green.

It’s been a small shock to recognise for all the movement of the city – its growth, development, its domination by chains and high street shops – Cambridge is still the city Sylvia Plath lived in and tried to absorb. This is from January 10, 1957:

‘Brilliant clear blue invigorating day. To heart of town. Sun pale warm orange on buildings of Newnham Village. Fens clear green, rooks nests bared in trees, wet dew standing transparent on every branch, across white-painted wooden bridges. Wind rattling dry rushes. Ducks dipping on river in front of Garden House Hotel, shiny green heads of mallards and speckled brown dames. Wetness on tarred sidewalk reflecting blue glaze from pale sky. Water whipped white by mill raise. Noise of continuous rushing. Pale blue-painted Anchor. Orangy plaster of Mill pub….’

The Garden House Hotel has changed names, and the Anchor and …