Jean Rhys

At sixteen I fell in love with Virginia Woolf. I can’t say it was love at first sight. It took me a while to work her out – I found her difficult, obtuse and complicated. But once I understood where she was coming from, I was infatuated.  Mrs Dalloway is still pretty much my ‘desert island novel.’ And she has been an influence on my own work – above all, I’m interested in interior consciousness and how that drives the characters I’m writing about.

As an undergraduate, I had tutors who led me gently towards other, more obscure women writers ( apart from anything else, I was more likely to get funding!). By the time I became a postgrad student, I was diving into the murky depths of literary history to unearth work that had been neglected by generations of critics. I felt like a literary detective on a mission. For my PhD I’d intended to study the work of three writers (Dorothy Richardson, H.D., Jean Rhys). Then it narrowed down to two. Then, because there was actually so much to say, the thesis became about the career of just one: H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). What incensed me (and other female critics) so much, I think, was that she had been constantly positioned as a potential wife to another great writer, Ezra Pound (H.D. was briefly engaged to Pound, who is credited with discovering her), rather than a writer in her own right.

These days I’m a writer rather than a critic. I’ve left the academic world behind but – almost twenty years on – it still feels like a mission to celebrate the work of women writers. So much has been said about the compromises women have had to make (and still make) in order to create art. I won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that there are some remarkable women writers – both long dead, and still living – who deserve attention. Which is why I’m launching a new blog series called ‘Literary Sisters.’* It might take the form of potted biographies, brief discussions of their work and why they’re important. Sometimes there’ll be interviews (though not with the dead ones, obviously). These posts won’t be remotely academic – just an introduction to literary women whose work I think deserves to be read.  If there are any you’d love to see on there and whose work you think is great too, I’d love to know.

*I’ll still be blogging about other random stuff. Films I’ve seen, books I’ve read, washing up, that kind of thing…