08 March 2019

Extraordinary women writers: International Women’s Day 2019

International Women's day
by Curtis Brown 120 Curtis Brown 120

Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, we are celebrating some of the extraordinary women writers on our Heritage list who – for one reason or another – we feel have been unfairly under-read, misread, or quite simply not read.

In no particular order, and with great admiration, respect and fondness, here they are:

Dorothy Macardle (1859–1958)

Dorothy Macardle, author

An Irish feminist icon, Macardle was imprisoned by the fledgling Free State government in 1922, during the Civil War, and served time in both Mountjoy and Kilmainham Gaols. She differed with official Irish government policy on the threat of Nazism, Irish neutrality during World War II, compulsory Irish language teaching in schools, and deplored what she saw as the reduced status of women in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. As well as writing one of the most influential histories of the Irish Republic, she wrote a handful of nearly perfect Shirley Jackson-esque novels, now available in gorgeous reissues from Tramp Press.

Lucy Malleson (1899-1973)

Lucy Malleson, author

One of the best and most prolific crime writers of the Golden Age, Lucy Malleson missed out on the ‘Queen of Crime’ moniker by choosing to write under a male pseudonym, “Anthony Gilbert” (she even posed for an author photo in a beard and wig). Witty, eccentric and with a fantastic eye for a puzzle, Lucy has hidden behind a man’s name for too long.

Iris Murdoch (1919–1999)

Iris Murdoch, author

Obscured for the past decade by the eponymous film that documented her terrible slow decline, it is time we brought Iris the novelist back into the minds of readers – humane, richly intelligent, wildly ahead of her time and so often ecstatically funny. This is the Iris Murdoch that we should love and read and commemorate. Antonia Byatt wrote that Iris Murdoch was ‘the most important novelist writing in her time’. But that doesn’t quite go far enough. Iris Murdoch is one of the most important novelists writing for all our times.

Han Suyin (1916-2012)

Han Suyin, author

Han Suyin was the pen name of Elizabeth Comber, the Chinese-born Eurasian author best known for blockbuster post-war Hong Kong romance, A Many-Splendoured Thing, which became a huge Hollywood film. However, behind this behemoth weepie is an extraordinary body of literary work that deserves a spotlight of its own. Her non-fiction works on twentieth century China are still read today, and her largely autobiographical fiction offers a spare and beautiful insight into a complex woman who lived between two cultures.

Rumer Godden (1907–1998)

Rumer Godden, author

A novelist that ought by rights to be absolutely canonical – she should be read in schools, on 20th century literature survey courses, and celebrated as one of the most nuanced and brilliant female voices of the 20th century. Rumer Godden was the original crossover novelist, writing often from the perspective of a young adult while embracing complex themes of female sexuality, transgression and independence. Her own complex and wildly original life, lived across continents and in often extraordinary circumstances, permeates her own work.

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989)

Stella Gibbons, author

While the wondrous Stella might not be technically forgotten, her extraordinary range of novels is overshadowed by her (glorious) debut Cold Comfort Farm. She never turned her hand to the same type of novel twice, and readers who are expecting more fun on the farm are often confused by what they read next. Frankly, the rest are great and we implore you to read them – there are brilliant things in the woodshed…

Dorothy Dunnett (1923–2001)

Dorothy Dunnett

Dunnett is the historical novelist’s novelist. Her capacious imagination, her utterly compelling, fall-in-love-with-them characters, and her sheer inimitable cleverness set her apart and above the rest. An absolute renaissance woman, she was a professional portrait painter, and a leading light in the Scottish arts community throughout her life. If you love Hilary Mantel and George RR, you will devour Dunnett’s operatic Lymond and Niccolo series…

Pamela Hansford Johnson (1912-1981)

Pamela Hansford Johnson, author

Often cited and remembered as the wife of C. P. Snow, Pamela was a fantastic novelist in her own right and more than deserves to be seen through a separate prism. In a decade that has witnessed the rediscovery of Elizabeth Jane Howard – who for so long, and so unfairly, was hidden behind her husband, Kingsley Amis – it is high time PHJ had the same treatment, and Hodder’s recent reissues of five of her books are a (delightfully jacketed) symbol of regeneration.

Find out more about Curtis Brown 120 here.

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