Women's Writing

Women's Writing from the Library of Wales

There’s a fight on the quay in Greece, and a man is killed. The murderer, Leonidas, is tried and convicted. His friend, the writer and artist Brenda Chamberlain, believes that the best way to aid her friend in his time of need, is to join a Greek monastery in the remotest areas of the mountains of Hydra.

Brenda Chamberlain’s A Rope of Vines is slim and tender testament to this time; her reactions alternating between the sparse, poetic voice and the smooth, bold line-drawings which accompany the text. These drawings show the beauty of the beech, of boats coming towards the harbour, of the fisherman’s net, of the rocky landscapes, Grecian vases and country churches. Brenda retreats to the monastery, where hse is looked after by the nuns. She eats freshly caught fish, wine, olives, and spends hours walking, meditating, speaking to people from the village, watching life pass by. The horror of her friend’s misfortunes are never far from her mind. Even in the midst of winter, her prose has the power to transport through its simplicity. When I read it, on the Number 4 bus to Swansea University from the statopm, the desire to simply get on a plane to Greece was overwhelming.

“This was to be an afternoon of daylight dream. As protection against the sun, I wore a white head-covering. Among the grasshoppers, the marching ants, the armoured beetles, I passed through the shade of the wood by the ruined house where Sibathis had seen his ghost-man. Steps led up to patches of cultivated ground where vines and fruit trees grew. Westward, a scarf of heat lay over the island....

Here I have come to be out of the world for a spell, wishing to put to the test whether I am in a greater need of the world or the non-world, and to pray for Leonidas.”

Margiad Evans, too, used her talents at visual art in order to give expression to her imagination. After studying at the Hereford School of Art, Margiad Evans (real name Peggy Whistler) turned to the pen as the primary medium for her creative work. She wrote Country Dance in 1932, and much like Brenda Chamberlain her style tends to the sparse and pared down: Country Dance is, after all, the diary of Ann Goodman, a half-Welsh half-English young woman living in the border country in the year 1850. The style echoes the quotidian of a diary, and in its linguistic restraint emulates the social constraints of the protagonist, bringing with it too the quiet intensities of a woman’s diary of the time. As Catrin Collier states in the introduction after studying the real diaries of women in the beginning of the 20th century, “[They] emphasized the narrow confines of rural life in wales during the first half of the twentieth century.”

Ann Goodman is at the centre of a tragedy, a tale of passion, jealousy and murder. From the very beginning of her “Book”, the sense of foreboding is established,

“Gabriel is coming to see me ... He rides so beautifully that I run down the hill to watch him come up the lane; I stand by the gate to wait for him, and truth to tell I am thirsty for the sight of him after so long. It seems so much time wasted to be to be stood there at midday doing nothing, so I tuck up my sleeves and stoop down to the brook to gather watercress for our tea. There is my face staring back at me out of the brown water among the weeds, almost like a person drowned.” 

A dangerous and dark sexual passion grips the characters of Bernice Rubens’ 1975 novel I Sent a Letter to My Love, which speaks of the strange, lonely world of an brother and sister, in their late middle-age, the former wheelchair bound, never leaving his room. The sister, Amy Evans, alone, ugly, spending all her life looking after her disabled brother, suddenly makes a last attempt at finding someone that she can love and who will love her in return. The unsettling and darkly comic results of her search are the basis of this novel, which was described an “exceptionally original and disturbing achievement” on its first publication by the Daily Telegraph.

Finally, the short story collection Rhapsody (published in 1927) by Dorothy Edwards is only one of two surviving works by the writer. Tragically, Dorothy Edwards took her own life by throwing herself in front of a train at Caerphilly Railway station in 1934. Her writing is stylish and moving, reminiscent of the kind of prose the Bloomsbury group were writing at the time; a literary set of which Edwards was an occasional member.  Her stories often deal with feelings of isolation and solitude, the very opening of the first story ‘Rhapsody‘ centers on a young woman waiting in a cafe, smoking and drinking tea, when she locks eyes with a stranger reading a magazine on a neighboring table. This chance encounter unravels into something deeper and far more complicated.  

From short stories to novels and travel writing, it’s time to re-discover these ‘lost’ women writers, whose works have been out of print for too many years. All these titles are available on our Parthian site, or you can download them as an ebook through Amazon or Waterstone’s. Enjoy!

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