Book Bag

These Female Contemporaries Weren’t Afraid of Virginia Woolf

If only women had written in Woolf’s day, the English novel would have still been in very capable hands. From Mansfield to Gibbons to Hall, here are authors who need not stand in Woolf’s long shadow.

Fans of Virginia Woolf may enjoy the following list of books written by her less famous female contemporaries. All these writers were known to Woolf, and one of them, Dorothy Richardson, is the subject of Louisa Treger’s new biographical novel, The Lodger (Thomas Dunne Books):

The Garden Party and Other Storiesby Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield revolutionized the 20th Century English short story, destroying narrative conventions, such as plots and endings. Her preoccupations center around the expansiveness of the interior life, the many nuances of thought and feelings, the ambiguities of personality.

Pilgrimage (4 vols.)by Dorothy Richardson

Follows the span of an independent woman’s life. For a shorter introduction to Richardson, read Journey to Paradise: Short Stories and Autobiographical Sketches. A pioneer who wrote stream of consciousness before anyone else in England, Richardson was credited by Virginia Woolf with creating “a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.”

The Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair

Harriett’s life of self-denial is Sinclair’s indictment of a society that demanded women should be self-sacrificing and repressed, pursuing “moral beauty” instead of fulfilment.

Cold Comfort Farmby Stella Gibbons

This novel won the literary Prix Femina Étranger. It satirizes and parodies the romanticised, pessimistic accounts of rural life by writers like Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb. It is extremely funny and ruthless.

The Well of Lonelinessby Radclyffe Hall

Arguably the most famous lesbian novel ever written. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, based on the sapphic relationship between Woolf and Vita Sackville West was, in part, a reaction to The Well of Loneliness.

Invitation to the Waltzby Rosamund Lehmann

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Published by the Woolfs’ publishing house, The Hogarth Press, this was reissued more recently by Virago as part of a series of women’s coming-of-age stories. The novel is a near perfect portrayal of the emotions of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood.

Louisa Treger holds a doctorate in English from University College London, where she focused on early 20th Century women’s writing. A former classical violinist, orchestral player, and music teacher, she lives in London with her husband, three children, and dog. Louisa also devotes much of her time to feeding underprivileged children in the desolate Kurland Village in South Africa. The Lodger is her first novel.