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Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars

2020, Faber & Faber

These five women,

Virginia Woolf, writer and publisher;

Dorothy Sayers, detective novelist;

H.D., modernist poet;

Jane Ellen Harrison, classicist and translator; and

Eileen Power, historian, broadcaster and pacifist,

broke out of the traditional roles society tried to impose on them, living and working independently in "rooms of their own."


I talked with Sue about the book:


photo by Sue Hudson
Mecklenburgh Square

Mecklenburgh Square in London was home to the five women of this book. Have you been there recently? In spring 2020 Lockdown was in full swing, and I was in need of a serious change! I set out to walk around London and ended up in Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury. I ran into the gardener who invited me to admire the flower beds, the tennis court and the overall peacefulness of the place. It was a happy, human moment in those dark times.


The visit inspired you to read Square Haunting. I’ve always enjoyed stories about people shaping and being shaped by new unfamiliar fields. Life never goes in a straight line, there are periods of setting up and questioning oneself, and a lot of quiet heroism in working out the new path. That is what I took from the book, along with a further interest in reading more of Eileen Power's work as a sociologist at the new London School of Economics.

Did you see Virginia Woolf's home in the Square? No, it was bombed during WWII. Recently I read her work, A Writer’s Diary, published in 1953. Towards the end of the diary, on September 10, 1940, she writes of German bombers striking Mecklenburgh Square and destroying houses there. The next day Churchill announced a potential invasion, which thankfully did not happen. But here we are, more than 60 years later; Ukraine has been invaded and is being destroyed with bombs.

 

Like the women of Square Haunting, I want our society to put "peace and community before authority and power" (307). I want us to prize creativity and cooperation above war and individual heroism (198). The author highlights that in the past, art drew communities together. Drawing on the work of her protagonists, she interprets their call for a new world "regenerated and brought together by art, which foregrounds cooperation, embraces change, follows the lead of women, and learns the lessons of the past." (309)


Read:

The Book of the Bear, translated by Jane Ellen Harrison & Hope Mirrlees

Avaakum, Jane Harrison

Bid Me to Live, HD

Medieval People, Eileen Power

"The Leaning Tower," Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf

Remizov, Russian author


Extras:

Virginia Woolf was working on a book called Reading at Random before she died. While searching for it I found The Random Reader and some advice from Woolf on how to read.


KB tries to look English Meck. Square, circa 2015














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