The Woman Novelist and Other Stories
Persephone published ‘The House at Hove’, a short story by Diana Gardner, in the Persephone Quarterly no. 22. It was widely admired and so they decided to bring out a selection of Diana Gardner’s other stories. She had published a collection in 1946, called Halfway Down the Cliff, but Persephone have chosen to make a new selection, to omit some stories and to add one that has not been published before; They decided to use this as the title story for The Woman Novelist and Other Stories because its theme is so appropriate to Persephone Books.
There are fourteen other stories in our collection, all extremely varied but all sharing a sharp, sardonic quality characteristic of Diana Gardner’s work. This sharpness may be the reason why she found it so difficult to get her stories accepted, something that was happening to the novelist Elizabeth Taylor at exactly the same period for the same reason: all the literary magazines then publishing short stories were edited by men, and they had definite and unrepentant ideas about both the subjects and tone that women should choose. But Diana always eschewed the obviously feminine. Several of the stories in The Woman Novelist are about women behaving badly, and many of them are uncomfortable reading; all are acutely observant.
After attending art school in London, Diana went to live with her father in a cottage in Rodmell, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf also lived. She got to know them and was a friend and comfort to Leonard after Virginia’s death in 1941. (Diana’s The Rodmell Papers: Reminiscences of Virginia and Leonard Woolf was published by Cecil Woolf in 2008.) In Sussex she went on writing short stories, and also did wood engravings (as illustrated above). After the war she worked in publishing, and in 1954 her first and only novel, The Indian Woman appeared.
But, in our view, the short story was her forte and her most long-lasting achievement. As the critic Walter Allen said in the Spectator: ‘She writes very well indeed; her observation is precise, she has a keen eye for colour, and she knows the value of under-statement.’ And the reviewer in the Manchester Guardian thought that she excelled ‘in a distinctively modern medium in which the poetry and the prose of life, the fantastic, and the factual give spirit and substance to each other.’
The endpaper we chose was an untitled fabric design in potato prints and paint on sugar paper by Alma Ramsey-Hosking which she did in 1942.
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