For many interwar writers, the women’s suffrage movement was a force as powerful as the war itself in shaping modernity. In her undeservedly forgotten novel The Call (1924), Edith Ayrton Zangwill takes up the history of both suffrage militancy and the war, chronicling their impact on women’s professional, political, and personal lives. The novel tells the story of a young chemist, Ursula Winfield, who is initially more absorbed in questions of science than in questions of women’s rights.
H. G. Wells may be most famous in modernist studies for Virginia Woolf’s suggestion that he doesn’t belong among the “moderns.” Yet Wells was vitally engaged with the features, futures, and controversies of early twentieth-century life, as his varied oeuvre makes clear. If his science fiction has kept Wells a household name, it is in his social romances that we see him at his most perceptive as an observer of modern everyday life. Socialists and suffragettes are among the characters of Ann Veronica: A Modern Romance (1909), a novel that grapples with roles for women in a time of rapid social change. Previously out of print in the US, and with no scholarly edition available anywhere, Ann Veronica was overdue for rediscovery. Carey J. Snyder’s edition of the novel provides an incisive introduction, illuminating notes, and judiciously chosen contemporary documents that enable readers to appreciate Wells’s contributions to the debates of his age and to our own.
In 2020, Penguin Classics reissued Dorothy Strachey’s Olivia (1949), which tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl from London sent to a French boarding school on the outskirts of Paris, Les Avons, where she falls passionately in love with one of her teachers, Mlle Julie. Olivia is an exceptional narrative in terms of its content, its composition, and its publication history. Strachey (1865-1960) was part of the prominent Strachey family, whose father played a key role in the development of the British Empire in India as a military engineer. Dorothy’s five siblings included Lytton Strachey, author of Eminent Victorians (1918); James Strachey, translator of Freud’s English Standard Edition; Pernel Strachey, who became principal of Newnham College, Cambridge; Pippa Strachey, who became Secretary of the London Society of Women’s Suffrage; and Marjorie Strachey, a writer and French teacher. Dorothy, not to be outdone, became the official English translator of the eminent French author, André Gide.
Spoiler alert. Just before Stan Emery, the tragic embodiment of youthful excess in John Dos Passos’ glittering Manhattan Transfer, dies in an apartment fire, he looks out onto the cityscape of Manhattan and says, “Kerist I wish I was a skyscraper!” (255). For each reader of the novel, the line will stand out. It hits the eye, a solitary line after a set of song lyrics and before a paragraph break.