When Anaïs Met Henry: Nin’s Tumultuous Affair with Henry and June Miller

In late 1931, the author and diarist Anaïs Nin met Henry Miller and his wife, June. She first fell in love with Henry’s writing, and then with the man himself before being seduced by his wife, June. This excerpt from Everybody I Can Think of Ever: Meetings That Made the Avant-Garde by Francis Booth recounts what would be a fateful, formative affair:

Henry Miller was the author of banned, erotic novels like Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring, originally published by Jack Kahane’s Obelisk Press in 1934 and 1936 respectively. Henry was married at the time he met Anaïs Nin, to June Anderson, the second of his five wives (Nin wasn’t, and would not be, one of the five). Nin was married at the time also, to Hugo Parker Guiler (sometimes known as Ian Hugo). Read More→

Two Under the Indian Sun: A Memoir by Jon and Rumer Godden

Two under the indian sun by Jon & Rumer Godden

It’s not often that you find two sisters collaborating on a joint memoir, as is the case with Two Under the Indian Sun (1966). That Jon and Rumer Godden did so after becoming successful authors in their own right is all the more interesting.

Among Rumer’s successes were her bestselling novels Black Narcissus and The River, as well as her memoirs, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and A House with Four Rooms. Jon’s works include The Bird Escaped, The House by the Sea, and A Winter’s Tale. The two sisters also collaborated on other highly acclaimed works like Shiva’s Pigeon and Indian Dust.

What is remarkable about this memoir is that though it was published in adulthood, the Godden sisters are able to pick up the sheer joy of being two little girls, growing up in India, in a small place called Narayangunj, in undivided Bengal/India, where their father is employed in a shipping company. Read More→

“The Disappoinment” by Aphra Behn (1680)

Aphra Behn

“The Disappointment” by Aphra Behn, a poem first published in 1680, is arguably among the best known and enduring of her works. Considered scandalous in her lifetime, Behn (1640 – 1689), a playwright, poet, and novelist, is recognized as the first British woman to earn a living by her writing. 

In this lengthy poem, the shepherd Lisander attempts to force himself on the maid Cloris. It’s implied that that two are in love, and that the encounter is not a random situation. Cloris, however, is unwilling, and Lisander is unable to perform — experiencing “the Hell of Impotence.” She is able to escape, and yet, since the perspective is on the female sexual experience, we’re left to wonder which of the pair is the most disappointed.

“Behn wrote quite freely about sex: her poem The Disappointment is very explicit and concerns male impotence, a highly transgressive theme for a woman, then and now,” writes Francis Booth in Killing the Angel: Early British Transgressive Women Writers. Read More→

Susanna Centlivre, English Poet and Playwright

Susanna Centlivre, English Poet & playwright

This introduction to Susanna Centlivre (1669 – 1723), the English poet, playwright, and actress, is excerpted from Killing the Angel: Early British Transgressive Women Writers ©2021 by Francis Booth. Reprinted by permission:

Very much as Virginia Woolf wrote about Aphra Behn, the anonymous author of the introduction to Susanna Centlivre’s collected works wished that Centlivre had been buried as a national treasure in Westminster Abbey. Read More→

Regiment of Women by Clemence Dane (1917)

Regiment of Women (Clemence Dane novel)

This introduction to Regiment of Women (1917), a proto-lesbian novel by the pseudonymous Clemence Dane, is is excerpted from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in mid-20th Century Women’s Fiction by Francis Booth, reprinted with permission:

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928 ), usually said to be the first English-language novel containing veiled lesbianism was just beaten to the title by Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer, 1927. But ten years before even that was Regiment of Women, 1917, the debut novel of Clemence Dane, the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton (1888-1965), London-born novelist, playwright, and early feminist.

Clemence Dane’s 1921 play, A Bill of Divorcement, was made into a film three times and Dane went on to write screenplays herself, including Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo. Read More→

Francie Nolan: Coming of Age in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The coming of age of a strong  female protagonist was a surprisingly common theme in mid-20-century literature by women authors. At a time when women’s progress suffered setbacks, perhaps the pages of books were an  outlet for repressed ambitions and desires. Francie Nolan, the gentle, relatable heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is considered in this excerpt from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in mid-20th Century Women’s Fiction by Francis Booth. Reprinted with permission:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), the first published novel by Betty Smith (1896-1971) is a wonderful example of the female bildungsroman, following the central character Francie Nolan in an epic sweep from age eleven to seventeen. Beginning in summer 1912, the story centers around Francie and her Irish immigrant family, living in a Brooklyn slum where the children pick rags to make a few cents. Read More→

Merci, Colette: How the Legendary French Author Continues to Inspire

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

This heartwarming essay by Tyler Scott is an homage to Colette (1873 – 1954), the bold and fearless French author, and discusses how she continues to inspire writers at any stage of practice:

In the fraught year of 2020, I had been too addled and worried to write very much. After a career as a freelancer, I started to wonder if things had ground to a halt. Was this the end of the line for me? After all that work? All that research? All those accolades? As Claudia Emerson, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and onetime classmate told me, “Sometimes it’s just easier to quit.”

So, what opened my eyes, jolted my imagination, made me grab a pen and pick up my dusty journal? Colette. Thanks to a famous French author, I am writing again for the first time in months. Read More→

The Scandalous, Sexually Explicit Writings of Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn, scandalous English author

Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689), was far ahead of her time as the first Englishwoman to earn a living by the pen as a playwright, poet, and novelist. She was also considered scandalous not just for thriving in a profession generally closed to women, but for the sexually explicit nature of her writing. This aspect of her artistry is explored in this excerpt from Killing the Angel: Early British Transgressive Women Writers ©2021 by Francis Booth. Reprinted by permission:

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf espoused Aphra Behn’s cause as the great precursor of free women writers — though the first book in English was written by Julian of Norwich, the first autobiography was written by Margery Kempe, the first playwright and female poet since antiquity was Hrotsvitha and the first professional woman writer was probably Christine of Pizan. Read More→

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