Monthly Archives: September 2022

The Conscientious Objector’s Wife, Edited by Kate Macdonald 

Some years ago, before the Covid pandemic, I was walking on Dartmoor, following a route that would take me back to Princetown. My route was clear, partly because there is a very talk mast at Princetown, and I could walk towards it despite the rise and fall of the moorland. The other reason that my way was so clear was because I was walking on a straight track, a road created during the First World War by Conscientious Objectors (COs) who had been sent to the converted prison. The track, which runs east-west from Princetown, where Dartmoor prison is located, was never finished. It appears to just peter out. It earned the nickname ‘the road to nowhere’.

The encounter with the track on the moor fired my imagination and led to some research about the COs on Dartmoor. I wrote a short story about a young conchie who worked on the road to nowhere. The story was shortlisted in the Exeter Short Story Prize and led to some further connections, an article in Devon Life, and a post on this blog called The Story of the Conchie Road (see below). As a result, several people contacted me because their relatives had been COs in Princetown and requested copies of my short story collection mentioned in the post.

I have retained my interest in the COs, their cause, and their time on Dartmoor. It was against this background that I ordered from the publisher the book featured in this post. 

The Conscientious Objector’s Wife: letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland 1916-1919

At the start of World War 1 in July 1914 patriotic enthusiasm led thousands of young men to volunteer for the British army and navy. The belief that the war would be over by Christmas was soon revealed to be wishful thinking, and the war settled into a stalemate along the land fronts, especially the Western Front. It began to look as though the country and allies with the greatest number of men would win.

The supply of men willing to serve dwindled. Conscription was introduced into Britain on 2nd March 1916 for unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41. This still did not supply enough men, so in May it was extended to include married men. This new regulation also introduced a ‘conscience clause’, which granted exemption to those who objected to military service. Some of those were allowed to take non-combatant roles in the army, such as stretcher bearers. Others were required to do work of ’national importance’ at two work camps, one of which was at Princetown on Dartmoor. Some were absolutists, men who refused any activity that would assist the war effort.

In November 1916 Frank Sunderland took an absolutist stand. For this he was imprisoned until April 1919, five months after the Armistice had been signed. He served his sentences in Bedford Barracks, Wandsworth and mostly in Bedford Prison near his home in Letchworth. The book is a collection of letters between Frank and his wife Lucy over the 30 months they were apart.

The histories of wars are usually concerned with battles and political power. Since the middle of the 20thcentury women’s history has been recognised as providing important additional perspectives on such events. Before the First World War suffragettes had been demanding a political voice for women through the ballot box. Lucy Sunderland provides us with a detailed look at a working class mother’s life on the home front during the war. 

This is really Lucy’s story for she has to adjust to the demands of the war, and becoming a single mother of three young children. Her husband, while not in a happy situation in prison, was fed and housed and had leisure to read and fraternise and miss home life. Some things are not included; if she experienced any harassment or criticism for being the wife of a CO she did not report it to her husband. She was careful not to distress him in that way. Nor did they discuss anything to do with the progress of the war, battles, casualties and so forth, perhaps to avoid trouble with the censors.

When Frank began his imprisonment Lucy became responsible for providing for the four remaining family members, to pay the rent on the house in Letchworth where they lived, to buy food, clothes, boots, medicines, and to pay doctors’ fees and school fees. To begin with she took on Frank’s insurance round and continued her work as seamstress. She earned a little from the eggs her chickens laid from time to time, and from her lodgers. Food became more scarce as the German navy’s blockade increased in effectiveness, and rationing was introduced. There were shortages of fuel too, especially of coal which was needed for industry and transport. 

Lucy became a single mother of three small children. She writes to Frank about her concerns to keep them in touch with their father, their educational advances, and their illnesses. Scarlet fever attacked the household, but they managed to avoid the ‘flue’, that is the Spanish influenza that killed so many healthy people as it tore through the population from the spring of 1918. We read family news, about her sister who is waiting to marry and about her parents. When her mother dies during a visit to Lucy’s house, the shock is evident to Frank and us in her account.

Letchworth had a vibrant cultural life; lectures on many subjects, ‘Adult’ school, books discussed and exchanged, and networks of sympathisers to pacifism, conscientious objectors, the New Town movement, and socialist ideas. Many of the Sunderlands’ acquaintances were Friends (that is Quakers), who were especially prominent in the support of exemptions from conscription.

The war was long, and by the winter of 1917/18 Lucy was feeling the accumulated effects of her mother’s sudden death, bombardment of north London (audible in Letchworth), Frank’s continuing absence, illnesses and dental problems, and the ceaseless demands of the household. In the summer of 1918 she took a two-month holiday in Barnstable and was restored by the countryside and how well her children flourished there. The reader too takes pleasure in the family’s enjoyment of north Devon, the sea, the landscapes, and the new people they meet. Lucy’s letters from here reflect the improving health of mother and children and their increasing family bonds. 

As the end of their separation approached Frank and Lucy discussed how they would live in the future, pinning hopes on the New Town movement (such as plans that eventually materialised as Welwyn Garden City), having learned Esperanto to enable European travel, and looking forward to increased working-class influence in political matters.

The introduction by the editor (and publisher) Kate Macdonald is informative and a well written opening for this fascination account of life on the Home Front.

The Story of the Conchie Road on Bookword (November 2018)

The Conscientious Objector’s Wife: letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland 1916-1918. Edited by Kate Macdonald and published in 2018 by the Handheld Press. 328pp

The ‘Road to Nowhere’ on Royal Hill, Dartmoor

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Reading Palladian again by Elizabeth Taylor

Some days only reading Elizabeth Taylor will do. I am sad to have read all her fiction – and reviewed it here on Bookword. But I am rereading them again when that mood takes me. I first read Palladian for a post in May 2013. I enjoy rereading her novels and find that I can concentrate more on her superb writing and less on the plot when I do so. In rereading Palladian, I am impressed by how she has conceptualised a large number of characters and how the story is narrated in her precise and elegant prose.

Palladian

The novel was published in 1946 and was her second novel after At Mrs Lippincote’s. This novel has the feel of a small section of society, very much engaging with the post-war austerity. The decaying Palladian house is perhaps the most obvious example of this. 

Cassandra Dashwood is an orphan and as she finishes school her headteacher finds her a place as a governess for a young girl, daughter of a widower and the owner of a grand house, Cropthorne Manor. She leaves what she has known to work in a strange household: Marion Vanbrugh is the widower, his cousins Tom and Margaret are also staying there with their mother, Tinty Vanbrugh. In the house also is Sophy, a precocious and wilful child and Nanny who acts as cook and housekeeper and is poisonous in her speech.

It has been suggested that this is Elizabeth Taylor’s homage to Jane Eyre, and while there are some surface parallels, and literature permeates the novel, I think this is only meant as a nod. There is no mad woman in the attic and Cassandra is not asked to join in a bigamous marriage. Cassandra is, however, quite ready to fall for the widower and does. 

Daphne du Maurier published Rebecca in 1938, and the story of Palladium has some similarities with it: the handsome but distracted leading man; a beautiful house, an innocent, naïve girl and an older woman servant who remembers the first wife. Nanny is no Mrs Danvers, however. She is not threatening, merely small-minded and a bully.

Nanny had disapproved of Violet, but she disapproved of Cassandra even more. She had always loved her boys and was not above setting the girls against one another; whether dead or alive. It delighted her to bring Cassandra to the edge of despair about Violet.

Readers discover that Nanny is frequently wrong, for example when she gossips about Cassandra pilfering money (it’s Tom) and food (it’s Margaret) and a brooch (it’s a gift from Marion). 

The members of the household are all lonely – this is Elizabeth Taylor, after all. No-one does loneliness quite as well as she does. Marion lost his wife; Tom (his cousin) also loved Violet and has not, after ten years, recovered; Margaret is married to an absent sailor, but will eventually leave the house to give birth to her child; Sophy has no one of her age to play or socialise with; Nanny is poison. 

Cassandra observes the others in the household. Tom is an alcoholic and frequently visits the Blacksmith’s Arms, where he has been carrying on with Mrs Veal. Margaret has no friends and is a bit of a bully. Nanny makes difficulties for everyone. And then a disaster strikes, and everyone has to reassess their situation. Only Tom is still adrift after the accident.

Names in the novel

Look at the names she gives her characters. First: Marion. Mrs Turner, the headteacher, explains to Cassandra that despite a name usually given to women Marion is a man:

‘I discovered that it was one of those names like Evelyn or Hilary or Lindsay that can be either. With an “o”, you see. But “o” or not, I think it rather girlish for a grown man.’ (9)

And it is true that Marion Vanbrugh is delicate and not at all aggressive as many of the men of the time were required to be.

Cassandra Dashwood: Cassandra was famously the Trojan princess who made true prophecies but was never believed. Rather a portentous first name to saddle someone with. And it was the Dashwood family that were the subject of Sense and Sensibility, Marianne the impetuous sister, and Eleanor the more circumspect. Like Cassandra, they lost their father and had to live at the mercy of others.  

The title of the book, Palladian, refers to a popular style of architecture of the 18th century, where the façade was precise and balanced, featuring classical columns and symmetry. The façade is the important thing. All kinds of horrors can hide behind it, as Nanny points out. In any case the house has been badly neglected. But the title might refer to the attributes of those who, like the goddess Pallas Athene, acquire wisdom and knowledge. And it is Cassandra and Marion who gain these qualities.

Literature in literature

As well as a reference to Jane Eyre, I counted no less than eleven novels or other literary works that are quoted or referred to in Palladian. In addition, the setting of the library is a key location for some of the action.

A Month in the Country by Turgenev

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Homer, Sappho, Ruskin and Shakespeare are quoted 

Nanny takes Sophy to a showing of the film of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I love how Elizabeth Taylor weaves these texts into her novel. She did something similar in her first novel, At Mrs Lippincote’s in which a small boy ‘snuffs up’ novels. Elizabeth Taylor is reminding us that readers are as influenced by their imagination as they are by their physical environments.

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor, first published in 1946. Republished in the Virago Modern Classics series. 191pp

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Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho

The Women in Translation month, August, on Twitter was a great success. I managed to tweet a link to a different post every day. There are 48 posts on Bookword blog featuring fiction translated from a foreign language. I tweet a link to one of these every Thursday. 

This is the first post about a novel written in Portuguese on this blog. It has an intriguing title, which makes me ask: Who or what are the empty wardrobes? Why are they empty? What is their significance in this writer’s novel?

Empty Wardrobes

The story of Empty Wardrobes is set in Portugal in the 1960s. It follows the widow Dora Rosàrio, and is narrated by her friend, Manuela. 

Even after ten years of widowhood, she still wore black, and, given the long full skirts she wore and the sensible shoes, she looked more like an off-duty nun than what she actually was – a career widow. (16)

Dora Rosàrio’s husband died young and without making any provision for his wife and daughter after his death. Consequently she must beg from her friends and acquaintances. They feel sorry for her, but their sympathies are wearing thin but at last she gets a job in an antiques store. In the 1960s Portugal political life was dominated by the right-wing dictator Salazar, and society was dominated by old fashioned ideas about women, heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. Women ‘s lives were shaped by the supremacy of family and husband. Dora was following the idea that widowhood is more or less the end of days for a woman.

Duarte Rosàrio is elevated to something like a saint by Dora. She even has a picture that she kisses. But we are introduced to an alternative version of Duarte Rosàrio: a lazy and unskilled man with no particular qualities. We should take note of the epithet:

J’ai conservé de faux trésors dans des armoires vides. [I have saved false treasures in empty wardrobes] Paul Éluard 

With the job in the antiques store Dora is now able to support herself and her daughter, but she does not come out of her isolation until her mother-in-law imparts a secret she learned about Duarte at the end of his life. Everything changes. Dora suddenly begins to take care of herself, buy and wear nice clothes and becomes more outgoing. 

The presence of the narrator is not prominent at first, but she gradually muscles in to more and more of the narrative. The narrator, Manuela, has a rich lawyer lover who comes to the antiques shop (nicknamed the Museum by daughter Lisa) and is impressed with the reformed Dora. Eduardo invites her to his house in Sintra where they sleep together. On the way home they are involved in an accident. When Eduardo comes to check on Dora, he meets Lisa and within a week they decide to marry.

The empty wardrobes are perhaps the narrator Manuela and Dora, who both lost their partners? Or else the mother-in-law who spilled the beans, or Lisa who uses everyone despite being beautiful, or the two men in Dora’s live: Duarte and Eduardo. I’m inclined to believe that primarily it was the men who hold the emptiness of women’s lives in their power in Portugal at that time.

Maria Judite de Carvalho

Maria Judite de Carvalho was born in 1921 and died in 1998. This is the first of her novels to be translated into English.

Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho, published in Portugal in 1966. Two Lines Press published the English translation in 2021. 183pp. Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa 

Related Posts

JacquiWine recommended this book in January 2022, and I am grateful that she brought it to my attention.

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While the Gods were Sleeping by Erwin Mortier

This novel was suggested for the Older Women in fiction series by a reader of this blog. It is narrated by an old woman who is trying to make sense of the life she has lived and the changes she has seen. On the cover it is described as ‘a beautifully unorthodox novel of the Great War’. So, is it a war novel or an account of ageing?

These descriptions are not incompatible, and the novel is broad in its themes, allowing for both perspectives: war novel and older woman in fiction. It is a weighty work, but full of humanity, and written with a prose that is at times sumptuous and at others unflinching. This novel, originally written in Dutch, is focused on one small corner of northern France on the border with Belgian in the early years of the 20th century. 

This is the 60th in the series of older women in fiction which I promote to make older women in fiction more visible. You can find the links at the end of the post to the complete list of 100+ suggested books in the series with links to those I have reviewed on Bookword Blog.

While the Gods were Sleeping

Helena is in her nineties and sees herself as a lonely survivor from her generation. She requires 24-hour care from Rachida (a young Moroccan woman) and her less sympathetic stand-in. She is reviewing her life, not just to give an account of it but rather to interrogate the influences and experiences. 

Helena was born into a bourgeoise family in pre-WW1 Belgium. The first 70 pages describe her upbringing in a bourgeois household in a Belgian town where her father owns the hardware store. He mother upholds the conventions of the class, expressed in particular through the sewing circle of local women that meet in her home and by her very close supervision of her daughter. Her mother is very happy with her life and believes that all is good in the world. Her view will be violently shattered by the war.

The next section is concerned with Helena’s brother, Edgard, and reveals the double standard in their upbringing. Edgard is gay and enjoys considerable freedom. He is called up eventually and is wounded in the latter part of the war. To Helena as they sit on a terrace overlooking the sea in his convalescence, he reports on his dreams. This is among some of the most powerful writing in this book. And perhaps this example will go some way to explain why this is a war novel.

A languor hangs over the terrace, a blanket of lethargy. At the same time I feel the jealousy of my men behind me and rage wells up in me. Who is drinking our blood? Who is eating our flesh? And then there is the sadness again, that gnawing, amber-coloured regret – why do the years bring so much regret, my little gazelle? What loans must we repay, what losses must we redeem? Who has lived above his station and mortgaged our existence? Usually I wake up in tears. (281-2)

Helena retells how she went with her French mother to France in the summer of 1914, for their annual visit with that side of her family. War is declared while they are there and the border closed, and they must stay for the next few years in France. Her father remains in Belgium. She experiences the war at first hand, seeing the first impact on the community as the men are called up, the injuries and mutilations, the deaths, the death of a child, the front and finally her brother and lover who are both injured and in a hospital. 

The British Army on the Western Front, 1914-1918. Troops going up to the trenches through the snow along a road in single file, La Boisselle, February 1917. By Lt John Warwick. From the Imperial War Museum collection via wikicommons.

The damage to human life, the damage to the landscape, the damage to communities are each explored in turn as Helena is taken up by an English officer and they visit the area near the front line. He will become her husband. What it means to be in the army, what it means to be afraid or to be wounded, these aspects of war are also revealed. She visits the area behind the lines with her lover;

The plain that I no longer recognized, or only half, because it was no longer, or not completely, the plain where we used to come on excursions by coach with my uncle and the aunts, under the parasol of August, to the villages where we drank the idleness of summer from earthenware jugs, the bitter beer.
The villages with their towers, their sun-scorched squares, their ochre spires which now seemed different villages, different towers, toy villages which had fallen out of the overfull box of a giant child while it had been lugging it across fields in boredom where old corn lay snapped over the earth, overgrown with grass tussocks and thistles. Roofs showed their skeletons, seemed to have rejected their tiles. Windows, shutters, hung loose from the window frames in walls riddled with bullet holes. … (208-9)

The prose is very pregnant, lush even, baroque. We see her childhood dominated by her mother’s stiff understanding of what girls should do. She falls out with her mother who discovers that she has spent unsupervised time with her lover. And alongside the bystanders and participants we experience the horrors of war, the damage – not just on the Front, but over the years, and to families and communities. The novel is about ageing, but ageing in times that are tragic, not ageing that is simply looking back over the past.

The narrative is deliberately disrupted and disruptive. Helena’s marriage to her British photographer husband is prefigured for she refers to him as ‘my husband’ from the outset. Franz Ferdinand’s assassination was the spark that set in motion the events that led to the outbreak of hostilities and this news broke while they were on the train to France. We find this out much later, after we have met Helena and her mother at her uncle’s farm where they will live for the next four years. This is Helena’s account, after all, and we do not remember things in chronological order, but as they are connected to other memories. In addition, Mortier makes much use of lists as the examples above demonstrate. The prose and the disjointed chronology reflect the turbulence of the events of the times they describe. 

Erwin Mortier

Born in 1965, Mortier was brought up in a Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, before moving to Ghent. While the Gods were Sleeping is his fourth novel, all have been translated. He is much admired in Europe for his fiction, his poetry and his translations into Dutch.

While the Gods were Sleeping by Erwin Mortier, first published in 2008, and then in the English translation in 2014 by Pushkin Press. 364pp Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent 

Related posts

On her blog The Book Binder’s Daughter refers to the confusing and disruptive structure of the novel and to its language and prose as ‘disintegrated’. But she found it a memorable novel about WW1. (February 2015)

The Bookword page about the series Older Women in Fiction can be found here.

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Some Monstrous Women in Books

Monstrous women appear in many novels, including those written by women. Some are redeemed, and some are defeated and one or two even triumph. A few are the main character. They all help the plot along in some way. I note that men can be monstrous too, but when they behave as these women do it appears insignificant. 

For this post I present some books that include monstrous women, with links to my reviews on Bookword.

Unredeemed

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (1957)

Angel is monstrous; a writer of flamboyant and excessive fiction that is full of errors and anachronisms and other writerly solecisms (such as using real people’s names). The financial success of her novels came from the popularity of her overblown prose and the outrageousness of her style. Angel herself was certain that she should be spoken of in the same breath as Shakespeare and Goethe (whose name she could not pronounce). Her publisher says that she writes ‘with ignorance and imagination’. She has no sense of humour, no self-doubt and no judgement. Angel is arrogant, rude, selfish and opinionated, and what she doesn’t like she ignores (such as her aunt, the First World War, critics, poverty, people who challenge her).

Flora in The Soul of Kindness, also by Elizabeth Taylor, (1964) has a magnificent unawareness and entitlement that drives people to death, unsuitable marriage and misery. We all know someone like Flora, attractive, without insight or self-awareness, but yet she is everybody’s favourite. Perhaps we even want to be her friend, because some of her lustre might rub off on us. Elizabeth Taylor shows us the damage such creatures can create.

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood (1977)

The narrator is sent to stay with her great-grandmother and finds the experience horrific. The old lady had a toxic upbringing imbued with Victorian middleclass values. She imposes on her young relative the rigid formality, the meeting of the expectations of others, the refusal to express emotions, the belief in her own righteousness, all from that upbringing.

And these get their come-uppance

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

We learn that Lady Catherine de Bourgh ‘was extremely indignant’ at the marriage of her nephew, Mr Darcy, to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, ‘and she gave way to all the genuine frankness of her character’. She had paid a warning visit to Elizabeth in which she told the young woman,

‘Miss Bennet, you ought to know that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you will not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it.’ 

Her abusive language to her nephew severed relations for a while, eventually smoothed over by Elizabeth.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) 335

Few women live in the imagination as strongly as Mrs Danvers, in contrast to the meek second never-named wife of Max de Winter. The housekeeper resents the new wife and seems to own Manderley in the absence of the first Mrs de Winter. As a character she is a brilliant invention. But I wonder how the reader is so easily convinced of Max’s innocence, and how much that is a reaction to Mrs Danvers’s creepy and threatening presence.

Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (1974) 

Mocking the great, is what Muriel Spark is about in this novel that is a parody of Richard Nixon’s downfall. Sister Alexandra, in white, corrupts and exploits the other sisters, in black. She records everything and is wittily exposed in this novel.

Beowulf

Grendel’s mother in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is portrayed as an ignorant hag-like creature, living in a pool of water-snakes, scarcely able to communicate with her son. Maddened by the death of her son at the hands of the first superhero, she is defeated in turn in her own cave. There is an alternative feminist version to this misogyny: The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847) 

Jane’s aunt, Mrs Sarah Reed, resents the necessity for her orphaned niece to join her household and treats her very badly and banishes her to Lowood Hall School.

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (1943)

Three sisters are contrasted in this novel. One of these is Vera who is so beautiful that every door is opened to her, all difficulty smoothed out of her way, all misdemeanours forgiven, until she becomes middle-aged. She treats her husband with flagrant unkindness, and when he leaves her, looks round for another admirer. Her nemesis is age, and she is forced to face her weaknesses when her niece replaces her in a young man’s attentions. Vera is too weak to give up the young man and they run away to a life of more unhappiness in South Africa.

Hidden Qualities

Some apparently horrendous women are revealed to have hidden qualities.

 

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008) 

In the first volume of short stories of Olive Kitteridge, the former schoolteacher is revealed as a very flawed individual. But in the second volume, Olive, Again (2010), she has become quite sympathetic, perhaps because we understand her more. Is this the Dirty Den syndrome, whereby the audience loves a baddie if they experience enough of them?

The Door by Magda Szabo (1987) 

Translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix

Emerence acts as housekeeper to a novelist, choses her clients and behaves in what appears to be a high-handed even predatory manner, intimidating her clients and her neighbours. She is not so much redeemed as explained in this magnificent Hungarian novel. 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)

Mrs Fisher is definitely saved in this much-loved novel about four ill-assorted women who spend a month together in an Italian castle. She is saved through Italian sunshine and the sunny disposition of Lotty.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (2020)

And now, meet Big Madam as 14-year-old Adunni meets her in Lagos.

The cool air inside the car is escaping with a strong flower smell as somebody is climbing out. First thing I am seeing is feets. Yellow feets, black toes. There is different colour paint on all the toenails: red, green, purple, orange, gold. The smallest of the toes is having a gold ring on it. Her whole body is almost filling the whole compound as she is coming out. I am now understanding why they are calling her Big Madam. When she come out, she draw deep breath and her chest, wide like a blackboard, is climbing up and down, up and down. It is as if this woman is using her nostrils to be collecting all the heating from the outside and making us be catching cold. I am standing beside Mr Kola, and his body is shaking like my own. Even the trees in the compound, the yellow, pink, blue flowers in the long flower pot, all of them are shaking. (122)

Big Madam enslaves Adunni, to work in her house, and to live in a shack in the compound. Adunni is valued by many of the people she meets, who help her achieve her ambitions – to do with the ‘louding’ voice – and to which Big Madam must eventually accede. 

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky (2010)

My Grandmother’s Braid by Alina Bronsky (2019)

Both novels were translated from the German by Tim Mohr

In both books there is a monstrous, interfering and overwhelming grandmother. Both behave in underhand and shocking ways, with lack of consideration for others. They are stories about unconditional love that is expressed in curious and sometimes hilarious ways.

Not yet categorised as monstrous

Guard your Daughters by Dorothy Tutton (1953)

The mother in this novel exerts control and limits her five daughter’s experiences to her own advantage. Is she monstrous?

Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen (1969)

The main character challenges many conventions about women, maternal feelings, obsession with appearance, desire to marry, and independent wealth. I am not sure I understand what the author was doing with this unlikely character, but I believe she is not monstrous.

You may have your own suggestions of monstrous female characters to add to this list?

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