Forgotten Authors: No 4 - Lady Cynthia Asquith
Sunday 31 August 2008
Female authors seem to excel at cruel stories with emotional and possibly supernatural tints, using apparitions, fears and forebodings to indicate heightened states of unspoken emotional distress. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's
The Yellow Wallpaper, a wife, possibly suffering from post-natal depression descends, into madness after being quarantined by her husband and doctor, with nothing to do except stare at the increasingly disturbing patterns in her bedroom wallpaper. The story was used by a generation of feminists to condemn marital inequalities, and is regarded as a classic. But there are many whose names have lapsed from familiarity.
Lady Cynthia Asquith was the daughter-in-law of the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and belonged to the literary aristocracy. As well as writing novels and ghost stories, she was an important anthologist and the editor of a series of popular collections. A friend to both D H Lawrence and L P Hartley, she also spent two decades working for J M Barrie. She used her powerful literary connections to persuade an astonishing array of big names into her anthologies, many of which have never been bettered.
Asquith was a storyteller in her own right, and produced a series of fantasies with the ring of truth, collected in a number of volumes, the best being 'This Mortal Coil' – nine tales of spectral vengeance and unease in high Victorian style. Her stories conjure up a world of things unnamed and half in shadow, where the past is never far from the present. Typically, in "The Playfellow", a lonely child adopts a malevolent invisible companion who may be more real than anyone imagines.
As the 20th century progressed and private subjects could be dissected on daytime TV shows, there was suddenly no need for this kind of soft-spoken fiction, where the cruelties of men were visited on women in such a stealthy, unwholesome fashion that heroines were often driven mad. Mental instability and hysteria are seen as signs of weakness, and our female characters are stronger now. Paradoxically, Asquith is best remembered for her non-fiction on the female members of the royal family – strong women almost to a fault.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader