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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
MOBO awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with another double elimination
Channel 5 set to give Big Brother the cold shoulder
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'