Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade is published by Faber and it's a rather lovely hardback. There isn't so much a dust jacket as a large wraparound half-jacket which reveals the attractive design of the cover  - representing the eponymous square, Mecklenburgh Square in London. The sub-title of the book is: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars. A niche subject? Well, yes and no.

Francesca Wade, a Londoner, explains that she came across the Square by chance in 2013 and was astonished to learn that five women writers lived in the Square at roughly the same time in the early part of the twentieth century. She set out to discover what drew them there, and her findings became the raw material for this book. And the women? They were: H.D., a modernist poet, Jane Ellen Harrison, a translator, Eileen Power, a historian, Virginia Woolf, and Dorothy L. Sayers. I freely admit that I was only familiar with Woolf and Sayers before coming across this book.

The author and I came into contact when she was researching Sayers and I was at once impressed with her thoughtful approach and the care with which she investigated her subject. As she mentions in a note at the end of the book, we met when she accepted my invitation to attend as a guest at a Detection Club dinner. I'm pleased to say that, having read this book, it lived up to my hopes and expectations. It's very well written and it's interested me in people of whom I was previously unaware.

As it happens, I've come across the Square myself in recent years, since it's not far from my son's flat, and very close to the Foundlings Hospital where I undertook some of my own research for Gallows Court. It's quite an impressive place, with a garden that isn't open to the public, and its history is fascinating. Francesca Wade has done an excellent job in tracing the unlikely connections between a quintet of women of distinction.

1 comment:

Clothes in Books said...

This sounds very interesting Martin. When I first read Gaudy Night in my teens, I was much struck by Harriet Vane's life in Mecklenbergh Square. It sounded absolutely ideal to me, an I have never forgotten it. So I should read this book... it's very satisfying to find that Harriet's creator lived there.