I’m delighted to be a guest this week on the excellent ‘Lost Ladies of Lit’ book podcast hosted by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes (follow the link here). It’s a podcast about books, creativity, the writing life, and forgotten classics by women writers: recently I enjoyed their episodes on Marjorie Hillis, Martha Gellhorn and the Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. Hungerford’s Molly Bawn (1878) mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) was a Victorian bestseller and adapted as a silent movie in 1916, but now is little known. There is lots more to discover on the Lost Ladies of Lit website here, and all episodes are available on Apple podcasts, or via the website.
Kim and Amy invited me to talk about Amy Levy’s novel Reuben Sachs (1888) which attracted controversy when it was first published. Levy aimed to emulate her heroes Daudet and Zola, and say something original about affluent Jewish culture in Victorian Britain. ‘Its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and, above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make it, in some sort, a classic,’ Oscar Wilde said. ‘To write thus at six-and-twenty is given to very few.’ But the novel was widely criticized (along with its dangerous ‘New Woman’ author) and after her death Levy’s novels were ‘forgotten’ – that is, quietly dropped from the canon, as many Victorian women writers were.
Today I have updated my blogpost about Levy’s friendship with her former Cambridge tutor, Ellen Wordsworth Darwin. Both women were uncompromising in their pursuit of truth, and both struggled with depression, which Darwin herself described as ‘the personal struggle for life and joy continually beaten back’.
© Ann Kennedy Smith, April 2021
For more about Reuben Sachs, see the recent Persephone Books reissue (details here), and posts on Elinor Fitzsimons’s ‘Beside Every Man’ blog here, and on Susie Thomas’s ‘London Fictions’ blog here.