There will always be a place on our shelves for emerging talent, but we’d be foolish to overlook the wit and wisdom of those who have come before us. Here, we’ve selected five female writers who mustn’t be allowed to fade.

Dorothy Whipple

Women Writers Dorothy Whipple

JB Priestley described Dorothy Whipple, who lived from 1893 to 1966, as the ‘Jane Austen of the 20th century’. Her beautifully written tales of ordinary people navigating family life, financial turbulence, infidelity, etc, fell out of favour after the war. Luckily the stylish publisher Persephone rescued her and stock several of her understated but powerful domestic novels. We especially love her moving 1953 novel, Someone At A Distance, which chronicles the quiet devastation following an affair amidst the well-kept gardens and polite society of commuter belt England.

Barbara Pym

Excellent Women

In 1977, Philip Larkin said Barbara Pym was ‘the most underrated writer of the century’ and she was nominated for the Booker Prize that year. Though her writing has always had legions of fans and prominent people have championed her, she often struggled to get her novels published. Some thought her social comedies too parochial; others thought them too daring. Start with Excellent Women and you’re sure to go down a happy rabbit hole.

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Born at Harrow on the Hill in 1893, Townsend Warner lived until the ripe old age of 84. A precocious child, a communist, a lesbian, she specialised in ‘surprising sidesteps from the bounds of convention’. She wrote music, poetry, short stories, regular articles for the New Yorker, some non-fiction and seven novels. She is best known for her debut novel Lolly Willowes, which, published in 1926, is a comedy of manners that upturned societal norms and is widely regarded as an early feminist classic.

Rosamund Lehmann

Invitation To The Waltz

Lehmann was born in 1901 into an affluent, prominent, literary family. Her father founded Granta magazine; her great-grandfather founded the Chambers Dictionary. Her mother was American and a feminist, who was determined to instil her values into her daughters. She won a scholarship to Cambridge, on which period her first novel, Dusty Answer, was based. You will love her books if you like those of Nancy Mitford and Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Rose Allatini

Despised And Rejected

Born in Austria 1890 to a prosperous Jewish family, Rose Allatini wrote nearly 40 novels. Often using a pseudonym, she set the cat among the pigeons. One reviewer described her 1918 novel Despised and Rejected as ‘a thoroughly poisonous book’. Persephone says: ‘The wonderfully titled Despised and Rejected by Rose Allatini is everything we would like a Persephone book to be. It is by a forgotten writer who deserves to be revived, as well as having a number of strong themes: opposition to war, acceptance of homosexuality, tolerance of others… It is also a very well-written novel, and a page-turner.’

By Becky Ladenburg
February 2024