In Sheila Kaye-Smith’s 1943 novel of three wars, Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, there is a 1917 scene in which Myra, youngest of the novel’s four sisters, goes to Proudlock’s, a London café where ‘of an evening one usually met the young men who by day hung around the Bomb Shop – the bookseller’s of the Charing Cross Road’.
I’ve written about the Bomb Shop before. It was the nickname, proudly borne, of Henderson’s, which not only sold radical literature, but also published works such as Miles Malleson’s playscripts, D Company and Black ‘Ell, which were confiscated in a raid.
On the day Myra visits the café, her acquaintances are missing:
Nowhere could she see the wild bobbed heads of the women: blazing Christine, with her tales of Rory O’Connor and the Dublin revolution; ardent Fitzroy, still fighting the battle of the despised and rejected with her banned book; or the sleeker, yet equally abundant locks of Ernest the Jew, who, in order to find a less incongruous background for his conscience, was seeking admission to the Society of Friends; Kit, who to his own great fury had been exempted from military service on medical instead of conscientious grounds; or George, who despised them all because he had the honour of serving in the Bomb Shop itself.
Fitzroy, of course, is Rose Allatini, who used the pseudonym A. T. Fitzroy for Despised and Rejected, her novel about conscientious objectors and the sexually unorthodox, which aroused the bile of that horrible man James Douglas. But who are the others? I must try to find out.
Myra, like Sheila Kaye-Smith, is a novelist who began her career just before the war. She knows the Bomb Shop crowd well, but does not feel totally at home with them. Maybe the same was true of Kaye-Smith.
Would her wartime novel Little England read differently if one thought of her not just as a regional novelist closely observing hardships in rural Sussex, but as a woman in close contact with radical pacifists in London? I must take another look at it.