Helen Zenna Smith, and the Manchester Guardian

Evadne_Price_at_work

I’ll be giving a talk at the Marginalised Mainstream conference in November, about the various literary disguises of Evadne Price, and especially the novels she wrote under the pseudonym ‘Helen Zenna Smith’.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Manchester Guardian archive, to see whether they had reviewed her novels, and found a review of Not So Quiet… in the issue of April 24th, 1930.
It’s a pretty just assessment of the book’s literary qualities: ‘filled with a savage hatred of war’; ‘one of those books which haunt the mind of the reader’; ‘coarse language and insistence on physical detail’; ‘the bitterness in it is perhaps too heavily stressed’.
What is most interesting, though, is that the reviewer (‘M. A. L.’ Any ideas who that might be?) does not seem to know that the book was a novel, and certainly does not realise that the author was far too young to have served in the War:

The author was attached to a convoy under a domineering and heartless commandant…

I’ve got a nearly edition of the book (though it’s a Newnes reprint, not the Marriott edition reviewed in the MG). there is no indication inside the book whether it was a novel or a memoir. But my copy lacks a dustjacket. Does anyone have any ideas whether the original jacket actually labelled the book a novel? Or did Marriott, who was more than a bit of a chancer, deliberately make the book’s genre vague in order to improve sales by suggesting authenticity?

Here’s the Manchester Guardian review in full. I’d like to read the second one reviewed – the one dismissed as inauthentic.
Click the article for a slightly larger view.
manchester guardian

6 Comments

  1. Posted October 29, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi George,

    The following link displays the original dust jacket: http://www.greatwardustjackets.co.uk/index-25.html.

    Kindest regards,

    Rod

  2. Posted October 29, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The rear of the jacket says – ” An honest, unsentimental, savage record of a girl ambulance driver in France. It is a marvellous piece of realistic writing’
    On the inside front flap it says – ” This book is not a story, for one cannot make a story of an experience that is rotten to the core with wickedness. It tells simply of one of these women who went to France to give their services for England during the Great War, and knew not what she did. It is a plea for the ultimate crushing of such dishonest and reasonless beastliness that gambles with the souls and bodies of men and women, that steeps humanity in foulness, that wrecks the entire world, and mocks at creation.’
    Neither quote is credited. Strong stuff indeed.

    • Posted October 30, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this. ‘Not a story’ is a wonderfully ambiguous phrase, isn’t it? It could cover anything from realist-style slice of life to complete authenticity.
      The blurb is presumably Marriott’s, not Price’s; he was not the sort of man who would be worried by the fact that he might be misleading the reader. Price never got paid for writing the novel.

  3. Roger
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    “the author was far too young to have served in the War:”

    According to Wikipedia Price was born in 1888. Even the alternative dates of 1895/6 do not preclude her serving in the war. Given her habit of mythologizing and improving the facts, could Not So Quiet actually be more autobiographical than is usually thought? What was Evadne Price doing in the war?

    • Posted October 30, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Price’s date of birth varies wildly according to various accounts. In some places it is put as late as 1901. 1896 seems likeliest.
      Between 1914 and 1920 she was working as an actress.

      • Posted November 4, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Update: Carol Acton in the ODNB says that Price also did a wartime ‘stint as a temporary civil servant in the Air Ministry.’


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