Rose Allatini and ‘romance novels’

Rose-Allatini

Rose Allatini

The excellent news is that Persephone Books are republishing Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected as one of their Spring/Summer selections. This novel, of course, was the one that, published under the name of A.T. Fitzroy, described homosexuals and conscientious objectors sympathetically, and was prosecuted in September 1918 as ‘likely to prejudice the recruiting, training, and discipline of persons in His Majesty’s forces’. The book was suppressed and the publisher, C.W. Daniel, fined.The new edition will have a preface by Jonathan Cutbill, and I look forward to reading it, since he is an expert on Edward Carpenter, whose writings about homosexual love are a strong influence on the book, and are often paraphrased by its characters. Carpenter, by the way, worked to rally support for Daniel when he was prosecuted, as this circulated letter shows:

18.2. Carpenter Letter

But I am not so certain that he and Persephone Books know very much about Rose Allatini’s life, or about her other writings.

For example, in the lengthy article on Allatini in the new Persephone Biannually newsletter, we find the sentence:

Rose Allatini had published three romantic novels when she wrote Despised and Rejected in 1918.

This ties in with a common misconception about Allatini. Angela K. Smith, in her introduction to her 2011 edition of the novel writes:

Allatini […] had established herself as a writer of romance by the time the war broke out, publishing initially with Mills and Boon in 1914.

and

Allatini’s plot [of Despised and Rejected] appears to follow the conventions of a romance novel, a genre that she embraces later in life as Eunice Buckley.

These comments do not suggest a close acquaintance with Allatini’s other novels.
Her novel Root and Branch, for example, may, like many – perhaps most – novels, contain a love-plot, but it is more importantly structured round a grim debate about the ethics of mercy-killing, as well as being a close and critical depiction of London Jewish society.
Payment, of 1917, begins like a light romance, but becomes something very much darker. (My own suspicion is that it was begun before the War, and then changed course radically after August 1914.). The last third of the book explores the dilemma of a young man so conscious of the dreadfulness of suffering or inflicting pain that he avoids volunteering. It is the first of Allatini’s trilogy of novels about men unwilling to be soldiers. The second is Despised and Rejected and the third (and to my mind the best) is Requiem of 1919.

Nor did she ’embrace’ the romance genre later when she wrote as Eunice Buckley. I have only read five of the thirty-odd Buckley  novels, but none of these to be called ‘ a romance novel’ if that term is, as usual, used dismissively, to stereotype a branch of literature mostly enjoyed by women, supposedly.

The novel Blue Danube (1943), which I have written about before, centres on an extended Jewish family. The first part describes life among well-to-do Jews in Vienna before the First World War, and yes, there is plenty about young women wondering who they will marry. But then the outbreak of War cuts the narrative dead. The second part of the book happens in London, during the Second World War, and describes the sometimes edgy relations between the Jewish community in London and their relatives who have come as refugees from Germany and Austria.

I have just finished Dark Rainbow (1955). This is about a middle-aged Jewish music publisher holidaying in Switzerland with the concert pianist he hopes to marry. When she leaves him for another man, he does something that provokes a catastrophe, and what had seemed a study in jealousy becomes instead a depiction of obsessive guilt. As in many of Allatini’s books (and Persephone newsletter does not even mention the ones she wrote under the name of Lucian Wainwright) it is the Jewish angle that is most interesting. Benno  Falkenstein had been bullied at an English public school, and then deported as an alien on the infamous Dunera troopship with other ‘aliens’. The book is interesting on his relationship with his Jewish heritage, and his struggle not to conform to a Jewish stereotype.

To use the dismissive (and misogynistic?) term ‘romance’ to describe Allatini/Wainwright/Buckley’s  novels is misleading. She is a serious novelist ( sometimes too serious, perhaps – the prose can be plodding).  Yes, two of her novels were published by Mills and Boon, but Mills and Boon before the Great War were a general publisher, not just romance specialists. They even published Jack London, about the least romantic writer I can think of.

I did a fair bit of research on Allatini a few years ago, but shied away from writing extensively on her. I don’t know enough about the Jewish background; I don’t have much sympathy with the Theosophy that she and her husband were so deeply involved in after the war; I have never been very inclined towards the Uranian.  But reading this Persephone article makes me feel that somebody ought to properly set Despised and Rejected in the context of Allatini’s life, so I’ve decided to do this. I shall be publishing something lengthy about her – maybe on this blog, maybe elsewhere, before the hundredth anniversary of her book’s trial in September.

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5 Comments

  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    So much thought and interest there, George – thank you!

  2. Roger
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Allatini/Buckley/Wainwright – were there more names for other writings? – seems to be a very interesting and confusing – confused, perhaps – person, well worth study or even a biography, if there’s enough material for one.

    • Posted April 23, 2018 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      The only other pseudonym that I know of is her married name, Mrs Cyril Scott. Under that name she wrote White Fire, a collection of stories and sketches.
      Cyril Scott was a celebrated composer, and like RA a devotee of Theosophy. He was also, like his wife, the author of a banned book: The Autobiography of a Child. This (published anonymously shortly before their marriage) dealt with his sexual experiences and imaginings when very young. Parts of it are bizarre.
      Goodness knows if there is enough material available for a proper biography. There is definitely enough to show that RA was a complex and interesting person, and that there is more to her than ‘Despised and Rejected’.

  3. Paul Norman
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting piece George. Thank you. I’ll order the new edition but am dismayed that Persephone didn’t do their homework.

    • Jane Stemp
      Posted April 24, 2018 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      I have just had Persephone’s flyer for the book in the post, and am also about to order; similarly thankful for George’s timely post!


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