Writing about Rose

For the past year I’ve been writing about Rose Allatini, and the book is nearly ready for publication. It should be available to buy by the start of June.

I’ve called it Rose Allatini: A Woman Writer. Why? Because Olive, the novelist heroine of …Happy Ever After, her first book, declared: ‘I want to be a woman writer, not a lady novelist.’ Her novel is called Hilary, and it is definitely not conventional romantic fiction. She explains:

I’ll never go into the sevenpenny editions, because Hilary, bless his heart, wasn’t written with an eye to please the British Public. The young person who enters the library and vaguely demands ‘something to read’ won’t like my book, because the heroine neither dies in the snow on Christmas Eve nor marries the eldest son of a peer [….] and to cap it all, my hero ends badly – no, they don’t marry – so you see that in the eyes of the young person I am wholly and completely damned.

Rose Allatini never was a popular novelist; she went her own independent way with remarkable integrity, producing nearly forty books under various pseudonyms over seven decades. Their quality is uneven, and reading through her work I sometimes found myself strongly disagreeing with her ideas, but all her novels are readable, and none of them are merely pandering to public taste.

Which is why I was disappointed when Persephone Books republished her novel about conscientious objectors, Despised and Rejected, last year, with an afterword stating that all her other books were ‘romances’ of the type typically published by Mills and Boon, and suggesting that she dedicated her later life writing potboilers.

In fact, her books are very various. Many deal with the Vienna she knew as a young woman; those written during the thirties raise the alarm about the spread of Nazism; during the Second World War she wrote about Austrian Jewish refugees in London; later books have much to say about music, and even more to say about spiritual healing.

My book has a chapter for each of the literary identities she assumed (R. Allatini, A.T. Fitzroy, Mrs Cyril Scott, Lucian Wainwright, Eunice Buckley). The novel that I write most about is Despised and Rejected, partly because it is such a striking and courageous book, but also because its publication history, reception and prosecution tell us so much about British culture during the Great War. I look at the novel in the context of her other books, and see the book rather differently from the mostly feminist and lesbian scholars who have given it most recent critical attention.

I have published the book myself (with the help of that excellent firm, Lulu). This is for a variety of reasons.

For a start, I thought it would be fun. I have self-published some little books before (such as Animals Like Reading!, a book of poems for children) and there is something very satisfying about making your book from scratch, choosing your font and design and so on.

Secondly, I realise that this is a book for a niche market, with remarkably few potential customers. So general publishing is out – which leaves academic publishing. University presses would, I think, take small interest in a book that would make few undergraduate reading lists. Other firms exist, of the type that mostly convert Ph.D. theses into books, but (like the University presses) they usually produce volumes that are far too expensive for the average human being to buy. Only libraries will invest in a copy, – and in these straitened times, not many of them. To produce a book on a little-known writer that would go on sale at £75 pounds or more would be pleasing to one’s vanity, but not really much practical use. With Lulu I can keep the price down to a level that the average enthusiast might consider.

Thirdly, publishing myself means that I can do what I like. I can go into detail about things that interest me, and can add the occasional chatty aside without worrying that I am letting down the academic tone. It’s my book, for others to take or leave.

Having said that, self-publishing has its downside. Over the past couple of months I have had big struggles with my word processor. Getting endnotes to behave properly has been a titanic battle, but I won in the end. And then there’s the question of proof-reading. I’m useless at proof-reading on screen, so there has been much scouring of proof copies (with some help from my wife). And just when I thought I’d got it sorted, I order a batch of what I thought was the perfect article, only to find a stonking great typo on page one. But I persevere.

Anyway, this is a heads-up that the book is on its way. More information will appear on this blog during the next couple of weeks.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 9, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Good news!

  2. Anonymous
    Posted May 9, 2019 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Looking forward to it. Wishing you the best.


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