Which Allatini to read?

Since publishing Rose Allatini:A Woman Writer, I’ve been asked by a few people – which Rose Allatini should they read first?

The obvious answer is Despised and Rejected (1918), since it’s both in print and a novel of historical significance. Certainly, that’s the right answer for anyone researching the Great War.

Yet Despised and Rejected, for all its brave choice of theme and its pioneering exploration of sexuality, is not actually her best novel. So what other possibilities are there?

If you want to read any other book published under the name of R. Allatini (she never produced a book with ‘Rose’ on the title page, but kept herself gender-unspecific) you will have to go to one of the copyright libraries. If you go to that excellent site www.bookfinder.com, which collates new and second-hand offers from Abebooks, Amazon, Biblio, Ebay and elsewhere, entering Rose Allatini produces only the one title, though in several editions and states of repair

For those wiling and able to pursue the Allatini quest in the British Library or one of the other copyright libraries, there are two books I’d wholeheartedly recommend. One is Requiem (1919). This is the story of a young man who, like Rose Allatini, is of Jewish heritage. He is confused about his identity and his future. Four women mirror different aspects of his nature, but which to choose. He goes to war partly as an escape from his dilemmas. The book is novelistically richer than Despised and Rejected. The other book is When I Was a Queen in Babylon (1921) – the Allatini novel that I am fondest of. The heroine is Pixie, a wayward young woman who hears voices and is considered mad. She runs away from home, has adventures in the theatre and elsewhere, is psychoanalysed and locked up – until she is rescued by perceptive Theosophists. The book reflects some of Rose Allatini’s own experiences (and seems suggestive of her own frame of mind when coping with her family’s reaction to the Despised and Rejected scandal. It’s a book I re-read.

In 1922 she married the composer Cyril Scott, and published White Fire, a collection of stories in 1922 under the name of ‘Mrs Cyril Scott’. I see that a copy of this is currently available on Bookfinder.com. The most interesting item in the book is the title story, which conveys the author’s belief in the healing power of music. An interesting item, but probably not the place to start in a study of Rose Allatini.

Her next pseudonym was Lucian Wainwright, a name on which Bookfinder.com draws a complete blank. So it’s the libraries again for her most autobiographical novel, Girl of Good Family, which takes us through a version of her early life, including, crucially, a time when the heroine is sent to Vienna, in the hopes that she will find a husband. The book also contains a different version of the love affair that is at the heart of Despised and Rejected. Rose Allatini had been fruitlessly in love with a homosexual actor, George Owen. In this novel the actor she follows on tour is heterosexual, but attracted to someone else. The description of the affair is painful. This novel also includes her strongest depiction of the effect of the First World War on Jewish families with relatives in enemy countries.

The last pseudonym is Eunice Buckley. Here Bookfinder.com offers several choices. Annoyingly, neither Family from Vienna (1941) nor Destination Unknown (1942) are currently available, though copies do crop up from time to time. These are novels based on the experiences of Austrian refugees in Britain before and during the Second World War, and well worth reading. Blue Danube, which follows them, is available at the moment. I’ve written about it at some length elsewhere. Recommended.

But I think that of all the Buckley novels currently available, the one I would most like to point readers towards is Rhapsody for Strings, published in 1945, though written much earlier, I think. Summarising the plot makes makes it sound like a Viennese operetta – a Count’s daughter falls in love with a gypsy violinist. The book does have some of the lightness of operetta, but it also touches on dark themes – especially the pain of a woman who knows her husband is unfaithful. The book contains some of Rose Allatini’s best comic writing – in the description of a deeply Philistine English ‘School for the Daughters of Gentlemen’ and in the satirical depiction of the chaos at an opera house surrounding the premiere of a new work. It’s a brilliant book, and I really do think that Persephone or Virago or one of the other reprinters of good fiction should snap it up.

Other, later, Buckley books can be more problematic. The ones she published with Hodder and Stoughton during the fifties are not her best; I think she was restrained by the requirements of this very commercial publishing house. After 1960 she was taken up by the smaller house of Robert Hale, and was now more free to write about the subject of spiritual healing, a cause close to her heart. Theosophy comes back into the centre of her writing, which some may find off-putting (I do, sometimes) – but despite a lack of sympathy with the creed, I have enjoyed reading most of these books, and you may, too. Try Fiorina (1961) or Diamonds in the Family (1968)

One Comment

  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted September 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! The only one I’ve read [on your earlier advice] is Blue Danube. It was well worth the time spent, so I may explore further.

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