- Reviewed by
In his introduction to this excellent collection of essays, Robert Hosmer argues that despite the presence of major women writers throughout British literature of the past two centuries, "no English generation has contained as many talented women novelists as contemporary England now enjoys." Furthermore, he continues, the writers he has brought together in this volume demonstrate "a renaissance in English literature." Hosmer's book clearly illustrates some of the substance and stature of women's writing in Britain today, and certainly its variety. Any tradition which can boast the excellence and scope of Angela Garter, Anita Brookner, Isabel Colegate, Muriel Spark, and Sybille Bedford is very fortunate.
Hosmer's collection serves such writers well. It contains excellent essays on well-known figures such as Fay Weldon and Spark, and some very rewarding ones on lesser-known writers such as Penelope Fitzgerald or even Susan Hill. With one exception, these are general essays which [End Page 406] discuss common features of each writer's work, in particular key aspects of each novelist's technique and created world, the narrative strategies referred to in the title and recurrent topics and concerns. All essays are marked by clear argument and a very accessible style (there is a refreshing absence of jargon). Each is full of useful quotations and insights, and there are revelations, both general and particular. Robert Owen Evans's essay on Bedford will certainly persuade one that here is a writer one has to read, while Jenny Newman's piece on Fay Weldon reveals that the author is responsible for the British 1960s' advertising slogan "Go to Work on an Egg" (now, there's immortality for you!). Each essay is also furnished with a very useful bibliography and biographical note.
In a collection of excellent essays, some stand out. Hosmer's own discussion of motifs of exile in Brookner's work opens up and indicates an easily missed dimension to her seemingly hermetic novels. Walter Kendrick is particularly good on Carter's style, her use of fairy tale, the motifs of sex and violence which run throughout her fiction, and on the complexities of her essay on Spark is a model of conciseness, moving feminism. Joseph Hynes's essay on Spark is a model of conciseness, moving effortlessly through narrational technique and titles to created world and metaphysics. The same can be said of Newman on Weldon. She dissects in a few pages the author's narrational techniques, typography, and developments and complexities of her depiction of women's fates and struggles. Evans's discussion of Bedford's fiction shows how this neglected author's work must be looked at by anyone interested in European and particularly Anglo-German literary relations.
Criticisms are minor. Newman might have developed her criticisms of Weldon's latest work, and, while Ann Hulbert's essay on A. S. Byatt's Romance is very good, it needs to be put in the context of this writer's other work. But this is an excellent and useful volume. One hopes Hosmer will realize his plans to edit other volumes and to expand our picture of this vital area of contemporary writing in Britain.