Square Haunting

A loan from my dear friend Chris McCombe which I have enjoyed making my leisurely way through. Francesca Wade's Square Haunting is right up my alley of interest -- a study of five women who all lived in a single Bloomsbury square in the first half of the twentieth century. HD (Hilda Doolittle) was a modernist poet; Dorothy L Sayers, an mystery author and scholar; Jane Harrison, a classicist who first suggested the possibility of matriarchal and goddess-worshipping societies pre-dating the familiar male-dominated pantheon; Eileen Power, an economic and medieval historian who pioneered educational broadcasting (and probably ending up spawning a gazillion podcasts); and last but not least, the ground-breaking novelist and feminist, Virginia Woolf.

Using Mecklenburgh Square as a common element in all these women's lives is inspired -- some of them knew each other, some even lived in the same house. As free-thinking, unconventional women, they were all drawn to the area of London where bohemians gathered. In my uni days I was inspired by Virginia Woolf; I've loved Dorothy L Sayers since high school; and at uni I became slightly obsessed with HD and the modernists and the women who congregated on Paris's Left Bank (I wonder what happened to that book...). But I had never heard of Eileen Power or Jane Harrison and I'm dismayed that they disappeared from view so rapidly given the important work they did.

Square Haunting highlights the struggle of these early modern women to be taken seriously, and to live full lives with their personal integrity intact; but it also celebrates the value of the communities they belonged to and the strength they drew from one another. I absolutely love the detail with which the book ends: Virginia Woolf's former house has been replaced with a huge international college, but in the approximate space where her study used to sit, a room is made available each year for a woman scholar, complete with a copy of A Room of One's Own.

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