... vividly written ... Wade’s portrait of Sayers, one of England’s most private writers, perceptively illuminates her fierce independence, her complicated relationships and her often grotesque novelistic imagination ... In our own moment of global catastrophe, Wade offers us a timely invitation to join our literary foremothers in their rebellious journeys to achieve creative freedom and world harmony.
Francesca Wade, a London-based writer and literary editor, has pulled off a remarkable feat of intellectual and social history with her erudite yet juicy first book. In a captivating series of minibiographies of five women, all trailblazing writers who lived in Bloomsbury’s Mecklenburgh Square at some point between 1916 and 1940, Square Haunting builds a compelling case that each woman’s time there represented a crucial stage in her efforts to forge an independent life when doing so was both uncommon and difficult ... Ms. Wade does a superb job of drawing out commonalities that run far deeper than geographic coincidence ... Ms. Wade’s engaging narrative, movingly bookended by descriptions of the obliteration of a world she so vividly evokes, ends on a sobering note. But this impressive feminist history stands as an elegiac love letter to a bygone time and place that offered brilliant, iconoclastic women a unique opportunity for freedom and self-expression.
...rich and powerful ... By telling the stories of women scholars and artists—stories about research and creative work, but also about marriage and partnership and female friendship—in a way that emphasizes the social and communal force of their subjects’ lives, Wade and Doherty suggest that the classic cradle-to-grave treatment applied to men is not always appropriate for women’s narratives: not because they aren’t interesting enough to deserve it, but because it can’t adequately represent the profound and inextricable networks in which women work and live ... A minor disappointment of the biography is that while Wade discusses her subjects’ work lovingly and comprehensively, their personalities sometimes remain elusive. It’s not entirely her fault: Harrison burned her personal papers. Also destroyed were those of Eileen Power... I consumed both Wade and Doherty’s books at a furious speed, scrawling notes in the margins with greater-than-usual intensity, pausing occasionally to let the ideas sink in. The urgency with which their subjects—ten between them, extending across more than a century—negotiated the demands of intellect and life is timeless. Women must undertake that project anew in each generation because the social structures to support it do not exist. We are still trying to figure it out.
The book coheres remarkably well. The five women's lives overlapped in fascinating ways ... a fascinating glimpse into the interwoven nature of intellectual and creative life in that period. But more importantly, it offers a look at the author's theme...from the vantage of five very different women at different stages in their lives ... In doing so, it provides a cleverly holistic look at women's lives and the varied ways in which their struggles against patriarchy took form at different stages of their lives and careers ... an immensely pleasurable, yet wisely insightful book, carried both by the author's smart treatment of her theme as well as her engaging narrative style. Whether one chooses to read it for the delightful sketches of the five fascinating women who are its subjects, or whether one is more interested in the broader theme of understanding how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, it's a superb achievement, which will hopefully generate renewed interest in all five of these women and their remarkable lives and accomplishments.
... an inspired conceit for a group biography, a location biography, and Wade writes it beautifully. She’s every bit as masterfully adept whether she’s writing about the obvious star of her show, Virginia Woolf, whose every hiccup and sneeze has been the subject of a 500-page book, or whether she’s writing about figures like Power or Harrison, who will be less well-known to most of her readers, and she excels at highlighting the skeins that bind them together ... Wade’s capsule biographies reach five different endings, of course, and she does such a lively job of presenting the cast that her readers will feel a touch of grief at their passing ... filled with the thousand triumphs little and big of five very different working writers. The whole thing breathes with infectious readability.
There have been an endless stream of group biographies published over the last decade, including many that seek to give headstrong women their due. You know the type: Five Feisty Females Who Dared to Have an Opinion and Changed the World. Charming, intermittently interesting but hardly illuminating. Square Haunting is, moreover, a feminist, psycho-geographical, cross-generational group biography (tick, tick, tick!) ... But Wade’s book rises above the publishing cliches to tell a deeper story about women’s autonomy in the early 20th century, about their work and education, politics and activism. What emerges is an eloquent, pellucid, sometimes poignant study of five female intellectuals, each of whom disdained convention to fulfil their potential as thinkers and writers ... It has a lovely movement to it – a decadently pre-internet feel. It’s not just the period setting, it’s in the texture of Wade’s prose, which is careful and measured, with none of the forced perkiness I’ve come to associate with digital-era feminism ... And I didn’t expect the book to be so moving.
The links between the women are sometimes slack ... the pleasure of Square Haunting sits in its sympathetic portrayal of five writers each seeking a new form of life, either away from one thing or towards another. Wade seems to have memorized each available word from each of the women and succeeds in offering a new glimpse into Bloomsbury life, already a much written on location in the British literary mythos.
... an in-depth, meticulously researched account ... The book takes an erudite, analytical tone, offering a depiction that is more biography than narrative. It also makes a point of showing how these women, while not necessarily knowing each other personally, were inspired by each other’s work ... offers a sort of correction; by framing their stories around the small London neighborhood that set the scene for their struggles and successes, it offers an inspiring perspective on what they each achieved.
...richly researched, elegantly written study ... Wade is particularly good at conjuring, out of her subjects’ living arrangements both mundane and mad, an image of time, place, and creative milieu ... Inevitably, the presence of Woolf dominates the book, but Wade leaves her story till last so that we have already gained a detailed sense of a Bloomsbury culture that was not 'Bloomsbury' ... Wade manages to tell the familiar narrative of her last months in a wholly new way: as an industrious coda not just to a life, but to a whole way of life that prewar Bloomsbury had made possible ... Though the arduous and rarefied literary world it describes has long vanished, this book feels vivid and contemporary in a London where accommodation and property seem to determine who gets to be a writer or thinker. Against all that, Square Haunting pitches its lineage of radical community and solitary labor.
Wade...makes an excellent debut with a gripping account ... Wade evinces a strong grasp of what drove these women to place work ahead of love, and fluidly traces their various interrelationships ... Wade also illuminates her protagonists’ political advocacy, for egalitarian and peaceful values against hierarchical and militarist ones. By showing how these women confronted an ideological divide still existing today, this superbly written and researched work will make them highly relevant for, and accessible to, contemporary audiences
At times, Wade overreaches or strains to link the women, most of whom weren’t friends: Each, she writes, 'sought to reinvent her life' in the square, a brute-force cliché at odds with her subjects’ more original thinking. But the author has a jeweler’s eye for sparkling anecdotes, and Bloomsbury ultimately emerges as far more than an anchorage for bohemians who 'lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.' ... Engaging profiles of women who found metaphorical rooms of their own in interwar London.