In the pivotal era between the two world wars, the lives of five remarkable women intertwined at one address: modernist poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author and publisher Virginia Woolf. In an era when women’s freedoms were fast expanding, they each sought a space where they could live, love, and—above all—work independently.
... 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.
...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.
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.