Moments of Truth

Lorna Sage

Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Djuna Barnes, Violet Trefusis, Jane Bowles, Simone de Beauvoir, Christine Brooke-Rose, Iris Murdoch, Angela Carter.

Women who moved in literary circles in the first half of the twentieth century were ‘helpmeets or patrons, muses or mistresses, not artists in their own right.’ All the writers above struggled, in different ways, to discover their own ‘voice’ while being faced with stifling conceptions of feminine creativity. Lorna Sage discovers in these women’s writings, the revelatory moment when each one locates her distinctive voice, finds her calling (or fails to), or refashions herself as an author.

Most of these writers are now canonised, others remain on the fringes of out attention. All of them had trouble inventing themselves, and some did it more than once. Virginia Woolf, in her early fiction, was freeing herself from the accumulated meanings that literary tradition had loaded on to young women; Katherine Mansfield in her gem-like short stories transforms her experiences of displacement and impermanence into the very substance of her work. Djuna Barnes who produced one masterpiece, ‘Nightwood’, felt that her originality exiled her in singularity. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, the only piece of non-fiction covered in the book, is read as an anti-fiction, devoted to demolishing myths about feminine character and destiny. Other writers never found themselves a home – Violet Trefusis’s stylish comedies which dissect the heart of extraordinary privilege to reveal unfreedom, mocked her own talent and is now seldom remembered. Accessible and fiercely intelligent, this book looks at the process by which particular books – and whole writing lives – materialised against the odds. A mixture of close reading with a breathtaking sensitivity to nuances, and fascinating biographical exploration, Lorna Sage’s Moments of Truth sends you back to discover or rediscover the authors.

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