This group biography explores the lives of five extraordinary women who all lived in secluded Mecklenburgh Square, on the fringes of Bloomsbury, between the two world wars. The women are H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) a modernist poet: Dorothy Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels: Jane Ellen Harrison, classicist and translator: Eileen Power, historian, broadcaster and pacifist: and Virginia Woolf who needs no introduction. The unusual title actually comes from Woolf; in 1925 diary entry, she wrote of the pleasures of “street sauntering and square haunting”.
Each of these women claimed, to use Woolf’s words again, “a room of one’s own”, and a life of their own. It’s a fascinating and often moving study of five very different women who were united in their intelligence, curiosity and creativity. It makes me sad, nearly a century on, to read how convention and male authority constrained their ambitions; how difficult it was for them to reach their potential and achieve recognition.
At the end of the book Wade writes:
…the legacy of these women’s lives lives on…in future generations’ right to talk, walk and write freely, to live invigorating lives.
I’m sad too because I know that as women we still don’t always feel that we have the right to the lives we want.
Square Haunting by Francesca Wade Faber&Faber $39.95