I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Not So Equal

Not So Equal

Patricia Craig
Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars, by Francesca Wade, Faber & Faber, 422 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0571330652 Think of Bloomsbury and what might spring to mind is its “orderly profligacy and passionate coldness”. (The phrase is Elizabeth Hardwick’s, in one of her early essay/reviews for The New York Review of Books.) But there was always more to Bloomsbury than this suggests. First came the actual geographical locality – the streets and squares and architecture of a part of central London – and then the associations imposed on top of it: literary, scholarly, urbane or bohemian. Bloomsbury as an idea continues to reverberate, in ways both gossipy and profound. Bedazzling sexual intrigues and a spot of intellectual hauteur are only a part of it. And however many words have been expended on Bloomsbury (and there have been a lot), there is always more to be said. Francesca Wade’s superbly engaging Square Haunting takes up the theme, but at the same time narrows and intensifies its focus. Wade homes in on a single square, Mecklenburgh Square, which is not at the heart of the potent locality but rather on its periphery. Nevertheless, it – or some of those who lived in it – had considerable input into the defining spirit of Bloomsbury. And among Mecklenburgh Square’s most significant residents were the five women who form the subject of Wade’s study. None of them spent the greater part of her life in the square, or accorded it a primary role in her territorial affections. But for each of them the place is bound up with a sense of freedom and independence, a breaking away from patriarchal restrictions. They came to it at various times, and lived there in varying conditions of comfort and insufficiency, between the wars. In highlighting aspects of their lives, Francesca Wade displays a feminist purpose – well of course she does. You cannot praise famous women of the mid-twentieth century without also praising the drive and determination, in the face of tremendous odds, that got them to where they were. In every case, it’s a story of intelligence asserted, obstacles overcome, conventions disregarded and experience embraced to the full. The first of Wade’s sterling quintet is Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), imagist poet and protégée of Ezra Pound. H.D. (1886-1961) had fled from Philadelphia to London in 1911, propelled by a strong desire to evade the shackles of conventional American academic life. (Her father was…

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