chapter  3
54 Pages

Rear-Guard Modernism

Feminist revisionists who seek to free women writers from their alleged 'sentimentality', find themselves dually urged to defend and dismiss the stylistically cautious. Most commonly, they tend to dismiss women's war poetry and the so-called 'Georgians' due to their unadventurous versification and the apparent lack of gender politics. This poetry needs, however, to be reinstated for historical accuracy and for a more comprehensive cultural representation. It cannot be claimed that women's war poetry was influential at the time, but it is an important register of women's responses to war. As for the 'Georgians', Frances Cornford and Vita Sackville-West had successful publishing histories and Sackville-West was potentially the first woman poet laureate. They represent poets like Elizabeth Daryush ( 1887-1977), Ruth Pitter (1897-1992), Dorothy Wellesley (1889-1956) and Sylvia Lynd (1888-1952) who were popular between the wars. In particular, Pitter and Daryush attracted attention during the 1920s but their better work was published in the 1930s. All these women can be distinguished from the 'elder poets' such as Alice Meynell (1847-1922) by a more contemporary diction and technical versatility. 1 Like other interwar writers they indicate a 'conservative modernity' in that they rejected Victorian and Edwardian cultural conventions but psychologically deferred their entry into modernity.2 They covered up their gendered perspective with the impersonality of universal voices and conventional forms, but there is often an unofficial discourse below the respectable, symbolised, textual surfaces.