Categories— What I Collect

I presume you understand that Modernist Ladies is not a history of modernist writing, nor anything to do with “ladies” except that “ladies” are probably women. Our modern acquaintance with “ladies” is usually a request for a location, as indicated by this sign which I found at the Madison- Bouckville antique fair. She doesn’t look very “modernist.”


Some of the smaller collections I have within Modernist Ladies have been a lot of fun to collect. You have seen a few pictures of the Women in World War I collection. Others are:

  • Women Farmers
  • Progressives (or Radicals, if you follow the classic Walter Rideout list)
  • Abortion in Fiction, pre-Roe
  • Lesbian, Transgender, and Publishers who Specialized in Them
  • Bloomsbury, of course
  • Paris Between the Wars, of course
  • Native Americans
  • White Women in the Early American West

I have recently moved to North Carolina which prides itself on its deep bench of authors so I am lending an eye to some Southern women writers, but it hasn’t cohered into a collection. They still seem too individual. I mean, Eudora Welty, Caroline Gordon, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Zora Neale Hurston, Elizabeth Spencer, AND Flannery O’Conner? Mary Lee Settle? Ellen Glasgow? How can anyone put them into a category? At least the writers in “Paris Between the Wars” sometimes mention Paris and once upon a time they all lived there, or at least visited.

I also collect Virago Modern Classic Series paperbacks and get very excited when I find a first edition of one of the books deemed “forgotten” by Virago. My favorite— “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths” (in a perfect dust jacket) by Barbara Comyns. I bought it in Archer City, Texas, in one hundred degree heat at “Booked Up,” the book business owned by a writer I would have to categorize as “Western,” Larry McMurtry. I also bought, from Mr. McMurtry, the world’s best copy of another Virago Modern Classic, “The Beth Book” by Sarah Grand.

I am just learning how to operate this blog. Please have patience with me. I published above(or below) some pictures from my small collection of World War one books, thinking that I could connect a text directly to the pictures. Not today (or yesterday)!

Mildred Aldrich (three of her small books are pictured above [or below], in green cloth bindings) was an American journalist, friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, who lived through most of the war in a farmhouse in rural France near the Marne River. From there, she observed activity surrounding the Battle of the Marne and published a series of letters describing what she had seen. She published three more small green books about the war (I do not own a copy of the 4th book) and is believed to have been influential in molding American public opinion toward support of entry into the fighting.

Another book, shown opened to the title page, was written by the Countess of Warwick, Daisy Greville. Her title, Countess, was earned by marriage to an earl, but she became a public figure in the late 19th -early 20th centuries because she became a mistress of long-standing to Albert, Prince of Wales. Despite the notoriety she attained in her long career as a professional courtesan, she had a great interest in issues of social welfare. She published two books of essays on the war.

The next photo shows a group of books. Important among them is Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth,” coming soon to cinemas near you (or perhaps,if it isn’t a successful release, relegated to your TV screen). For me, the multi-part Masterpiece Theatre production of “Testament” from the 1980s cannot be surpassed. Brittain’s account of her stunned response to the eruption of celebration at the end of the war always leaves me speechless: “…but the dead were dead, and would never return.” She became a tireless worker for peace. Brittain probably does the best job of any in describing how the war brought to an end the lingering Victorian era’s constraints on women and girls.

In the front of that group of books is Katherine Mayo’s “That Damn ‘Y’.” Mayo, a social reformer from the U.S., had a career expounding conservative and racist theories about social issues. She is best known for her book “Mother India,” in which she championed continued British rule of India for various homemade reasons such as her theory that the Dalits were worn out from being over-sexualized.

Radclyffe Hall is best known for her lesbian (what she called “inversion”) novel, “The Well of Loneliness,” focus of a famous trial that severely stretched the sympathetic capacities of many of the writers of her time. In the opinion of her peers, she had every right to write of gender, but they wished she had written a better book for them to defend.”Miss Ogilvy” is an earlier and shorter work on the same territory, the search for self when the gender role assigned is impossible to wear. Miss Ogilvy “finds herself” in the war. My book is a reprint.

The next photo is “War Nurse,” written anonymously, for a popular readership, quickly turned into a movie. The novel, not the autobiographical account of a nurse’s experience behind the front lines it pretends to be, was written by the prolific (and desperate for money) Rebecca West.

The last photo on this line is a group shot again, showing mostly spines. Three spines are Edith Wharton: “The Marne,” “A Son at the Front,” and “Fighting France.” Wharton threw her heart into work with war refugees and desperately wanted the U.S. to join her beloved France in the war effort. Clearly showing its pictorial cover is a British girls’ book by Angela Brazil, “The Luckiest Girl in the School.” It finds itself in my collection of books on WWI rather than in a box in the attic with the children’s books because, published in 1916, it is among Brazil’s “war books,” in which the war forms the background of the girls’ school experience.

“A Diary Without Dates” relates the VAD nursing career of Enid Bagnold, of “National Velvet” fame. On first publication there were attempts to suppress this little book because it showed so clearly the vulnerability of the wounded soldiers and criticized the operation of the hospital. Bagnold was “fired” from her VAD work and subsequently became an ambulance driver behind the front, like many brave women. Like Vera Brittain, Bagnold expresses a sense of gratitude toward those suffering soldiers who had unintentionally put themselves into their untrained nursing hands and given them educations beyond anything formerly allowed to young women of their class.