Women of the Book Trade: London Edition

IMG_2609 2.JPGFor the past year and a half I have lived in Hampstead, a village in North London rich in literary history. My local pub, the King William IV has plastered its walls with large framed portraits of living and dead writers and artists it claims as local, from current resident John Le Carré to Agatha Christie, from T. S. Eliot to Katherine Mansfield, all who supposedly for one reason of the other, can be tied to the area. I chose my Hampstead remembering a short visit years ago, when I was touring literary houses all over London, where I had wandered up from the overground train station into Daunt Books, walked into John Keats’s house on Valentine’s Day, and then up Hampstead Heath, London’s wild, uncultivated park, and into the Vale of Health, where I was bombarded by blue plaques denoting the literary houses of D. H. Lawrence and of Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

                                                                                                                                                                                          Last week I invited the women of London’s rare book trade to Hampstead for a tour similar to the one I initially made on accident. We saw many writers’ houses, including that of Wilkie Collins, H. G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cannon Hall, before we enjoyed an evening in good company. There are many lesser known writers without plaques in Hampstead, something I learned from publisher Nicola Beauman, who spoke at length at my local bookstore about dozens of women of Hampstead who had produced compelling novels, like May Sinclair and Amber Reeves and Elizabeth Jenkins, many out-of-print, several who she had brought back into print herself. It was a beautiful, romantic night, but on our tour, I wish I had been able to point out to the women I was hosting some of these under-recognized writers’ houses too. I wished they also had blue plaques. Perhaps next year I can host an Overlooked Women Writers of Hampstead tour -- and perhaps someday their books will be coveted and collected and they, too, will have blue plaques.

                                                                                                                                                                                Image: Women in the rare book trade gaze up at Daphne du Maurier’s Canon House. It sold for £28 million pounds in 2015. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.

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