Our next batch of reviews are of the Yorkshire novelist, Lettice Cooper (1897-1994). Splendid name. (So many unusual names are revived nowadays, but I have yet to meet a Lettice!)
Cooper had a long and distinguished writing career. Her novel The New House (1936, currently in print with Persephone) won her the accolade of ‘Chekhov in Yorkshire’ from the Manchester Guardian.
The other novel we review is National Provincial (1938), written soon after Cooper joined the Labour Party. It demonstrates her socialist principles and brought her to the attention of Lady Rhondda, who invited Cooper to join the staff of Time and Tide in 1939.
During World War II she worked in public relations for the Ministry of Food and then in 1947 became the fiction reviewer of the Yorkshire Post, a role she held for ten years.
After the war she regularly visited Florence, a city she chose as the setting for her novel Fenny (1953). The was the book I read for the reading group. As I got towards the end of the book I felt increasing deja vu and was rather horrified to realise that I had in fact read it before in a Virago edition, but clearly it had made little impression as it took 200 pages for me to notice!
Fenny was a Book Society choice at the time. It follows a young woman as she leaves her constrained life teaching at a girls’ school when her mother dies. (This is a recurring theme in novels of this period, we have noticed: the woman who is unable to leave home because she has the responsibility of caring for a parent, and is only released on their death.)
Fenny moves to Florence to become a governess, and she experiences various travails, including being thwarted in love. Cooper’s DNB entry describes the novel as ‘the emotional and political development of a young English governess, alongside the growth of fascism and the Second World War’.
While this is correct, it struck me as a very mediocre novel. Neither her emotional life nor the political context really came alive! So, we move quickly on to the other reviews…