Shelagh Delaney, Edna O’Brien, Lynne Reid Banks, Charlotte Bingham, Nell Dunn, Virginia Ironside and Margaret Forster never thought of themselves as a movement, but they ‘shared an inner place, the territory of girlhood,’ writes Brayfield. So far, so convincing — and her subjects have enough social range and personal incident between them, from Delaney’s Salford slums to the aristocratic Bingham’s Kensington, that any book about them would be going some to be boring.
There were also efforts to undermine their creative integrity. Some had their writing dismissed as autobiography — a fate women writers still suffer today — while what others wrote was considered too authentic. Dunn’s books, for example, were often derided as reportage rather than fiction, with her “acute ear for dialogue” and episodic structure “turned against her”. Brayfield, however, offers us perceptive analysis of the writing and ratifies these women’s position in the canon in the process.
What, then, does Brayfield want? Ideally that we should go back and re-read these works. They repay the effort. Second, we should register their social importance — something that, as she complains, has largely slipped literary history’s notice. What I would recommend is that Virago should bring out a commemorative packet, with fighting introductions by Professor Brayfield. Lest we forget what literature, in creative hands, can do.