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Stella Benson: a life of reading, writing and publishingStella Benson – feminist, diarist, novelist and travel writer – published her first novel, I Pose, in 1915. Her last book, a collection of short stories, was published posthumously in 1936. Although her diaries might suggest some reservations about the reception of her earlier novels, in a letter to Marie Belloc Lowndes, Benson’s husband James O’Gorman Anderson said of her work: ‘Stella was quite happy about her writing, was sure of herself there, and had no thought of not being sufficiently appreciated.’ Others shared that opinion; for example, her 1932 novel Tobit Transplanted (titled The Far-Away Bride in America) won the Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize and the silver medal of the Royal Society of Literature. Benson’s writing was informed by her reading; she was an avid reader throughout her life and talked at length in her diaries about books that she enjoyed. She often read a book in a day and it is evident from her diaries that she was always keen to read contemporary, Modernist and avant-garde poets and authors such Sturge Moore, Dorothy Richardson and Ford Maddox Ford (reading, for example, The Good Soldier in just one day on 3rd January 1918). Her diaries, for the most part unpublished, provide a rich source of material, detailing both her reading and her writing. Drawing extensively on those diaries, this paper discusses the connections between Benson’s reading, her writing and the subsequent publication of her early novels. It will explore her relationship with her publishers and will also, as a postscript, consider the role of the recent republication of her fiction by Michael Walmer in a possible reclamation and re-examination of Benson’s work in the twenty first century.
‘[W]hat a small gift it was’ : Stella Benson and I Pose (1915)Highlighting my own pedagogical approach to undergraduate and postgraduate research in which archival work, historical enquiry and close textual analysis are given equal weight, this paper draws extensively on Benson’s unpublished diaries and correspondence, exploring both Benson’s own engagement with the campaign for votes for women and her portrayal of that campaign in I Pose (1915) in which the protagonist spends her life ‘exploring the adoption of new poses in a world where the old stereotypes no longer work’.