Are you looking for a fascinating read? I recommend Celia Brayfield’s Rebel Writers: The Accidental Feminists, an astute study of seven writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Shelagh Delaney, Edna O’Brien, Lynne Reid Banks, Nell Dunn, Charlotte Bingham, and Virginia Ironside, and Margaret Forster. In their groundbreaking early work, these women questioned assumptions about sex, class, work, female friendships, and marriage. Brayfield says this spontaneous women’s literary “movement” is parallel to the “Angry Young Men” (Kinglsey Amis, John Osborne, John Brayne, Alan Sillitoe, etc.). And I have gobbled Brayfield’s delightful book like a cookie, because I am a great fan of five of the seven writers.
I was also lucky to find a copy of Charlotte Bingham’s charming coming-of-age novel, Coronet among the Weeds, published in 1963 when she was 20. This autobiographical novel was billed as an autobiography when it was first published.
I thoroughly enjoyed it: it’s like Nancy Mitford meets Dodie Smith and J. D. Salinger. Like Charlotte, the narrator of Coronet is the daughter of an impoverished lord and a playwright mother.
She doesn’t worry about the future, but her parents do: she is too busy with droll observations of people and dissecting society and class. Some of her friends want to marry and are very romantic, but Charlotte is holding out for a “superman.” She divides the men she knows into three types: weeds, drips, and leches. The only superman she knows is an actor, who, alas, is older and has other commitments.
Meanwhile, she unenthusiastically dances with “weeds” (the dull chinless men she knows), enjoys a year in Paris after leaving convent school, becomes a Beatnik in London (she finds it boring), then a deb (just as boring), and then a secretary (hardly fulfilling for a bad typist). She worries about being fat and having no chin–typical!–and at one party wakes up in a closet and crawls out into a darkened bedroom full of couples making out, while her friend has already put on her face cream and climbed into bed, ignoring them. Despite bad parties and horrible jobs, she is buoyant and funny. “I’ll tell you another corney thing. I’d like to write a love poem to the whole world. Really I would. Sometimes I love it so much I could die.”
Light, bubbly, comical, realistic, cheerful, and occasionally a bit sad.
Here is a delightful quote from Coronet about debs who hide out in the loo. (Who hasn’t?)
Loos are very important during the season. I should think they’re practically the most important bit of the season for some girls. I know one girl who did her whole season in the loo. She used to take this small edition of War and Peace about with her in her evening bag. She got through it seven times in one season. She was quite a slow reader. Migo had a copy of Gone with the Wind she hid in the Dorchester loo. There were a terrible lot of dances at the Worcester, so she just curled up with it till it was time to go home. They couldn’t go home straight after dinner because their mothers would be furious and say they were failures. It’s one thing to be a failure. But it’s a hell if your mother keeps telling you. And some of them could go on for hours.