'The novelist … must write about politics': Mary Agnes Hamilton and the politics of modern fiction

Clay, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-4633-6461, 2020. 'The novelist … must write about politics': Mary Agnes Hamilton and the politics of modern fiction. Women: A Cultural Review, 31 (4), pp. 366-383. ISSN 0957-4042

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Writing in the book review columns of the feminist periodical Time and Tide, the novelist, journalist and future Labour MP Mary Agnes Hamilton stated in November 1920 that: 'Politics overshadow the whole of our horizon. To tell the artist … to leave them alone is ridiculous … he [sic] must write about politics'. Over the course of a decade Hamilton reviewed hundreds of books for Time and Tide – many of them novels – and in this writing she returns repeatedly to the theme of art and politics, rejecting a high modernist regard for aestheticism and insisting on the political responsibility of the artist. This article situates Hamilton’s book reviews alongside the account she left of her Bloomsbury connections in her memoir Remembering My Good Friends (1944) and the diary of Virginia Woolf who left several records of her encounters with Hamilton. Exploring the early friendship of these two writers and their conversations about writing, Section One reconstructs the political and journalistic career of Hamilton and identifies her as a possible model for Woolf's activist character Mary Datchett in Night and Day (1919). Section Two analyses the combined artistic and political consciousness of Hamilton's fourth novel published the same year, Full Circle (1919), and reads Hamilton’s rehabilitation of the novel as a vehicle for politics in Time and Tide as a rejoinder not only to Bloomsbury aesthetics but also to socialist fellow-travellers who had turned to the theatre and abandoned the novelistic form. Challenging contemporary distinctions between 'serious' and 'light' reading, Hamilton adds further to early twentieth-century debates about modern fiction and, I argue, deserves recognition as an important woman radical of the interwar years.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Women: A Cultural Review
Creators: Clay, C.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Date: 2020
Volume: 31
Number: 4
ISSN: 0957-4042
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 22 Jan 2021 16:54
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2022 03:00
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/42093

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