Netta Syrett: working by stealth from within.

Netta Syrett is one of those writers who, despite having published many books, becomes unfashionable and thence ‘forgotten’.

She did work as a teacher as well as a writer until, quoting from wiki:

Syrett’s first novel, Nobody’s Fault (1896), was published by The Bodley Head in their Keynote series. Her writing and teaching careers coincided until 1902, when her play The Finding of Nancy received negative attention after Clement Scott, writing for the Daily Telegraph (9 May 1902), insinuated that the play was thinly disguised autobiography. Syrett was asked to resign her teaching position after a student’s mother read Scott’s review. By that time, novel writing had become for her “a sure thing” and Syrett continued to turn out a novel per year until retiring in 1939.

That’s an awful lot of writing now so completely ignored that on, I notice that although a few of her books are listed, there is not one review or rating of them. Syrett was the first to acknowledge this process:

At the end of her autobiography, The Sheltering Tree (1939), New Woman author Netta Syrett questions the legacy of her writing. She states matter-of-factly, “I have no illusions about the importance of my work. In a few years, or even less, everything I have written will be as dead as the dodo. Already my novels are being swamped by those of the beginners in the art of fiction, who in their turn are destined to be superseded by children now at the nursery” New Woman Fiction

But surely, aside from the general feminist attempts to regenerate interest in the female authors of this period, the fact that Syrett’s genteel books written for conservative middle-class audiences are nonetheless chockablock with homosexual characters affords her some chance of attention now. For more on this see Netta Goldsmith’s article on the Lesbian Heroine of Syrett’s work.

The amazing thing about Syrett is not only that she did what a lot of writers like Woolfe weren’t willing to – risk the social and legal difficulties that could arise from this – but she wrote about lesbians in a context of happiness, which somewhat later Patricia Highsmith still wasn’t permitted to do in public. Her novels were simply of a type where she could add these characters without the least issue from the reviewer or the reader. As if it were some sort of Svengali effect where her novels were so nice that nobody could see the wood for the trees.


2 thoughts on “Netta Syrett: working by stealth from within.

  1. Always impressive when a good writer correctly predicts that they will soon be forgotten, and is quite unconcerned about it. Laplace does the same thing in Le système du monde.

  2. I’m editing a collection of short stories by Syrett. Stories by Syrett which first appeared in The Yellow Book have been republished in recent anthologies, however many of Syrett’s stories first published in various late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century magazines are little-known and have not been reprinted. Many themes which appear in her later novels are first explored in short fiction form. I’m particularly interested in Syrett’s two short story collections: Women and Circumstance (1905) and The Endless Journey and Other Stories (1912), which bring together stories from various magazines and periodicals such as Longman’s, Pall Mall Magazine, and Temple Bar.

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