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Avenging Muse is the biography of Naomi Royde-Smith, a powerful early twentieth-century British literary editor who discovered and published the first works of such writers as Rupert Brooke, Rose Macaulay, and Graham Greene. Beginning at age 50, she became in her own right a prolific author of more than thirty novels in addition to plays, biographies, and cultural critiques posing as travelogues. She writes about fin de siècle Geneva, about London and working women between the wars, about journalism and theater, about artists and their promoters, about banal culture, about social class in disarray, about a world that lacks spiritual center. Bravely Royde-Smith also writes about the lives of women loving women, men loving men, and tales about ordinary men and women in love-or not. The historical environment surrounding her writing, as well as those about whom she wrote, was morally and legally hostile to exploration of sexualities. Her fictions, witty and empathetic, emerge from her own experiences. Royde-Smith enjoyed her work as a professional muse-literary editor in London of the prestigious Saturday Westminster Gazette and then the Queen; however, she did not enjoy being cast by writers, such as Walter de la Mare and Henry Spiess, as their personal muse. Indeed, in certain of her novels, she retaliated against men who trespass, attacking their self-absorbed use of women in the name of art. Her personal story corresponds with an increasing historical realization of women's rights, a realization that undermines romantic and neoromantic reverence for conventional muses. Her writings anticipate current literary and feminist theories of performative gender.
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Jill Benton, Professor Emerita of English and World Literature, taught twenty-two years at Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges in California. Her writing of biographies about British women writers between the wars began with her first book Naomi Mitchison: a Century of Experiment in Life and Letters and continued with writings about Stella Benson, Winifred Holtby, Storm Jameson, Rosamond Lehman, and Rose Macaulay. This study of Naomi Royde-Smith was prompted by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to participate in a seminar devoted to “Literary Biography: Fictionality, Presence, and Speculation.” Professor Benton enjoys sleuthing archives for documents that have not been discovered, found in abundance for this biography in Philadelphia, New York, Austin, London, and Geneva.
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