Those of you who are familiar with my historical mystery series featuring 1930's psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs, will know that in creating the character of Maisie Dobbs, I have drawn upon my interest and admiration for the women - of Britain, in particular - who came of age in the years of the Great War, 1914-1918, and who were, effectively, the first generation of women to go to war in modern times, and also to move into "men's work" in great numbers so that men could be released to the battlefield. For many of those women, life would never be the same again. The 1921 census revealed that there were two million "surplus" women of marriageable age in Britain, and only one in ten would have the opportunity of marriage given the great losses of marriageable young men in what became known as "the war to end all wars."
As I created the character of Maisie Dobbs, and as she revealed herself to me - and I think most authors would agree that character development seems to be a two-way process - I wanted her to reflect something of the spirit of that generation. For many years, long before I became a writer of fiction, I had collected books written for, by and about that generation, and was fascinated by the way so many navigated waters that were unfamiliar to them, and who realized that at war's end the landscape of opportunity had changed dramatically for women. There were many who understood that they would have to be responsible for their own financial security for the rest of their lives, that they would have to build community or become invisible, and they would have to nurture relationships to sustain them as they grew older. And so many of these women blazed a trail, moving into public life as never before.
But any one book or article cannot tell the whole story, cannot explore the gray areas - for example, the fact that throughout both the first and second world wars propaganda to encourage women into the workplace could be both encouraging and demeaning, on the one hand offering independence, and on the other reminding women that they would always be playing second fiddle to the men they were replacing.
I have always found these women - who lived, worked and served in the Great War, who navigated their way through the 1920's and 30's, then served again in the Second World War - inspiring, and in the time I have been writing the Maisie Dobbs series, I have come to realize that so many readers are curious about the generations encompassed by this period in time - I've received a great number of letters and emails from women and men of all ages who have been inspired to learn more, and to journey back into their own family archives (even if "archive" amounts to a box of photographs) to discover the history of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I have heard from so many readers anxious to share the family stories they've uncovered. Which brings me to this blog.
In each post I'll be delving into the stories and articles about and by this generation of women that I've uncovered during my own research into the era. I would love to hear your stories too, as time goes on. My posts will not be regular - sometimes there might be a couple each week, or a week might go by with no post - so please subscribe to the blog; you'll receive an alert every time a new post is published. It might be a story about a woman of the time, perhaps one of my heroines; an interview with an author who has written a non-fiction book about the era, or a discussion about an article written in a magazine published between the wars with advice that could serve us today. I'll be sharing information on some of the books about this extraordinary generation of women that I have found particularly engaging - and if I like a book enough, I'll buy a second copy and give it away in a competition. Note that I will not be including reviews or opinions on current fiction focused on this generation - there are already many terrific blogs dedicated to new fiction and I don't want to add to that sea of personal opinion. Having said that, you'll see cover art for my own books featured on the site - frankly, I love the covers, so I splash them around whenever I can.
Some time ago I read an article in Britain's Guardian newspaper entitled, "Where are all the daring women's heroines?" Good question. My heroines have invariably come from a period in history that encompassed two world wars, the Depression, the so-called "Roaring Twenties" and the austerity Thirties. I have chosen to name my blog after Maisie Dobbs, the name given to the main character in my novels. In a way she is my everywoman of the time, a woman who is not without her faults, but who stands for a singular generation of women who have fascinated me since girlhood. In mythology, heroines fill us with awe and inspire us. I hope you find this blog interesting, inspiring and thought-provoking. I'll do my best to make it so.
Look out for the next post: Those Surplus Women, plus a book recommendation to get us started, and a competition!