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Beginning Again

Storm Jameson's Debt to France

Jennifer Birkett

This essay has a double purpose. The first is to set out the function of France, as the place of salvation, in Storm Jameson’s writing in and about the 1930s. The second is to suggest that her familiarity with French culture – specifically, French writing – provided key models for some of the most important formal innovations she embarked on in that time. Jameson’s was one of the voices most consistently raised against the low, dishonest decade. She devoted herself to conducting two interconnected salvage operations on the social wreck: in the one, recovering a sense of human values (for her, those of a socialism that foregrounds respect for individual needs and dignity), and in the other, looking for that honest and politically effective way of writing about them which was the elusive goal of all her contemporaries on the Left. The success of both was linked for her to the French connection. In the mid-1930s, her Mirror in Darkness trilogy, planned as a five- or six-volume series novel, ran into sand. In the last volume, the heroine, Hervey, who is and is not Jameson, seems to have come to a dead end. Ten years later, however, she is back, in the Journal of Mary Hervey Russell (1945), speaking with a new voice. That Journal is written from France, and it breathes out, at every turn of the page, Hervey’s sense of a personal debt to the country for having redeemed her vision and her writing.

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