Philip Hensher writes:
In current studies, many writers with a good claim to exist outside privilege are totally neglected. Everyone ought to know the difficulties that a working-class writer, or any writer without independent means, will have in getting started. There are very few institutions devoted to the study of working-class culture, apart from an excellent library in Manchester. Studies of it are rare. Jonathan Rose’s superb The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001) is still the best. (…)
When the anthology came out, I was criticised by a well-known editor for not managing to find an equal number of male and female writers. (In an anthology stretching back to 1700, it could not have been done without compromising the quality.) The editor who complained, amusingly, had ancestors who were ennobled in the 16th century. (…)
There are some points of interest in the book, especially concerning Olive Schreiner, describing the form of her anti-imperialism. But Gordon would have done better to have written about true outsiders, such as the 18th-century poet Mary Leapor; Charlotte Mew; Amy Levy; or the novelist Margaret Oliphant, rather sneered at in ‘Three Guineas’, who really did have to struggle to be heard. Dorothy Edwards is also a good subject: she committed suicide when Woolf’s Bloomsbury friends decided she was too common to go on sponsoring.