Miss Nobody

A little while ago I was delighted to be asked by leading Carnie expert, Nicola Wilson, to write the introduction to a reissue of Ethel Carnie's Miss Nobody (1913). I now have the text to Methuen's original publication. It would seem that the British Library have lost its only copy. The importance of Ethel Carnie to English literature cannot be underestimated; she was this country's first working-class female novelist. Her achievements throughout her life are extraordinary, given the unlevelled playing field for women and more so for working-class women, which remains the case in literature.

Nicola initially made contact in response to a piece I wrote on Carnie for the Guardian's books blog, in response to a piece championing the 'overlooked' Sylvia Townsend Warner, by acclaimed novelist Sarah Waters. I argued that, far from being 'overlooked', Townsend Warner, like many of her middle-class writing peers of the time, had enjoyed incessant championing - particularly by the Virago publishing house.

I am not sure what reception Miss Nobody will receive upon its reissue, expected to be September this year, but I - along with others - will undoubtedly be active in drawing attention to the novel - and to Carnie.

I came across Carnie almost by accident when researching the critical element of my PhD. I became particularly interested in her use of the romance motif, and how working-class women in her era could ill afford it. She also pointed to the feminism of the working-classes - the cry to have the freedom to have some fun, which was sadly lacking in the lives of women up until the Education Act, who would have begun work from the age of seven onwards and barely have stopped until they dropped dead, exhausted. And, more importantly, the freedom to be able to stay at home and spend time with their children instead of having to rush back to work. And yet this is not the feminism or history that we are left with. Most know only that the middle class suffragettes fought for 'equality' for women; equality to vote; equality to work. Working-class women had 'enjoyed' the 'luxury' of work for centuries. And they had much political agency within working-class movements, such as the Chartists.

And yet, in our twenty-first century, it is the issue of women (and men) being unable to afford to give up work to spend time with children, that has become an increasingly urgent issue.

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