My immediate reaction to this excellent biography of an excellent woman was surprise. Why didn’t I know more about her already? Phyllis Bottome wrote thirty-three novels and a dozen volumes of short stories and novellas, nearly all with a ‘message’ about poverty, mental illness, women’s work or, from the 1930s onwards, anti-Semitism. Her writing career spanned the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Some of her books were bestsellers. Most were published on both sides of the Atlantic and translated into most European languages; several were made into films. Yet unlike novels by many other middlebrow women writers of Bottome’s generation, hers have not yet been repopularised, possibly because even the most commendable propaganda has a limited shelf life.
Phyllis Bottome was born in Kent in 1882, her mother a Yorkshire woman, her father an American clergyman; she lived on both sides of the Atlantic as a child. She published her first novel at the age of twenty. But by the time it appeared her elder sister