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A  mid-Devon lane 

 Women Writing on the Devon Land
A County's Women Authors - circa 1965


    This blog, having just had a make-over, interlinks with and is a spin-off from my other blog Scrapblog a Writer from the South-West. I hope occasionally to write up more posts for that blog, but this one is focused on women writers who came from or who stayed in Devon (up to about 1965), many of whom have been forgotten or cast aside from the canonic literary memory.  Devon’s location is a long way from the beaten literary crowd, but over the centuries the county has harboured and welcomed an awesome panorama of women-who-wrote. Say for example you begin to peer into the momentous historical period between 1914-1920. In Exeter E.M. Delafield, creator of the eponymous 'Provincial Lady', was publishing her first novels, The War Workers and Consequences. E.M.D., (as she was called), drafted her novels away from the furore of war, in the peace and quiet of a park high above the city. Several other Devon women whose lives and writings have often been air-brushed from history also published pivotal texts during the early decades of the C20, including Beatrice Chase (once famed ‘Lady of the Moor’); Margaret Pedler (Devon’s ‘Queen of Romance’) and M.P. Willcocks (‘Devon’s Forgotten Feminist’). Devon’s landscapes feature prominently in the texts of all of these writers. Back-tracking into history, other noteworthy Devon authors, including C16 poet Anne Dowriche and C17 proto feminist essayist/poet Mary Lady Chudleigh have long vanished from the literary radar and there are many other women writers whose roots in the county have long been ignored; their writings comprise a neglected aspect of the county’s history. 

    Contemporaneously, there's a  social fascination with women from the past whose contributions to cultural achievements have been neglected. This preoccupation with trailblazing literary foremothers is likely to continue, challenging and replacing the long tradition of canonical patriarchal domination with chronologies that include women writers. Women’s writing in all genres is blooming and my hope is that this blog will contribute to the current and continued reassessment of forgotten women of our county's - and by extension - country’s past.

    My intention is that the two blogs will interweave information about the women’s lives and texts as  it unfolds the lost story of Devon's women within the context of the county’s literary and historical heritage and against the background of the distinctive Devon landscape - which has so often played a prominent part in their creativity. 

    In the Pages I've integrated material from my old website South West Women Writers; although at this stage it is in no way definitive you'll find a little background information about some of the women who wrote in Devon as well as lists of some of their texts, with links to other sources. 

Timeline; women write; the Devon text  provides a chronology of some of the writers with links to further sources.
Translation, Tragedy and Treatise 1450 - 1670 outlines a list of some women whose work  was in these genres.
Poems, Prose, Plays 1660 -1840 focuses on writers who predominantly wrote in these genres.
Writing the Inner Journey of the Self, 1750 -1900 lists women who wrote journals and diaries.
Women Narrators, Scoring Landscapes, 1820-1940 is a list of women who wrote fiction.
She Came to Stay; Devon Visitors provides a short list of  significant women writers who stayed in Devon for a while.
Three Poems by Women in Devon is just a tiny sample of extracts from poems written by three women writers.
Imagining Translation; Margaret Beaufort & Sampford Peverell has a poem I wrote about Margaret and a short write-up about its background. 
Heliodora; an Excerpt is taken from a sequence of fictional fragments inspired by re-inventions of forgotten Devon women's lives.
Mid-Devon; Spirit of Place & Plath & Pedler looks at a parish at Devon's heart and considers the way its history and ambiance is linked with literary associations.
How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? is an excerpt from about the mysterious medieval poet Marie de France.
The Devon Literary Canon - or Not? This is an extract from a longer piece which reconsiders the Canon, the traditional perspective about the literary history of Devon.
Royal Women Devon Lands an excerpt from a longer piece is a commentary about 'Elfrida' one of the first Queens of England.
Across Devon Lands; Looking Toward Literature post Saxon Queens comments on a few of the queens who followed Elfrida and their Devon links.
The Crediton Quest  discusses some C6 religious women, probable companions of St Boniface. 
Moor-Mire - The Hayfiddians of Hayford Hall is a commentary about a group of women who stayed on Dartmoor in the 1930's.
Landscapes of the Mind - M.P. Willcocks is about Devon's early C20 feminist writer Mary Patricia Willcocks.
Findings; Reviews of Other Research An occasional entry will I hope have comments about others' writing featuring women writers and Devon.

    In Land as Language; Devon Beginnings  there's a sketch about my own background in the Devon landscape and a reflection about the background of my fascination with texts and the county's territories. 

     The Blog Posts will fill in more detailed information about some of the women writers, and as well will dart off on side tracks, peer into the past and spaces into writers' lives and texts. Some of the posts will centre around women who most definitely should be remembered for their work, whose absence from the county's literary history is unforgivable; others will reflect on women who may still be considered 'marginals', (in some cases their designation as 'writer' might be considered spurious), but in one way or other I believe they are still important to remember and reclaim.

     I decided to begin the blog with an ABC of Devon places. The pieces do not profess to present a  definitive account of all the county's parishes. Far from it. I've selected one parish for each letter and written up a commentary apropos various women who wrote who were in some way linked with the place. At a later stage I may decide to go round again and choose different places. If you click on the first post of this blog you will find it starts at Ashridge, an ancient estate just eastwards along from the ridge from Wildridge and Ashton, the married home of one of Devon's most important woman writers. Or, you could choose to go to the end of the circle and click on Z is Zeal Monachorum and read about Margaret Pedler, Devon's 'Queen of Romance'.

    Following the resume of some Devon parishes my intent is to take a look at some of the Devon archives in search of forgotten women writers and their links with the county. My intention is to locate some interesting documents and provide some kind of commentary. Unfortunately in 2020 due to a fall and broken wrist the posts stopped for a while but now I'm back in action I'm planning and researching to write up about two women from the Devon Buller family then another post about Beatrix Cresswell.


The back story of my interest in women writers from Devon goes back many years, to the time when I completed a PhD at Exeter University. Still gripped with euphoria yet needing a break from years of intense study (though by this time addicted to research), I began to haunt local archives and second hand bookshops, gathering material about women writers from Devon. Looking back it seems a snail's progress, but to begin with, it was a time to chill, revel in the variety of writers, texts, places and follow a trail of serendipitous discoveries. I'd spent those years concentrating on the life and texts of a particular writer, (H.D., Hilda Doolittle), who (though I loved and will always turn to her visionary work), gradually, as other writers came to the fore, receded into the background. I was breaking out of a locked room, opening a new door, or many doors, of discovery. And in any case, having spent spring and early summer of 1916 in Devon, H.D. still had more to input in my journey. I kept her life and work in mind when I began to open the new pages to find out about other female authors and Devon. I hadn't yet had sufficient space to look more into her links with my home county and now had hopes of spending more time doing just that. The venture began more as a way of gentle 'post-script' to those years of studying. I'd grown to love literary and historical research and though I thought I'd maybe write up a few articles, feature and poems from my discoveries, I didn't anticipate that the project would take up so many years.

    There were many visits to The Devon Record Office, The Westcountry Studies Library (now The Devon Heritage Centre) , Exeter University Library and many other local libraries, The Devon and Exeter Institution - and a host of online sites, where I accumulated an overload, a labyrinth, of actual author names, real titles of books (many of which were out of print) and other texts; and as yet - and even now years later - I had not had a chance to search in the archives for unpublished texts - say letters, journals and other documents written by women in Devon. Over and over I was struck by the absence of names and texts apropos specific women-authored texts in prevailing accounts of the county's literary history. There was a contradiction between what must have once been in existence and what was still available to read or study. Did no women in Devon write before say the C19? Why weren't more female names mentioned in literary assessments of the county?

     Wanting to seek out the once homes of some of the writers and struck by the complex inter relationships of land and landscape with writerly activities. I was drawn back into Devon's byways and criss-crossing lost-lanes, to the landscapes of my own used to be home in North Tawton, in the mid Devon territories. 

I turned to Sylvia Plath, one of the handful of famous female writers associated with Devon, for guidance. Plath's poems inserted features, creatures and particular people from North Tawton's surrounding territory into her now iconic texts: the church; the trees; the school; the moor;  the fog; the lanes; the fields; the sheep; our sheepdog. I fell back into the spirit of the place; it became a central point of focus from which to branch out on explorations further afield. I wanted to share all the wonderful finds from my research and encourage others to follow up and find more about Devonshire's neglected female writers and their place within the palimpsests of our treasured county landscapes.

    I began Scrapblog from the SouthWest, in which I wrote up some of my research discoveries, in a very undirected way, then created the now defunct website South West Women Writers. I drafted poems about some of the writers, a sequence of which has been published in the collection Tessitura (Shearsman Press). The editor of Shearsman invited me to edit a collection of poems by the C17 Devon poet Mary Lady Chudleigh and papers on the C16 writer Anne Dowriche were published by The Devonshire Association, in 2009 (See DA Abstracts). In 2017, South West' s Sea-Thyme, a sequence of poems commemorating H.D.'s time in Devon during 1916, was published in Shearsman 111/112.You can find more about these texts on my author website Julie Sampson

Another, non-fiction manuscript titled Writing Women on the Devon Land: The Lost Story of Devon's Other Women Writers, up to circa 1965, is waiting in the wings, hoping one day to be published. In 2015, an earlier draft was shortlisted for the Devon based Impress Prize. Several fellow writers have commented on the research and manuscript. The following extracts provide a glimpse into the scope of the work so far:

Photo: Exeter castle in Rougemont Gardens Exeter where EM Delafield drafted her early novels

 .'... we're walking & looking with Julie Sampson much as on other memorable occasions one's joined Llewellyn Powys around Somerset & Dorset, Iain Sinclair in the footsteps of John Clare, David Caddy as he cycles after Edward Thomas, Simon Armitage singing for his supper along the Pennine Way, even Joanna Kavenna all around Scottish & Northern European climes seeking Ultima Thule …Julie Sampson's terrain is a Devon suffused, as she says, with 'spirit of place', and as one might suspect such perspective or vibration isn't handed out on a plate...Her subjects are women writers of the county, variously neglected but enthusiastically redeemed. My favourites here may well be 20th Century figures Beatrice Chase, Frances Bellerby and Mrs Willcocks, but Julie Sampson endows her 16th & 19th Century characters, such as Anne Dowriche and Anna Bray, with similar contemporaneity. I commend Julie Sampson's project and hope it finds speedy publication.' Kris Hemensley

'Julie has made herself an expert on women poets of Devon. She combines sound scholarship with her own direct experience and observations. Thus she can interest the general reader in a subject which might seem rather specialised or esoteric. Julie Sampson is also a fine poet in her own right, author of the collection Tessitura (Shearsman Books, 2013). I believe that her love and knowledge of Devon and of literature, and her abilities as a writer, make her the right person to write this book.' James Turner

'Threaded by tracks and ‘snaky lanes’ of Devon, luxuriating in ‘mysteriously named’ localities (e.g. Trundlebeer, Nymphehayes) Sampson draws the reader into their landscape and language, digging their linguistic origins and history while searching their women’s literary heritage introducing authors and their writing hitherto silenced by years of neglect; names such as Margaret Pedler (C20), Anne Dowriche (c16) and Mary Patricia Willcocks (C20. Through all this flows Sampson’s own connections and site-specific observation; a poetry in itself.' Tilla Brading

 '...Through a woman’s eye, we are treated to a symbiotic journey of both past and present over Devon’s rich territory, once illuminated by many women writers who are now largely forgotten by time. Julie Sampson sweeps away any conventional assumptions through what permeates as a deeper process of anamnesis, reviving lost names and the landscapes to which they were embedded. The journey takes us into a tangible fusion of places which are still recognized today but whose import was more pivotal to our ancestors’ existence... Through examining the work of Anna Bray for example, we can feel the contagion of boldness as we imagine her striding long expanses of heather sprung turf in search of Dartmoor’s legendary folklore during a Victorian era where most women’s creativity was harnessed to piano and petit point. Very much a writer after my own heart, I am immensely grateful to Julie Sampson for her regular work on women writers of the West Country and the joys unfurled from her research into archives and libraries which are vital to our social being. Her new book acts as an escarpment between different eras, lifting us through the aura of mystery by revisiting the Devonian contours of magic to logic … and back again. Ruth Snell

 .... Please if you should stumble upon this blog do send me some feedback or and commentary! I'd love to hear from you.



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