EasterCon Bonus Post: A History of Feminist SF in Britain
Women were writing speculative fiction from the 1800s onwards, if not before. Notable names included Mrs Corbett, Lady Florence Dixie, Irene Clyde, Cicely Hamilton, Storm Jameson, and I found a bunch of others just now. There seems to have been no dialogue between these women, and looking further back, we also find Margaret Cavendish writing in 1666.
The fantastic has literary credibility in the UK, particularly amongst the upper classes, who could organise gatherings of likeminded individuals from similar backgrounds, whereas the lower classes, if they could write at all, were expected to write about the mundane. There was also a strong tradition of writing amongst the women members of the Golden Dawn, whose works tended to exist in the borderlands between the occult, parapsychology, and fiction.
So we see overlapping traditions of women's fiction and SF coming into the twentieth century, along with ghost stories within magazine culture and a healthy dose of the gothic. The panel posed the question of whether women were writing scientific romance in the inter-war years. Then in the 1950s we see the writings of Clemence Dane, and Margery Allingham (who was in dialogues with all other genres, but wrote one SF novel as a commentary on other writings).
Finally, for this section, mention has to be made of Cold Comfort Farm, which can also be read as near-future (for its time) SF. Set against other similar novels, the women in it can be seen to have far more agency than their counterparts in similar works.
At this point in the panel I first became aware of Naomi Mitchison (more on her later) and her Memoirs of a Spacewoman, along with Jane Gaskell, who wrote Strange Evil at the age of 14 and was in dialogue withn CS Lewis amongst others. This era also brought us Doris Lessing, Angela Carter and Louise Lawrence (who mostly wrote for young adults).
There was no pulp SF tradition in the UK at the time to compare with the tradition of crime fiction, or with what was going on in the US. Tanith Lee was the breakthrough writer in this respect, leading the way for Louise Cooper, Jane Johnson, and Mary Gentle.
At this time there was minimal women's writing in New Worlds, but many women in the group surrounding the magazine. This then leads us on to the next phase in women's SF.
The decade was dominated by the Women's Press SF imprint, of which I have many fond memories. Its emergence was an exciting event at the time, cementing the relationship between SF and feminism. The books had striking covers and as well as introducing new authors and titles, were able to bring previously published titles into the mainstream. On the other hand, there were some cliquey aspects to the phenomenon. The panel was running short on time at this point, and my hand was getting tired, but there was just time for a brief round-up of authors for our final section.
The 1980s and Beyond
As I mentioned, time was short, so here's a quick list straight from my notes:
Mary Gentle (again)
Novels about agency rather than victimhood
The era also saw a widening separation between young adult SF and SF in general.
Well, that's it for my notes. I'll edit the post later with some extra links, but feel free to suggest any authors or books I've missed out.