Feminist Short Fiction, 1920-1929
Short Fiction in Time and Tide, May 1920-Dec 1929
by Victoria Kennedy
The following is an annotated index of selected short fiction that appeared in Time and Tide in its inaugural decade. Highlighted in this index are stories that foreground feminist issues and themes, including marriage, divorce, employment, sexuality, and motherhood. Many of the stories are explicitly about negotiating women’s places in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. While not all of the stories are positive in their treatment of women and feminism, they serve to illustrate the inter-connectedness of political debate and literature within Time and Tide. While many of the authors who contributed short fiction to Time and Tide were dabblers or lesser-known writers, others were recognized writers and remain recognizable to us today.
Entries are arranged alphabetically by author, and chronologically within each author’s listing.
“Usbands.” 1 October 1920, p. 388-9.
A story narrated by a working class woman who recounts experiences of domestic abuse, but still thinks that “a bad ‘usband’s better than none at all.” She says, “The Almighty says Man wasn’t made to live alone—though I recon it do look as if ‘E was ‘avin’ ‘Is little joke at the igspence of some of us.”
“Where There’s Life—.” 2 September 1921, p. 838-9.
Two young women who lost the men they loved (one died in the war, the other jilted her) meet at a crowded restaurant and strike a friendship over their mutual pain. But as they talk, they discover that they loved the same man—he jilted one for the other, and then died.
“The Man Afraid of Women.” 26 February 1926, p. 206-8.
Oswald Terhune marries and his wife soon after writes to her husband’s best friend to ask for an intervention in the already unhappy marriage. The friend soon discovers how cruel Oswald has been to his bride. The friend suspects that Oswald is afraid of women and has tried to force his wife into timid submissiveness. But the friend knows that the wife could easily turn the tables and have power over Oswald because of his fear.
“Fishbaskets.” 6 January 1922, p. 13-15.
Two female friends talk over tea. One has called off her engagement because she became so anxious that her fiancé would discover something intolerable (they call these pet peeves “fishbaskets”) in her. She is repulsed by the idea of spending her whole life “being careful never to do or say anything to irritate or shock him.” Instead, she accepts another man after putting him through a two-week trial wherein she “did everything [she] could think of to see what effect it had on him.”
“Resentment.” 14 April 1922, p. 356-8.
A housewife’s husband has left her for a woman not much older than their oldest daughter. She hopes he is miserable and will come crawling back so that she can spurn him. But when he does come back to say that the young woman left him, his wife takes him back immediately, making tea for him. Their youngest daughter is very pleased to have dad back at home.
“Changing ‘Ats.” 16 December 1921, p. 1204-5.
A group of men and women gather around a fire in the late afternoon. They discuss posing and performances of identity. A woman begins to discuss dressing up. “We [women] are protean creatures with many and varied parts of our personalities that need dressing-up; we are more versatile, subtle, fluid, imaginative, with more sides than men, and fewer channels of expression. After a long dull day spent indoors because of rain the hostess of the country-house party cries, ‘Let’s dress up!’—meaning ‘I’m tired of myself. Of you all, too. Let’s be different!”
B. S. Blok
“Mummie, M. A.” 3 June 1921, p. 529-30.
The narrator reports a dream in which female candidates take a university examination to determine whether or not they will be allowed to be mothers. The questions involve determining what is wrong with an infant, re-making a dress, writing a letter with a toddler in the room, darning a sock while holding a baby, and soothing a crying baby. The narrator awakes and finds her “real baby, just awaking also and calling for his food, so [she] consider[s] that [she] passed the last test triumphantly.”
A. M. Brunlees
“Job-less.” 22 September 1922, p. 910-11.
A woman looking for a job is given no sympathy, since “many a strong, able-bodied man is out of work.” She has committed “the crime of womanhood.” She is left with the option of “the ancient, feminine job of matrimony.”
F. K. Butterworth
“Once Too Often.” 13 May 1921, p. 452-3.
A young man is advised that marrying more than once is a bad idea. An older man tells him of his two wives, both named Lucy. He took the second Lucy on the exact same wedding tour as he took the first one. The second Lucy is haunted by the first wife, and ends up in an asylum.
“The Secretary.” 23 September 1921, p. 910-12.
A man hires a new secretary, and under her assistance the business thrives. But he becomes intimidated by her power over him. He gives her a month’s notice, but then quickly changes his mind and keeps her on.
“Overhead.” 6 February 1925, p. 133-4.
A man overhears two women, an American and a Turk—evidently old friends—talking on the beach. The women note that they used to talk about emancipation but now they talk heatedly about whether or not they are truly free. The American thinks she is more liberated than her Turkish friend with regard to marital choice and veiling. But the Turkish woman suggests that it is American women who “have yet to reach the stage when liberty steadies into control.”
“I’ll Just Have a Look at the Paper.” 15 June 1923, p. 616-17.
A man worries about his wife, who has gone to see a doctor about some pain. Thinking about her, he begins to feel immense guilt that he has taken her for granted: “all their married life he’d let her wash up after supper and never even offered to help.” He makes a bargain with Fate that if she is allowed to live, he will do the washing up every night. When she comes home, she tells him it was nothing. He quickly changes his attitude and reflects that “women made such a fuss about nothing” and lets her go wash up as usual.
“The Ownership of Betty.” 2 June 1922, p. 528-9.
Highlights how men of different roles all contribute to the oppression of women. Betty, fighting with her father and feeling pressured into marriage from her beau, seeks advice from her godfather who tells her that she ought to give up her feminist ambitions. Luckily, Betty receives an unexpected cash inheritance from her grandmother with a note that says, “Freedom, girlie, freedom to do and dare is a fine thing. I never had it.”
C. D. Dart
“The Tonic.” 25 September 1925, p. 943.
The narrator explains how her father has a terrible temper. It has caused her mother to look older than other women her age. He often throws things when the women in his life haven’t prepared things in time or the way he likes them. After going to the doctor to complain about digestion, he is given a tonic. When the tonic runs out, he relapses into abusive behaviour and kills the cat. Although it was only meant to be taken occasionally for digestion, the mother buys much more tonic and gives it to her husband regularly—so regularly that within six months he dies.
E. M. Delafield
“The Treasure.” 28 March 1924, p. 310.
About “the Servant Difficulty” and a pair of women who do most of their own housework to save their treasured servant Mrs. Chivers, who is quite old.
“Appreciation.” 2 May 1924, p. 428-30.
Caroline is a writer who fantasizes about winning fame/prestige—fantasies which are spurred on, in part, by her craving for recognition and appreciation from her husband Freddie. The couple is invited to dinner with a notable scientist, and the man knows and admires Caroline’s poetry. Caroline worries that Freddie will be so ashamed for overlooking her all these years, but Freddie writes off the scientist’s praise as “the foreign idea of good manners.”
“Progress.” 22 October 1926, p. 947-8.
Satirizes psychoanalysis and dream interpretation—particularly the way it reads so many things as symbols of sexual repression.
“The Obstacle.” 8 April 1927, p. 331-4.
A story about a thirty-five year old single woman who still hopes to find her soul mate and marry. On her way to visit an old friend in Oxford, she meets a man on the train and they begin a flirtation. He gives her his card so that they can meet again, but when she arrives in Oxford she discovers that he is a dental surgeon and she discards the card.
“The Indiscretion.” 4 November 1927, p. 983.
A man and woman were yachting and their boat overturned. Thinking they were going to die, the wife tells her husband about an affair she had some time ago and asks his forgiveness. However, they both survive and days later in the hospital the husband remembers the confession. It is clear he hasn’t really forgiven her.
“Decision.” 27 January 1928, p. 78-9.
A woman who has engaged in an extramarital affair is deciding whether or not to end the illicit relationship.
“Men Have No Imagination.” 12 October 1928, p. 934-5.
A first-person story about a woman who has had an affair, but whose ex-lover has now gotten married.
“Gladys.” 1 March 1929, p. 227-8.
A woman shares her past with a friend, revealing that she had been married before for fifteen years, but that she left her first husband for her current husband. She details the divorce and custody struggle that ensued.
“Diary of a Provincial Lady.” 6 December 1929, p. 1474.
The first installment of a series that would later be published in novel form.
“Bed-makers and Bosses.” 12 October 1923, p. 1027-8.
A woman remembers that, as a child, she complained it was unfair that she had to make her bed if her brothers didn’t have to make theirs. Her mother, a feminist, agreed, and made bed-making a family rule. The woman now tries to talk to her son about why he should make his own bed. Her son already has ideas of having a wife to take care of him when he grows up. She asks why his wife should have to look after him and not have a job of her own. Eastman then recommends the book The Dominant Sex by Mathilde and Mathias Vaerting.
“Among the Hops.” 4 September 1925, p. 870.
A young mother who works in the hop fields has an infant who is only ever addressed as “shut-up.” “Shut-up” cries all the time. The mother says it is because “it” is teething, but the story implies that it is also that the child already feels the roughness of the life into which it has been born.
“Trumpery.” 12 September 1924, p. 889-91.
A young woman abroad meets a Frenchman who compliments her, says he understand women’s dreams, and buys her an emerald ring as they wander around Monte Carlo together. On the train back to Nice, she realizes that she is being bought, asks him to hold the ring for her, and gets off the train.
V. H. Friedlander
“The Dinner.” 14 October 1921, p. 985-7.
An older man and his two sisters who live with him are anxious about his firm forcing his retirement. The firm sends James a month’s salary, a gold watch, and an “Albert.” He sells the gifts to provide for his family until they can find renters for their spare rooms.
“The Escape” Part I. 8 June 1923, p. 591-2.
Alison grows up an only child with a domineering mother (she recognizes that papa is “only the mouthpiece”). When she grows older and falls in love with an expat living in Los Angeles, her parents guilt her into giving him up. He marries someone else.
“The Escape” Part II. 15 June 1923, p. 615-16.
After her father loses a great deal of money, Alison has to take on additional serving roles within the household. Alison grows older (50s) taking care of her parents. When they die, she feels liberated. But she soon starts to panic that, when she dies, she will have to go to a “heaven that contained papa and mamma.”
“The Escape” Part III. 22 June 1923, p. 640-1.
Alison steals money so that she will go to hell when she dies, avoiding her parents whom she supposes are in heaven.
“A Chinese Puzzle.” 9 December 1921, p. 1184-5.
Harkness goes to Vancouver and attends a Chinese theatre in order to distract himself from unpleasant thoughts. He becomes obsessed with the female performer and returns frequently to the theatre. “So dainty, so fragile, so exquisitely petite ... so unlike the hard coldness of that other.” The narrator explains at the end that Harkness had actually fallen in love with a Chinaman, since “no woman ever plays upon a Chinese stage.”
“Areopagus.” 15 July 1927, p. 665-6.
A group of ten men and women gather together to take shelter from a storm. They discuss issues of politics and morality, including feminist issues like birth control.
“The Bird Flies.” 27 July 1928, p. 722-3.
A man whose wife is away is invited to a gathering in which he meets an accomplished woman doctor. She is “unwomanly” and quite unlike his own wife. He is infatuated with her immediately, but eventually realizes that his own comfortable, complacent life has marked him and that he could never be with this progressive woman.
“A Family.” 28 August 1925, p. 846-7.
Opens with a scene of a hot, crowded, third-class railway car in which a mother of five tries wearily to nurse her baby all the while keeping covered up. “All these babies were precious to Mrs. Willis, but everyone else in the carriage resented them.” Mrs. Willis is nearly ashamed, sensing the hostility of everyone around her. She also reflects on how much work went into the children’s outfits, which are now wrinkled and dirty. She thinks about the peace and relaxation that her childless friends and neighbours are able to enjoy, but seeing how happy her husband is with the children makes her regret these thoughts. Later when they return home, their neighbour is throwing a fit after discovering that her husband has been cheating on her. Mr. Willis calls the man spoiled and ungrateful. Mrs. Willis realizes that she shouldn’t have been coveting her neighbour’s peace and quiet, since her happy family, though messy and complicated, is at least loving. At the end of the story, “she left her own hot, untidy kitchen to go and comfort the distracted neighbour, who lived in the cool, clean but empty house.”
“The Reactionary.” 25 March 1921, p. 288
Satire of the Bloomsbury Group? A young woman, Eleanor, is initiated into a circle of “moderns” led by the “Very Modern Man.” She is quickly disillusioned by their prattle, and the final straw comes when the Very Modern Man tries to persuade her to sleep with him: “For us there will be no ridiculous forms, no ceremonies of marriage, no services.” She shuts her apartment door in his face.
H. M. Nightingale
“The Message.” 1 July 1921, p. 625-5.
A young girl visits the old, sick mother of a dead soldier that she loved. Since the old woman will die soon, the girl asks her to convey her love to Ralph in the spirit world. At the end of the story, it is revealed that Ralph has a wife that the girl doesn’t know about.
“Judy.” 2 July 1920, p. 168.
A prostitute sets out to work with the police to capture a man she is associated with—a criminal, who has also beaten her. But when it comes to the moment she is supposed to identify him, she finds she cannot betray him.
Ierne L. Plunkett
“A Knowledge of Cookery.” 14 January 1921, p. 38-40.
On cooking as a skill men look for in a potential wife, but wifehood as domestic enslavement. Anxieties about spinsters and “superfluous Englishwomen” after the war.
“Red Hair.” 26 August 1921, p. 815-17.
A red-haired woman who works hard doing “odd jobs that everyone else refused” at an orphanage. She and the greengrocer’s boy have a bit of a romance, but she becomes enraged when she sees him with another girl. Sick of being mistreated or disregarded by people, she declares to herself: “I’ll ‘ave no more truck with men...no! nor with women neither.” She works so hard from then on that she is thought “quite docile,” even though she is driven by rage.
“A Broken Dream.” 2 December 1921, p. 1163-5
After her employer dies, Miss Trivett, who worked as a companion, adjusts to new freedom. When she inherits the late woman’s fortune, she decides she wants to take on a young girl she knows as her own companion. But the young girl refuses, since she can make money in other ways. Miss Trivett realizes how things have changed for women in the past thirty years and “wept for the glory of youth triumphant.”
“The Reason.” 4 May 1923, p. 472.
A millionaire tells the woman he loves that he is poor to test her. He proposes and she refuses. When he accuses her of refusing him because he is poor she reveals that she knows who he really is and refused because she found the lie insulting.
Katherine Anne Porter
“Virgin Violeta” Part I. 25 December 1925, p. 1269-71.
A fifteen-year old girl is home from the convent at which she studies. She has concerns about her looks, and watches as her older sister is allowed to wear makeup and perfume. The affections of their cousin Carlos seem to have shifted from Violeta to Blanca.
“Virgin Violeta” Part II. 1 January 1926, p. 14-15.
Violeta becomes hysterical around Carlos while he tries to kiss her, though he maintains it is only normal cousinly affection.
“The Poetry Book” Part I. 6 March 1925, p. 228-9.
A wife is voraciously reading and her husband interrupts her to say that his mother-in-law has told him his wife once wrote a book of poetry. He suggests she collect her old poems and publish them. John suggests that Marguerite can have both a marriage and a career: “‘You’ve got all this,’ he waved his hand round the room, ‘why not have all that too?’” But Marguerite doesn’t have the poems anymore; she gave them to the boy who lived next door when she was growing up—the boy who now writes for the paper she is reading. Just as Marguerite becomes interested and wants to get the poems back to have them published, John becomes jealous of this other man from his wife’s past and wants to drop the whole thing.
“The Poetry Book” Parts II and III. 13 March 1925, p. 253-5.
John and Marguerite go to see Dick to ask for her book of poetry back. Dick refuses, and he seems agitated at Marguerite’s being married: “It isn’t a book for Mrs. Bassett.” Marguerite threw Dick over when she went to London, and he views the poetry as “our child, and I have the custody.” In Part III Marguerite returns to see Dick alone. They have some physical contact, but Dick assures her that he has been moving on since their last visit when he realized he was still living in the past. Marguerite gets her book “in spite of the opposition of two men.”
“What Shall We Do With Her?” 27 July 1923, p. 764.
An independent, unmarried lady farmer has been entreated by her parents to return to their home. She feels infantilized and undermined by her father. “Her parents had not advanced one iota with the age and still treated their daughters in the early Victorian way.” Her old friends don’t want to talk about farming issues, but about domestic issues that seem trivial. She concludes that her problem lies in finding the right sort of man to build a life with.
“The Burden.” 30 August 1929, p. 1041-3.
A woman grows up in poverty and bears her own children in the same state. At the age of forty, she gives birth to her sixth child. Her husband is out of work and has disappeared. Knowing she is unable to bear the burden of caring for the child, she throws it into the river in a sack.
“The ‘At.” 14 July 1922, p. 669-70.
Lyd feels that her boyfriend Jim isn’t being entirely faithful, so she tells him she has seen someone else too. He leaves her immediately, but she chases after him, saying that she was playing a joke on him. He hugs her but she starts to cry.
“Shopping.” 19 January 1923, p. 64-5.
Mrs. Alastair is rich and bored. Seeing a cheap fox fur reminds her of who she used to be, but her husband insists on an expensive ermine.
“Made in Heaven.” 30 November 1923, p. 1201-2.
A young woman feels “caged” by her mother. She thinks of her father’s death as his escape. She accepts the company of a much older man because he is rich and if she marries him she might escape too.
Hilda Trevelyan Thomson
“Temperament.” 16 June 1922, p. 573-5.
Tony, a man who is “fed up” with women, becomes infatuated with Suzette, a married woman who is pretty, but who clearly thinks very deeply. But he is a player and she ends up staying married to her husband, bored and frigid.
“The Call.” 27 April 1923, p. 449-50.
A woman wakes up and realizes that for twenty years she has been getting up before her husband to do washing and prepare breakfast. She develops the daring idea to secretly save up some money and take a trip to the seaside by herself. She walks into the sea at the end of the story, and it is unclear whether this is joyful or suicidal.
“The Intruder” Part I. 18 March 1921, p. 264-5.
A man, Everest, arrives home and sees a woman and man passionately kissing through his front window. He thinks it is his maid, but his maid answers the door so quickly and composedly that it cannot be her. He discovers his wife, Gladys, and his friend, Hugh, in the parlour and realizes they were the couple he saw. He is annoyed that he will have to lose Hugh as a friend. “His hospitality had been abused, the sacred laws of property infringed.” Their homosocial bond is stronger than the marital bond. The marriage, he reflects, was not made of passion, but was agreed upon by himself and his wife’s mother.
“The Intruder” Part II. 25 March 1921, p. 286-8.
Hugh figures out that Everest knows about the affair with Gladys. The story emphasizes the notion that male relationships are worth more than romantic relationships: “For a moment he was half inclined to hate her. She had come between them...” Hugh breaks the awkwardness by talking of their school days, and they fall happily into recollection. Everest realizes that his friendship with Hugh “went deeper, was more intimate, than the recent relationship of marriage.” Hugh apologizes and they move on.
Henry Kitchell Webster
“The New Technique” Part I. 31 December 1920, p. 707-8.
A rich man, Waring, assumes that his college-aged daughter, Audrey, is much the same as his wife was at that age. He talks about courting as “technique.” But he is shocked to find that his daughter approaches romance differently—she expresses her own desire, pays for her own meal, etc.
“The New Technique” Part II. 7 January 1921, p. 11-12.
Audrey considers calling off her engagement unless Stanley and her parents agree that she should be an equal financial contributor in the marriage.
“The New Technique” Part III. 14 January 1921, p. 36-7.
Waring tells Stanley to try “cracking the whip” to put Audrey in line, but it doesn’t work. Audrey goes to Chicago. When her parents track her down, they find that she has taken a job at a shop. Waring is outraged.
“The New Technique” Part IV. 21 January 1921, p. 60-62.
Audrey leaves her job and agrees to marry Stanley.
“The Smile.” 16 September 1921, p. 892-3.
A woman with a tyrannical, elderly father leaves him to travel for a while, but feels guilty and returns, promising never again to leave him. Similar to K. Mansfield’s “Daughters of the Late Colonel” which was published the next year, in May 1922.
“In Court.” 7 October 1921, p. 963.
A woman claims her husband shot himself, but, really, she shot him. He had threatened to shoot her cat and then her. She wants to be let go so she can start over: “All her earnings would be her own—she could keep the place clean and comfortable, and offer the neighbours a cup of tea now and again, and maybe buy that blouse at 10s. 11d.” She faints or has a heart attack—it is unclear. Echoes of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.
A. R. Williams
“Reminiscent.” 9 October 1925, p. 991-2.
A grandmother, seeing how her granddaughter behaves, reminisces about her own experience of being young, the restrictions placed on her outings, and the process by which she became engaged. She sees how things have changed, and at the end of the story is shocked when she thinks she has overhead her granddaughter kissing someone at the gate.
E. H. Young
“A Rich Man.” 12 January 1923, p. 40-2.
John and Emily have scrimped and saved and finally bought a house. Emily wants to celebrate and is tired of living so frugally. John only wants to work on the house and save money for repairs. Emily notices her hands shake (hysteria/nervousness?) when John leaves to fetch paint. When he returns he suggests that they get rid of her dog to save expenses.
“An Artist.” 18 January 1924, p. 60-61.
About a nursemaid who tells stories to her young charges. Usually they ignore her, but today they begin to ask her questions and want to hear her life story.