ESSAY Drs Michelle Deininger & Claire Flay-Petty

NWR Issue 119

University Connections and Professional Lives

In 2015, we fortuitously presented papers on the same panel at the inaugural Modernist Network Cymru (MONC) conference, bringing together the work of Kathleen Freeman (1897–1959), lecturer in Greek (from 1919 to 1946) at what is now Cardiff University and her better known former student, Dorothy Edwards (1902–34). What we discovered, and continue to investigate, is how these women’s lives were interconnected in a myriad of ways, from the friendship they sometimes maintained, the rivalry that seeped out of personal letters, and the collaborations they published. Freeman was a state-educated classicist, part of a new generation of women to access higher education from a position of merit rather than birth. Edwards would have been one of her earliest students. This relationship is fascinating in itself and will form a substantial part of our forthcoming book, Scholarship and Sisterhood (to be published by University of Wales Press), but the others that stemmed from these university women are equally so. In this article, we’ll trace some of the lesser-known facets, identities, and styles of writing that emanated from this university context, with Dorothy Edwards still firmly at the centre.

First of all, we’ll consider the life and writing of S Beryl Jones (1900–1996), and her story ‘The Woman at the Well’ that is republished, at long last, alongside this piece. It was Jones’ careful custodianship of Edwards’ letters that resulted in the publication of the first full-length biography of Edwards (Claire Flay-Petty’s Dorothy Edwards of 2011, University of Wales Press, Writers of Wales). Edwards would write to Jones, and her partner Winifred Kelly, frequently, beginning each letter with ‘Dear Beryl and Kelly’ and it was these that gave so much insight into Edwards’ life and writings. As we know, Freeman taught Edwards; if she did not teach Jones and Kelly, then at the very least they would have been aware of each other, crossing paths in the university corridors. We’ll also consider the identity that Freeman embraced as a crime writer, in her pseudonym of Mary Fitt, briefly exploring the 1954 novel she wrote called Love From Elizabeth. Finally, we’ll look at another pseudonymous novel, Doctor Dear (published in the same year), written by Freeman/Fitt’s ‘female companion’ and practising GP, Liliane Clopet (1901–87), under the guise of ‘Mary Bethune’. Clopet completed her medical training at Cardiff and met Freeman during the mid 1920s, and would go on to collaborate with Freeman as well as rewrite her fictions for the stage. While Jones’ short story and the two novels were published nearly twenty years apart, and are situated in very different worlds, separated by the Second World War and marked by different cultural practices and technologies, they share a curious commonality. All three texts consider the role of the professional, whether through the male voice of Jones’ Mr Fawcett, Fitt’s detective or Bethune’s female GP. Even more intriguing is the fact that each of these texts represents an act of ventriloquism that parallels the complex worlds created by Dorothy Edwards, especially in her short story collection, Rhapsody (1927). These women wear masks to write about the professional worlds that they now inhabit, as teachers, lecturers or doctors, and are continually asking questions about the nature of belonging, roots and origins...

This article forms part of ongoing research on Jones and her peers for a forthcoming volume, Scholarship and Sisterhood: Women, Writing and Higher Education, which Claire Flay-Petty is co-writing with Dr Michelle Deininger for University of Wales Press.

Dr Claire-Flay Petty's biography of Dorothy Edwards was published by University of Wales Press in 2011. Claire lives in Bridgend, where she (just about) juggles work, writing and a young family.

Dr Michelle Deininger is Co-ordinating Lecturer in Humanities at Cardiff University.

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previous essay: On Building
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