Mrs Sylvia Lynd

Sylvia Lynd, 1937, by Howard Coster © National Portrait Gallery, London[1]
Sylvia Lynd, 44, (1888-1952) was a London born poet, essayist, short story writer and novelist, active across the literary community. She lived a few doors down the road from her Downshire Hill childhood home, at 5 Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3, with her husband, the Belfast born journalist and man of letters Robert Wilson Lynd, the literary editor of the Daily News and the News Chronicle. While Sylvia was a noted writer herself, particularly for her pastoral poetry, and contributed book reviews to Time and Tide – “consistently favouring traditional reading pleasures over texts which demand serious work or effort” [2] she was particularly active in the community of literary culture, serving on the committees of The Book Society[3] and of the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize.[4] [5] In a letter from Violet Scott-James (Table 9) to Sylvia’s husband Robert, Violet cites one Ivy Low as saying Sylvia as having “one of the nicest faces he had seen for ages”.[6]

Seated Beside …

Sylvia almost certainly would have been seated alongside Jonathan Cape, the only other serious member of the London literature world at the table. And if it were up to me I would have also seated her beside Eva Moore the actress and suffragist. Sylvia’s mother was the Irish born suffragist Nannie Dryhurst.

What’s On Her Mind?

Books, prizes and literature. And being a noted hostess, the social life of the literati. Ways to promote women in the arts would definitely been a topic both with Jonathan Cape and with Eva Moore.

Sylvia’s Story So Far

Sylvia Lynd; Robert Lynd and their two daughters 1913 © National Portrait Gallery, London[7]
Sylvia was born in the latter months of 1888 to the Irish born suffragist Nannie Dryhurst née Robinson and Alfred R. Dryhurst, an assistant at the British Museum, then living at 11 Downshire Hill, Hampstead. She was educated at the Slade and RADA. In mid 1909 she married Robert Lynd and they had two daughters, Sighle (born 29th February 1910) and Maire (born 1912). Sylvia hosted many literary gatherings at her home in Keats Grove, with her husband Robert, guests including Victor and Ruth Gollancz, J. B. Priestley, Rose Macaulay, Hugh Walpole and W. B. Yeats. The Lynds hosted the wedding reception for James Joyce, which was probably quite an occasion as Joyce had tried to keep his wedding secret (to Nora, his partner for already 27 years) and was being hounded by the media. Perhaps Keats Grove was a refuge after leaving the Kensington Registry Office. [8]

Life on the fringes of Hampstead Heath wasn’t all pastoral sweetness and light: her correspondence with her father records how his own marriage was already breaking down when Sylvia was 9 years old, (her mother had a long affair with Henry Nevinson), and Robert Lynd himself was rather fond of the bottle.

Sylvia served as one of the “Great Five”, along with Hugh Walpole, Clemence Dane, Priestley and Professor Gordon, on the Selection Committee of The Book Society, set up in 1921 by Hugh Walpole and publishers to promote the sale of books, and originally called The Society of Bookmen – in 1932 a letter to The Spectator on its behalf was signed by four men plus Sylvia.[9] Whilst the Society of Bookmen didn’t admit women until 1972 (and only changed its name in 2014) women were invited as guests, and Sylvia was on the lookout for good women writers. Though Virginia Woolf was rather cutting about Sylvia in private, Sylvia still championed her books, as well as experimental women writers.

Sylvia clearly had quite a presence, as suggested in a report by Una on “The Irish National Banquet” in “The Four Provinces” Club Gazette in 1924: “‘Mrs. Robert Lynd’s dress I am unable to describe as my fleeting glimpse of her only left with me the impression of her expressive face, its individual charm heightened by seed-pearl ear-rings of quaint and beautiful design”.[10]

The Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, which Sylvia helped to judge, was an English version of a French prize, still going today, founded by French publishers Hachette for women writers, and which ran from 1920 until WW2. The first winner of the English prize was Cicely Hamilton, guest at our dinner – and fellow guest Rebecca West also a judge.[11]

As for Sylvia’s own work, by 1933 Sylvia had published seven volumes (two novels, short stories and poems) and Gollancz had published two collections of her work relatively recently – The Yellow Placard (1931 ) and The Christmas Omnibus (1932).

What Sylvia Did Next

In 1934 Dent published more of Sylvia’s poems in The Enemies. In 1942 she wrote the book English Children in the Britain in Pictures series and a selection of her poems were published by Macmillan in 1945. As for the Book Society it was not until 1935 that a Ladies’ Night was established for its meetings, the token effort before then being a paper – delivered by a man – on “What Women Read”.[12]

In August 1938 one hotly debated Book Society Choice was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. In her review Sylvia wrote:

“It is not with the critic’s cherished masterpieces that we sit up all night. It is not fine English or wit or poetry or characterisation that keeps us standing at the dressing table. These things may be present in a sensational novel, or in any novel. But they are not the essential quality that holds us. This, simply, is the art of story-telling, of infecting the reader with a devouring curiosity to know what happens. Of compelling him to share the author’s moods and see what he sees in his imagination”. (Book Society News, August 1938, 5-6)[13]

In the 1939 census there was no-one listed at 5 Keats Grove, but Sylvia, Robert and their daughters Sighle and Maire are all on the electoral roll at Tillies Cottage, Forest Green, near Reigate in 1938. Though both daughters soon married (Maire in 1938, Sighe in 1939), potentially “emptying the Keats Grove nest”, Sighle became an assistant editor to an architectural journal, and lived with her husband, and expert beekeeper, Peter Wheeler, at 5 Keats Grove until her retirement (they then moved to Connemara). Sighle died in 1976. Her sister Maire died in 1990, Maire’s husband Jack Gaster living to 100 (died 2007).[14] Sylvia herself died on 21st February 1952, a little over two years after Robert. [15]


[1] Sylvia Lynd, 1937, by Howard Coster. Given by the estate of Howard Coster, 1959, Photographs Collection, NPG x1996

[2] Catherine Clay, Time and Tide, Edinburgh University Press, 2018 , p95

[3] Sylvia Lynd, Friends of the National Libraries, online, accessed 21.1.2018


[5] Mrs Sylvia Lynd, Hutchinson’s Woman’s Who’s Who 1934, Hutchinson & Co. London.

[6] Letter from Violet Scott-James to the Lynds. Accessed 5.2.2018

[7] Sylvia Lynd; Robert Lynd and their two daughters, by Unknown photographer. Given by Moira (‘Maire’) Gaster (née Lynd), 1975, NPG Photographs Collection© National Portrait Gallery, London

[8] RTE News Letters reveal James Joyce’s attempt to keep wedding secret 1.8.1914

[9] The Book Society, The Spectator Archive, 12.3.1932

[10] “The Four Provinces” Club Gazette, Vol. 1 No. 3. May 1924

[11] Femina Heureuse Prize: English Committee and

[12] The Book Society, website accessed 23.1. 2018

[13] Nicola Wilson, (2016) Virginia Woolf and the Book Society Limited. In: J. Vandivere and M. Hicks, (eds.) Virginia Woolf and her female contemporaries. Clemson University Press: Woolf Selected Papers. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

[14] Arthur Reynolds, The bee and the western wind, The Irish Times 11.4. 2014, accessed 23.2.2018

[15] R. A. Scott-James revised by Sayoni Basu, Lynd, Robert Wilson (1879–1949) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, 6th November 2011, online accessed 20.1.2018

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