Table 9 “Vera’s Writing Circle”


An intriguing table of six doubtless all very well acquainted individuals and for the most part, very much linked with Winifred Holtby. Vera Brittain, 39, perhaps the best known today of almost anyone at the dinner and a close friend of Winifred Holtby, may well have been the organiser of the table. Violet Scott-James, 47, also very close to Winifred as well as to Vera. Then two prominent writing sisters, Nora and Edith (Shackleton) Heald, 51 and 47 respectively. Sarah Millin, 45, also corresponded from South Africa frequently with Winifred Holtby and contributed to Time and Tide and shortly after the dinner Winifred wrote to Jean McWilliam: “Sarah Gertrude Millin is in England. I met her last time I went to London [possibly at the dinner? Ed.]. I do like her so much. She is such a generous, warm, quick creature, without any stiffness. She has gone to Palestine for a visit”.

The sixth member of the party was harder to identify but slowly it became clear that the “mystery person” was perhaps one of the most remarkable people in the room, the Georgia (USA), born contralto, suffragist, social campaigner and mother, Sarah Macdonald-Sheridan, 68. Her son-in-law was very much affected by one of the greatest single family losses on the sinking of the Lusitania: the death of his brother and his brother’s wife and six children, which may well have led to a link with Lady Rhondda. A big star, perhaps still remembered in the USA but certainly not over here.

It may have been hard to get a word in on any subject with this group but perhaps there were questions about the progress of the upcoming publication of Vera’s wartime book Testament of War (published in the coming August). Of course nobody was to know that this would be her ticket to fame. If the issue of peace and war came up perhaps Vera may have lamented on the “terrible dead mass of women in this country who are not organized for peace and are not interested.” – to quote from a talk she would give later that year at the Friends House in London. I would think it pretty certain that the recent release of the visiting Sarah Millins book on Cecil Rhodes would have been discussed – not a man of peace of course. Perhaps she also brought news on Jean McWilliam. And did they agree or disagree on Violet’s little dig at Lady Rhondda’s view on that she trusted businessmen more than artists? Indeed, it may well be that the first topic of conversation (and perhaps on all tables) would have been Margaret’s own book, released earlier in the month.

But away from the books, the chance to talk with the contralto from Georgia may have been the treat of the evening. The special guest of the table.