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William – an Englishman (Classic edition)

by Cicely Hamilton

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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY NICOLA BEAUMAN
226pp
ISBN 9780953478002

 

William - an Englishman (1919) is one of the greatest novels to emerge from World War One: not the war of the fighting soldier or the woman waiting at home, but the war experienced by an ordinary young couple. William and Griselda, both passionate activists in the Suffragette movement, ‘cocksure, contemptuous, intolerant, self-sacrificing after the manner of their kind’, are shocked out of their everyday complacency when, in August 1914, they emerge from their honeymoon cottage in the remote hills of the Belgian Ardennes and hear what they think is the sound of thunder. It is in fact the guns of the German army. ‘Enthusiastic, ignorant, they had thought of their little political scuffles as war and stumbled accidentally into the other kind of war – of bullets and blood and high explosives.’

Cicely Hamilton wrote William - an Englishman in a rage in the early months of 1918. At the time she was volunteering in northern France, organising concerts to entertain the troops, the sound of gunfire a nightly accompaniment to her scribbling. We are perhaps used to war poets writing poems in these circumstances; we are not so used to women writing novels. Her style has a powerful immediacy to it reminiscent of a flickering newsreel.

In 1919 this intense, furious, highly original novel won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse, which at the time was the top prize in the world for a woman writer. It then unaccountably fell out of print until, eighty years later, it became the very first title on the Persephone Books list. Now comes this new edition so that even more readers can discover William - an Englishman.

‘From first page to last this is a masterpiece, and its rigid restraint adds a thousandfold to its value. It was written, we think, out of a great pity, a great love, deep indignation and a white-hot righteous anger.’ (The Englishwoman, September 1919)

‘Profoundly moving.’ (Financial Times)

‘Extraordinary... a passionate assertion of the futility of war.’ (The Spectator)

Also available as a Persephone Grey and a Persephone Audiobook.

For more on William - an Englishman, have a look at the Persephone Perspective.

 


Read What Readers Say

Simon Savidge (blogger)

This is a book that has a fire in its belly for the everyman and a passion that is completely reflected in its prose – especially in all the parts of the book where we are at the heart of the war. I thought it was a very skilful and unusual look at WWI.

Anne Harvey on ‘BBC Radio 4 - A Good Read’

This novel is absolutely stunning. It bowled me over when I first read it and when I re-read it for this programme I was bowled over all over again. It's the sort of book that I've recommended to so many of my friends, both male and female.

Categories: Classics

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