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William – an Englishman

by Cicely Hamilton
Persephone book no:

1 2

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9780953478002

In our view Persephone Book no.1 William – an Englishman is one of the greatest novels about war ever written: not the war of the fighting soldier or the woman waiting at home, but the war encountered by Mr and Mrs Everyman, wrenched away from their comfortable preoccupations - Socialism, Suffragettism, so gently mocked by Cicely Hamilton - and forced to be part of an almost dream-like horror (because they cannot at first believe what is happening to them).

William - an Englishman was written in the early months of 1918 and published the following year. Although it went on to win the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse, it was nonetheless entirely forgotten until re-printed by Persephone Books in 1999.

We believe the book to be a masterpiece, with its gentle satirical view of political movements  (in this case the suffragette movement) and its wonderfully perceptive, unblinking yet tender description of the impact of war on two ordinary young people, William Tully and his bride Griselda; the whole written with an immediacy and a grim realism reminiscent of an old-fashioned, flickering newsreel. The scene when William and Griselda emerge after three idyllic weeks in a honeymoon cottage in the remote hills of the Belgian Ardennes, and encounter German brutality in a small village, is unforgettable. 

William – an Englishman was 'written in a rage in 1918; this extraordinary novel... is a passionate assertion of the futility of war' (the Spectator). Its author had been an actress and suffragette; after 1914 she worked at the Scottish Women's Hospital at Royaumont and organised Concerts at the Front. William – an Englishman was written in a tent within sound of guns and shells; this 'terrifically good' novel (Radio 4's A Good Read) is in one sense a very personal book, animated by fury and cynicism, and in another a detached one; yet is always 'profoundly moving' (Financial Times).

William – an Englishman was chosen by Anne Harvey on Radio 4's A Good Read here

Also available as a (free) e-book.

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


The endpaper fabric is an Omega Workshop linen, dating from 1913 when the novel begins. With its pattern of abstract shapes outlined in black 'Pamela' has an appropriate austerity; yet the soft curves evoke the Belgian hills and the blue, green and purple recall the suffragette colours.

Picture Caption

A WWI munitions worker

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Categories: Abroad Politics Suffragettes WWI

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