Looking for Mary Webb: Part one - Creating a lost diary; Part two - A single violet: the lost diaries of Mary Webb

Beattie, Rebecca Mary (2021) Looking for Mary Webb: Part one - Creating a lost diary; Part two - A single violet: the lost diaries of Mary Webb. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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Abstract

This practice-led PhD in Creative Writing consists of an historical, biographical novel called A Single Violet, and a critical commentary, Looking for Mary Webb. The novel is infused with nature writing and written in the form of a diary.

The Shropshire writer Mary Webb (1881 -1927) published novels, essays and poems in the early twentieth century that explored folklore and the sacred qualities of nature. My novel sets out to create ‘a living, breathing, fictional Mary Webb’ through the imagined recreation of her diaries.

Although Webb did not receive the attention she strived for in her lifetime, she received posthumous success during the idealisation of rural England of the 1930s, and in the 1980s as Virago Press reintroduced her work to a new readership. Since then, Webb has gone largely forgotten and unstudied, and very few personal papers survive in the archives. Her husband explained that the papers were burned to heat the house when the couple were too poor to pay for fuel, adding ‘they made a splendid fire’. Taking inspiration from the life and work of Webb, A Single Violet uses in-depth research and imagination to fill the deep lacuna in the record. The critical commentary Looking for Mary Webb explores the challenges encountered in writing the diary, thereby contributing to the reflexive element of Creative Writing research. It examines the difficulties of researching Webb — the gaps in the record, the problems of tracing character through biographies, and the barriers to contemporary reception of her work. It examines challenges of writing in the diary form — how to identify the reader of a diary and write for them, whilst retaining the illusion of privacy, as well as how to write a piece which is authentic in its daily detail whilst still being engaging to the reader. The diaries of Virginia Woolf, Mary Butts, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Joe Orton and the critical work of Jennifer Sinor, Elizabeth Podnieks, and Judy Simons are used to identify how reading other writers’ diaries helped to shape this fictional one. It considers the layering process used in writing the diary — how to balance factual evidence with fictional details, how to create a character the reader can empathise with, and how nature writing became the lens though which A Single Violet was written. This analysis references the work of Charles Palliser and Hilary Mantel, as well as Webb’s own coterie of biographers including Dr. Gladys Mary Coles and Dorothy Wrenn. The process of finding Webb’s writing voice is appraised alongside examination of the practicalities of writing nature in twenty-first century London.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts
B. > Theses
Item ID: 33062
Depositing User: Brigitte Joerg
Date Deposited: 04 May 2021 12:31
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2021 05:22
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/33062

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