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This article is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

On Reading Edgell Rickword Janet Montefiore

To sharply criticise a man's poem is a grosser solecism than merely splitting an infinitive - it amounts to putting a knife into the poet. Or it does for Alan Munton, whose essay 'Sexism and Spain' (PNR 119), alleges that (1) my recent book Men and Women Writers of the 1930s: The Dangerous Flood of History treats Rickword's satire 'To the Wife of Any Non-Interventionist Statesman' with unfair harshness, (2) my discussion of the poem constitutes a malicious and ignorant attack on Rickword's personality, and (3) the hidden agenda of my book is a feminist (or 'womanist') plot to promote women writers by 'downgrading' the males.

The obvious place to start replying to these accusations is the poem itself. This, for those who don't already know, is a dramatic monologue first published in March 1938, addressed to the then Prime Minister's wife and arguing in angry, telling detail the wickedness and stupidity of her husband's 'Non-Interventionist' policies. Its climactic closing lines, quoted in my book, ask the Wife how she can bear to sleep with such a monster -

Would not a thinking wife contemn
The sneaking hand that held the pen
And with a flourish signed the deed
Whence all these hearts and bodies bleed?
Would not his fingers freeze the breast
Where the young life should feed and rest
Would not his breath reek of the tomb
And with cold horror seal her womb?

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