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This review is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Out of the Shadows wendy pollard, Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times (Shepheard-Walwyn) £25

Pamela Hansford Johnson was best known for her 27 novels, starting with This Bed Thy Centre (1935) and ending with A Bonfire (1981); but her first publication, at the age of 14, was a poem, ‘The Curtain’ (1927), and her first book a poetry volume, Symphony for Full Orchestra (1934). The latter garnered favourable reviews, even though the critical criteria these implied seem rather slack: the TLS found it ‘full of reflected radiance, of the “ever-changing light” that plays across the face of Nature’, and Poetry Review discerned ‘the essentials of good poetry in Miss Johnson’s work – emotion, restraint, colour, imagery, and a happy handling of a variety of themes’. It was through poetry that Johnson would connect with another fledgling poet, Dylan Thomas; but that relationship, like her later marriage to the novelist C.P. Snow, helped to cast her into the literary shadows to an extent that could, even in her lifetime, almost black her out as a writer – as epitomised by a question noted in her diary during an American tour in 1958 in which her husband had star billing: ‘And have you ever written, Lady Snow?’ In this first biography of Johnson, Wendy Pollard, while acknowledging the importance of the men in her subject’s life, aims to rescue her from this secondary status and see her steadily and whole, as a key figure in the English literary world whose fiction made a significant contribution to the mid-twentieth-century novel.

Johnson was born and grew up in Clapham, but, less than a year after she ...

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