Square Haunting by Francesca Wade
I love women’s history. I love group biographies. I love English social and cultural history in the period between the wars. And I love Bloomsbury, the place and its lore. So it’s no surprise then that I really love Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting, which brilliantly combines all my adorations into one impressive, smart, and moving book. Wade investigates the allure of Mecklenburgh Square, on the outskirts of Bloomsbury, and why it drew five remarkable women to live on it at different times in the years between the First and Second World Wars.
With chapters devoted to poet H.D., novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, the classical scholar Jane Harrison, historian Eileen Power, and finally, Virginia Woolf, Wade doesn’t provide cradle to grave coverage, choosing instead to focus intensely on the productive years each woman spent on the square, in rooms of their own that enabled them to work, live and love radically.
Square Haunting is impeccably researched, but what I love most about it are the rich emotional echoes that Wade hears between these women’s lives, finding shared experiences, desires, and disappointments. What emerges is a portrait of independence and community, actual and imagined, of women existing outside and beyond societal expectations, and of the ways in which private lives inevitably evolve alongside public roles. It’s a beautiful and inspiring book.