‘Novel on Yellow Paper’ by Stevie Smith

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I photographed this book on white sheets so you can see that this copy of ‘Novel on Yellow Paper’ which was printed in 1982 and acquired by the Dallas Public Library in 1983 is on now yellowing paper!  Love that kind of thing.  This book was written by Stevie Smith in 1936 after her poems were refused for publication in 1935, and it was suggested that she “go away and write a novel.”  This book was called to my attention by someone in ModPo who read it long ago, and said that she had practically memorized some parts.

The narrator of this book is a character named Pompey Casmilus, who has things in common with Stevie Smith herself.  She is a young woman who lives with her aunt in the suburbs and works as a private secretary.  She speaks directly to her “Dear Readers” as the writer, throughout the book.  She seemingly says anything that comes to her lively mind about work, friendships, love, sex, marriage, religion, etc. in quite original ways.  The Preface puts it well:  “It is a novel of nerves:  it jumps, darts, turns, shrieks with laughter, recoils in horror, runs for a book, settles down to weep in quiet at the great blank cruelty of human life.”

Here’s a short passage which an example of the cleverness of Smith’s writing:

 “There you are you see, quite simple.  If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and a delight, for a breadwinner and a cross patch, for a sofa, a chair or a hot-water bottle, one can use him as a Cross to be Borne.

     It reminds me of our craft articles published, passim, in all our so-very-much-alike women’s papers:  How to make a knitting bag out of a top hat.  May also be used for a beret or a tea cosy.  Free patterns for all included.”

On the downside, as you might imagine of something written this long ago, there are some social anachronisms.  Nevertheless, Pompey is an independent thinker and ahead of her time.  I recommend this book.

With the 282 pages of ‘Novel on Yellow Paper’ and 418 pages of ‘The Pale King’ (about which I will post later) added to my prior reading, I’m at 1,445 pages.  So, I have some room to accommodate an upcoming weekend of company.  Whew.  Really enjoying this.

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7 comments on “‘Novel on Yellow Paper’ by Stevie Smith”

    1. Not a dumb question at all. There is certainly similarity in the exploration of women’s roles in the world. (Stevie/Pompey is British.) Novel on Yellow Paper doesn’t have that Gothic edge, though. The yellow paper in Smith’s novel is the lined paper used in the office where Pompey works. Stealing office supplies. tsk tsk

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  1. What an interesting book! Did you come across this at a used bookstore or library sale? I love those rare finds… Some of my favorite books have been by similar authors- many times women, who are finding their voices.. and even though their books and writing has been turned away by some of the mainstream, they pop up as treasures to be found in random places.. great book and review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was pleased to find it, especially in its first printing as a paperback, in the Dallas Public Library system. If I’m remembering correctly, there was only one copy available. Now I’m anxious to read some of Stevie Smith’s poetry. I never would have come across this book, I suspect, without the recommendation which came via the ModPo Discussion Forums.

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