NYTimes obit — including hilarious spelling: “An obituary on Saturday about Naomi Mitchison, the British writer and early feminist, misspelled the surname of the Labor Party leader at whom she once threw a half-plucked partridge. He was Hugh Gaitskell, not Gaitskill.”
Books in print as of October 2002:
- The Corn King and the Spring Queen
- To the Chapel Perilous
- When the Bough Breaks, and Other Stories
- Solution 3
- Buy Naomi Mitchison’s books in the UK
Interview with Naomi Mitchison, April 1989
Here’s a short essay on one of Mitchison’s young adult novels, Travel Light, that ran in F&SF in June 2001
Find books by Naomi Mitchison on BookFinder.com
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Naomi Mitchison was born in Scotland in 1897 and died at the age of 101 in 1999. In the USA she isn’t too well known, but I recommend her, even if you have to search for some of her books. Judging by the number of times it’s been brought back into print, the most popular of her historical novels is The Corn King and the Spring Queen. Soho Press have put it out under their Hera Series which includes novels by Cecilia Holland and Gillian Bradshaw.
If historical fiction isn’t your thing, don’t turn up your nose quite yet, she also wrote science fiction (Solution 3, [Feminist Press], Memoirs of a Spacewoman), some of the most enjoyable autobiographies I’ve ever read (You May Well Ask, Small Talk), children’s books (including the wonderful Travel Light), plays (with Lewis Geilgud), poetry, essays, short stories, and biographies; over 70 books in all.
Mitchison was born in Scotland because her mother wanted a woman to attend her at the birth which was difficult to find outside Edinburgh. Despite her proto-feminist leanings her mother never managed to get beyond her Tory beliefs and it wasn’t until Mitchison was older that she realized that she shared her deep Socialist views with her father. Socialism has a long and respectable history in Scotland and does not carry the same negative connotations that the media and populace seem to fear in the USA.
From an early age Mitchison seems to have been very self aware. Excerpts from her early diaries in The Nine Lives of Naomi Mitchison (Virago, 1997) by Jenni Calder and in her own autobiography show her as a learned companion to her older brothers as they study science and try to keep up with their father’s work. Her family lived well. Her father, J.S. Haldane, was a respected scientist and her uncle, Richard Haldane, a cabinet minister during World War I. She lived variously in Scotland and England until moving back to Scotland in 1937 with her husband, the politician Dick Mitchison. She was politically active all her adult life and came to the USA in the 1930’s to see how the working class, poor and minorities were faring. She also was well-connected in the arts and political world and put her time into campaigning in support of her beliefs. She believed in sexual freedom, women’s rights and social justice. She was successful enough in her own lifetime to be consistently published but despite that and her family money problems plagues her well past the usual retirement age.
This first ran in Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop’s Annotated Browser.