The Forgotten Novels of Pamela Hansford Johnson

Lavinia Greenlaw at the LRB:

Sex is Johnson’s true subject. She respects its power and repeatedly enacts a woman’s right to sexual realisation. Physical contact is something so fraught and regulated as to be inherently violent. Violence can come out of detachment too: ‘He dragged at the vee of her dress and put his fingers to her breasts.’ Elsie is intent on discovering the facts of life and perturbed by ‘the knitting of her flesh’ when she passes a couple kissing under a tree. When she acquires a boyfriend, Roly, he says he’ll take her clothes off and thrash her if she looks at someone else. Elsie counters that she’d rather like that before realising she has ‘said something very wrong’. She lies down with him but resists. On the way home Roly stops off to see Mrs Maginnis. He orders Nietzsche and Freud in the local library, and arranges a date with the librarian. He blames Elsie’s resistance on the ‘whole social system … When a man loves a woman, he ought to be able to sleep with her right away, and then there would be no repressions or inhibitions.’ When they finally get married and go to bed, ‘there was no fear in her, nor love, only a great loneliness.’

more here.

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