Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

Happy New Year! – a year in books

radio 1

On Saturday 9th January, Hannah’s Bookshelf returned to North Manchester FM for the first show of a new year. As I didn’t get chance to do a retrospective show in December (too busy talking about presents, parties and Christmas), I thought I’d do a ‘year in books’ show this week instead.

Unfortunately, I got distracted while preparing the show, and somehow ended up doing a review of 1915, rather than 2015. As promised, here are the details of the books I discussed on the show. If you missed it, you can catch the show again on the player below.

Before I began the show, I mentioned a couple of new things. Firstly, Hannah’s Bookshelf now has a Facebook page – please do check it out if you’d like updates on the show. Secondly, I mentioned that I’ve decided to set myself the goal this year of rereading and rewatching all of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories (reviewing them as I go). If you’d like to read more about this project, you can find it on my other blog.

And now… on to 1915…

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

thirty nine steps

The first book I talked about on the show was Buchan’s classic (and very influential) thriller. First published in serial form in Blackwoods Magazine, The Thirty-Nine Steps is set in a Europe that’s on the brink of war (a theme I returned to several times during the show). Richard Hannay is thrown into a web of espionage and intrigue after a chance meeting with Franklin Scudder – leading to a desperate chase across Scotland and the search for the true meaning of ‘the thirty-nine steps’.

Buchan followed this novel with four more books about Hannay’s adventures: Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919), The Three Hostages (1924) and The Island of Sheep (1936).

Tom Swift and his Aerial Warship by Victor Appleton

tom swift

Although not particularly well known on this side of the Atlantic, the Tom Swift novels are American classics. The original series (1910-1941) – comprising 40 titles – focuses on the eponymous Tom, who is a self-taught engineer and inventor. In this installment, which is set against the backdrop of the war in Europe, Tom invents a zeppelin-like warship for use by the American navy. Disaster strikes, however, when one of Tom’s sheds is burnt to the ground, causing our young hero to consider the possibility that he might be being targetted by foreign spies.

The Tom Swift books were all written by ‘Victor Appleton’; however, this name is a pseudonym for a number of writers. Most of the titles in the first series were written by Edward Stratemeyer and Howard Garis, with three titles written by Stratemeyer’s daughter Harriet. Later series focus on Tom’s son (Tom Swift Jr.) and (possibly) grandson, and were written by a number of other authors. In 2006, the first title in the fifth Tom Swift series (now called Tom Swift, Young Inventor) was published.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Herland is a feminist utopian novel written by social reformist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and originally published in serial form in The Forerunner. After its initial magazine publication, Herland wasn’t published in book form until 1979.

The novel features three men – Van Jennings, Terry Nicholson and Jeff Margrave – who undertake an expedition to find a rumoured society made up entirely of women. The men have different reasons for undertaking this voyage, and different expectations of what they might find. When they make it to their destination, they are captured and then re-educated by the women there, which leads to both revelations and conflicts. A significant work of early utopian science fiction, Herland imagines a world where property ownership and empire-building are unimaginable, and where education is the ‘highest art’. Each of the men responds to this differently, just as each has a different belief in the superiority of the ‘real’ world.

Herland forms part of Gilman’s utopian trilogy, alongside Moving the Mountain (1911) and With Her in Ourland (1916), which continues the story of Van and his new wife Ellador as they return to America.

Before I moved on to my next selection, I mentioned a few of the other significant publications of 1915: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (which I’ve mentioned a few times on the show) and The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett (who, as you might remember from my show with Emma Marigliano, who born in Cheetham Hill). Also worth noting, given that I talked about these characters quite recently, P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster made their first appearance in 1915, in a short story entitled ‘Extricating Young Gussie’.

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

the valley of fear

More serialized fiction now! First published in the Strand between September 1914 and May 1915, The Valley of Fear was the fourth Sherlock Holmes novel (though it was actually set before the events of the 1893 story ‘The Final Problem’). Featuring Professor Moriarty, a coded message, an enigmatic society and a (kind of) locked room puzzle, The Valley of Fear was the final full-length novel featuring Holmes and Watson, and was included in Sorcha NĂ­ Fhlainn’s selections for The Library at the End of Days.

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

the rainbow

D.H. Lawrence’s controversial novel follows three generations of the Brangwen family, who are farmers from the East Midlands. The story begins in the 1840s (with the life of Tom Brangwen), and continues through until 1905 (and the life of Ursula, Tom’s granddaughter). Like much of Lawrence’s work, The Rainbow is concerned with industrialization and urbanization, and the effects these have on emotional and sexual relationships. Ursula’s story is perhaps the best-known section of the book, and the frankness with which Lawrence describes the young woman’s frustrations and desires (and her same-sex relationship with a teacher and love affair with a soldier) led to the book’s prosecution under the Obscene Publications Acts. In the trial, the book was deemed obscene, and copies were seized and burnt.

The Rainbow was banned from sale in the United Kingdom for eleven years, though it was still available in the USA. The sequel, Women in Love (1920), continued Ursula and her sister’s stories.

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

the voyage out

Finally, 1915 saw the publication of the debut novel by Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out tells the story of Rachel Vinrace’s voyage to South America on her father’s ship. The physical journey becomes something of a voyage of self-discovery, and the odd assortment of passengers on board allows for some sharp satire of Edwardian social mores. Like Woolf’s later work, The Voyage Out reveals a fascination with death, sexuality and liberation, and it also introduces the character of Clarissa Dalloway, who will appear again in Mrs Dalloway (1925).

In 1981, an alternative version of the novel was published. Through careful study of Woolf’s notes, Louise DeSalvo was able to construct an earlier, unpublished version, which had been given the title Melymbrosia. As DeSalvo revealed, Woolf had heavily edited her work on advice of friends, as it was suggested that her frank political and social commentary may be too much for a first novel. DeSalvo’s alternative edition is still available, as an ‘angrier, starker, more feminist and explicitly lesbian perspective’ on the 1915 text.

Hannah’s Bookshelf will be back on Saturday 16th January at 2pm, when my guest will be the wonderful Ramsey Campbell. If you are interested in coming on the show as a guest, I’d love to hear from you. There’s info about the show here, or you can send me a voicemail about your work (info here).

If you’d like to hear more about the books in today’s post, or if you just want to catch up with the show, you can listen again here:

Hannah’s Bookshelf – 09/01/2016 by Hannah’s Bookshelf on Mixcloud


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