Where would the Forest of Dean’s literary heritage be without its female authors? Imagine the Forest without the writing of Winifred Foley, Joyce Latham or Maggie Clutterbuck – to name just a few. Women writers are woven into the fabric of Forest literary culture, and have been since the beginning.
In the nineteenth century, it was the poems of Catherine Drew, detailing the unique history, economy, politics and personality of the Forest at the start of the 1840s. Later that century would come Ada M Trotter, S M Crawley-Boevey, Flora Klickmann. Like their male counterparts, Forest literature’s women writers vary in their economic circumstances as much as they do in the genres they write and the stories they tell. Crawley-Boevey, at Flaxley-Abbey was a member of the local landed gentry. Her Dene Forest Sketches span the centuries and the classes. Winfred Foley has had and continues to have a major impact as a chronicler of the sometimes-cruel circumstances of working-class life in the first half of the twentieth century – in particular the lot of women. Her stories and autobiography are rooted in and of the Forest, but too she tells of her life and the lives of women beyond the Forest, in particular in London. And Forest literature’s women have an international reach too. Ada M Trotter, daughter of a local mine owner left the Forest as a young woman for Canada and later America. A successful journalist she travelled back and forth across the Atlantic well into her eighties. Whilst in America she wrote her two novels set in the Forest, full of description of the Forest landscape, the people, and a level of fascinating specialist detail about mining. The topics of her journalism spanned the globe. And today the Forest’s female authors from Maggie Clutterbuck to Sarah Franklin – and many more – continue to build a body of Forest literature that is unmistakably of this distinctive and well-loved place, the Forest of Dean, and that continues to reach out beyond the Severn and Wye connecting to places, characters and stories from around the world. Happy International Women’s Day.