Novel on Yellow Paper, 1936

Stevie Smith’s first novel, Novel on Yellow Paper, made a big splash in 1936 and I think it’s still worth your time. In the protagonist, Pompey Casmilus, Smith has created one of the most vibrant, funny, and specific voices in fiction that I’ve ever encountered. Anyone interested in voice would do well to study this one.

It’s not really a novel: there’s little plot--and what plot is there is buried in digressions and indirections--but it’s so funny and surprising that it does pull you through for quite a ways. (I do admit, however, that by around page 200, I am done and it can be hard going to read those last 50 pages or so.)

She is so pert and determined: “I think the two subjects about which there is most nonsense talked are sex, and how to bring up children,” she writes after a long section on her absurd sex education classes in school. Then, in a new paragraph, she boldly soldiers on, “So now shall we talk about how to bring up children?”

I love that wild irreverence, that bold female voice that somehow manages to be both utterly ordinary and colloquial and, at the same time, totally individual.

A nice page from her hometown university at Hull.