I have occupied this idle, empty winter with writing a story. It has been written to please myself, without thought of my own vanity or modesty, without regard for other people’s feelings, without considering whether I shock or hurt the living, without scrupling to speak of the dead.
The world, I know, is changing. I am not indifferent to the revolution that has caught us in its mighty skirts, to the enormity of the flood that is threatening to submerge us. But what could I do? In the welter of the surrounding storm, I have taken refuge for a moment on this little raft, constructed with the salvage of my memory. I have tried to steer it into that calm haven of art in which I still believe. I have tried to avoid some of the rocks and sandbanks that guard its entrance.
This account of what happened to me during a year that I spent at school in France seems to me to fall into the shape of a story—a short, simple one, with two or three characters and a very few episodes. It is informed with a single motive, tends to a single end, moves quickly and undeviatingly to a final catastrophe. Its truth has been filtered, transposed, and, maybe, superficially altered, as is inevitably the case with all autobiographies. I have condensed into a few score of pages the history of a whole year when life was, if not at its fullest, at any rate at its most poignant—that year when every vital experience was the first, or, if you Freudians object, the year when I first became conscious of myself, of love and pleasure, of death and pain, and when every reaction to them was as unexpected, as amazing, as involuntary as the experience itself.
Dorothy Strachey, ‘Olivia: A Novel’ (1949)
Any coming of age novel that is autobiographical in nature and told in the first person’s narrative with a French finishing school outside of Paris just before the Great War as its backdrop, is sure to pique my interest.
Dorothy Strachey, sister to the more well known Lytton Strachey, dedicated this (her only novel, written originally in French in 1933) to Virginia Woolf when it was finally published in English by the Hogarth Press in 1949 to much acclaim. Even Colette had her hand in the writing of the screenplay for the 1951 film adaptation of the book. I must say that I am rather surprised that I had not heard of this piece of work before, and had only stumbled upon it by chance while searching for something else entirely. Better late than never, I guess.
So, has anyone else read this or would this happen to be as interesting a discovery for you, as it was for me?