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Conversation Pieces

Vol. 15 — Naomi Mitchinson: A Profile of Her Life and Work

by Lesley Hall

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Naomi Mitchison led a long, diverse, and active life, spanning most of the twentieth century, before she died in 1999 at the age of 101. She is probably less well-known than she might be, quite possibly because of this very diversity; a recent and favorable review of a reissue of her fantasy Travel Light, for instance, characterized her as "relegated to rare footnotes buried in the reverent biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien..."

A member of the famed Haldane family, Naomi Mitchison lived an adventurous, politically engaged, and well-examined life even as she wrote dozens of novels and works of nonfiction. From campaigning for women's right to information about and the means of birth control to running for Parliament, from practicing "open marriage" in her own life to exploring a range of sexual arrangements in her fiction, for all of her 101 years, Mitchison embraced change as few people ever manage to do. Along the way she pioneered a new kind of historical novel that combined the immediacy of modern language with an ability to evoke the otherness of the past with great vividness and published her first work of feminist sf in 1962, a few years before the resurgence of feminism with its second wave.

In her profile of Mitchison's life and work, Lesley A. Hall offers an overview of this prolific writer's life and work, beginning from her upper-class origins, through her radicalization as a feminist and socialist and her experimentation and examination of sexual arrangements, to her life as a writer repeatedly breaking new ground.


The strength of [these examinations of Mitchison's novels is] that Hall provides detailed ways in which Mitchison's themes are evident throughout them. [...] Hall effectively kindles an interest in an endlessly fascinating individual and body of work and leaves open the space for others to begin filling in the gaps in criticism on Mitchison's work.
    — Ritch Calvin, FemSpec 8.1/2, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933500-10-2 (13 digit)
Publication Date: Feb 2007
paperback 146 pages