WOMEN,WRITING AND TRAVEL
Part 1: The Diaries of Stella Benson, 1902-1933, from Cambridge University Library
Novelist and travel writer, Stella Benson (1892-1933) left a significant – and often irreverent – record of life during the her late teens, twenties and early thirties in England, India, America, Hong Kong and China in her 42 volumes of diaries.
- There is much material on her social and literary contacts, and her forthright opinions on people and events. Early volumes trace her work in the East End of London for the Charity Organisation Society, her involvement in the campaign for women’s suffrage, her shop in Hoxton, and two years in America, much of the time spent in the artistic and bohemian community in the San Francisco-Berkeley area.
- The diaries are very rich for 1920-1933: a key period for debates about perceptions of empire, the role of women, and methods of colonial administration. During 1920 Stella Benson was in India with Cornelia Sorabji and was soon immersed in her circle of friends. In April she returned to England. At this point she embarked on an eighteen month adventurous journey to the Far East, worked in a mission school and an American hospital in China, and met “Shaemas” – her future husband.
- As a result Stella Benson spent much of the 1920s and 1930s in China and Hong Kong.
Her diaries are a good source for accounts of people she met on her travels, colonial life in Hong Kong, the Treaty Ports, her views on China and America, with much detail on political and social issues.
- The diaries also provide important background material for anyone studying her eight novels as well as good information on her broad network of friends which included the writers Winifred Holtby, Naomi Mitcheson, Rebecca West, Vita Sackville West and the poet Amy Lowell.