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September 14 2019
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The playwright Shelagh Delaney at work ahead of the West End premiere of A Taste of Honey.

Rebel Writers: The Accidental Feminists by Celia Brayfield

Though they would have gasped and giggled if you’d told them so, the seven writers profiled in Celia Brayfield’s excellent book were the modest midwives to the fierce feminism which erupted in the capitals of the West at the end of the 1960s, among them Edna O’Brien, Shelagh Delaney, and Nell Dunn. Following the rise of the Beat poets came two decades of being snubbed and slapped around by rebellious movements for social change whose members believed that once you’d ticked the box marked Brotherhood of Man, you were free to treat women any way you wanted. But perhaps no youth movement was as miserably misogynist as that of the Angry Young Men, the group of British playwrights and novelists who whinged their way into public consciousness in the 1950s.

Wayward Young Women

A rebellious girl could become a hippie if she was prepared to lie back and think of the revolution—but a girl couldn’t become an Angry Young Man. Their gynophobic tendencies were summed up nicely by myself, describing John Osborne’s debut, Look Back in Anger, as “that play where somebody does the ironing while someone else shouts at her.” But very quickly, starting with the teenage Delaney’s A Taste of Honey in 1958, came a parallel movement of young women writers with something far more interesting to say, for the simple reason that women at the time had so few rights.

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