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  You are in: Home > Biography > Fresca  

A Life in the Making
A Biographer’s Quest for a Forgotten Bloomsbury Polymath

Helen Southworth

Helen Southworth is Associate Professor of literature at the University of Oregon. She has written and edited numerous books and articles, including The Intersecting Realities and Fictions of Virginia Woolf and Colette (2004), Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism (2010), and with Battershill et al., Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Making the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (2016). This is her first biography.


Fresca is detective story, cultural history and love story. It tells a tale of unconventionality, multifarious creativity, and a quest for new ways of living and loving amidst the complexities of Interwar Britain. For Francesca Allinson life and making art were synonymous, though both were cut short. Her story captures the topsy-turvy quality of a life singularly led; it shows how biography too gets turned upside down in the making – how the story of a single individual can throw the literary and social perspective of the period into relief.

Helen Southworth’s initial goal was to discover how Francesca’s fictional autobiography, A Childhood, made it onto Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s The Hogarth Press list in 1937. The result was to be immediately drawn in to the company of prominent artistic figures of the period. Writer, musicologist, puppeteer and pacifist, British-German Jewish Allinson (1902–1945) published with the Woolfs, dueled with Ralph Vaughan Williams over the origins of folk song and was psychoanalyzed by Adrian Stephen, younger brother of Virginia. Her connections register the cultural ferment of the Interwar years: a rich collaboration and unconsummated romance with homosexual composer Michael Tippett; an affair with Arts League of Service founder Judy Wogan; a friendship with designer Enid Marx; and an infatuation with poet Den Newton, 18 years her junior. Her life of promise, tragically cut short by suicide by drowning in 1945, is an eerie echo of Virginia Woolf’s suicide.

Allinson’s story spans the Twentieth Century, closing with Tippett weeping on stage at the Wigmore Hall during a 1992 performance of “The Heart’s Assurance,” the song cycle he dedicated to Francesca’s memory forty years earlier. In parallel, Allinson’s own A Childhood makes a second journey: a gift for a young woman living in recently liberated Belgium in 1942, the book comes alive again when she transforms it into an artist’s book.

Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations

Part One: A Childhood
Part Two: Coming Of Age
Part Three: Judy Wogan
Part Four:  Writer! Composer!
Part Five: Pacifism In The Face Of A Second World War
Part Six: My Own Different Personal Life
Part Seven: No Remaining, No Place To Stay
Part Eight: Love Under The Shadow Of Death



Reviews to follow


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
340 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Release Date:
May 2017
  Illustrated:   Yes
Hardback Price:
£35.00 / $50.00

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