March 1917: The Fritillary’s Literary Alumnae

The college meeting in March was held, in part, to elect junior members of Somerville to various offices, such as the O.S.D.S. (Oxford Students Debating Society) Rep., Fiction Librarian and Junior Bicycle Secretary. The Senior Student also asked for nominations for a Fritillary representative from the 2nd year and elected to post was Miss Kennedy.

The Fritillary was the magazine of the women’s colleges at Oxford, jointly produced and open to students, who could submit literary efforts such as short stories, comic and dramatic sketches and poems as well as reports on the various societies and clubs. There was a section called Hall Notices where each college or hall recorded the key events of that term – debates and sporting matches, suffrage meetings and the achievements of notable college members (Marya Czaplicka’s expedition to Siberia and Dr Dorothea Maude’s service in a field hospital in Belgium were both recorded in the December 1914 edition).

First published in 1894, The Fritillary illuminated those elements of student life seldom found in the official college records. For some of the contributors, pieces in the magazine marked the pinnacle of their literary achievements (editorial policy was strict; editors such as Una Ellis-Fermor preferred not to publish at all rather than include sub-standard submissions). For others, The Fritillary provided an outlet for their budding talents.Dorothy L. Sayers

Johannis Fell by Margaret KennedyThe Miss Kennedy elected in March 1917 was Margaret Kennedy, a second year Modern Historian and she contributed several pieces to the next edition of the magazine, published in June 1917. Within just a few years, she had achieved great critical and popular success as a writer, with her second novel The Constant Nymph, published in 1924. She went on to write over a dozen novels, plus novellas, plays, short stories and screenplays and adapted The Constant Nymph for the stage.

Vera BrittainMargaret Kennedy became one of the most celebrated writers of the interwar period but she was not the only literary figure emerging from Somerville at this time. In the decade from 1912 to 1922, an astonishingly varied and prolific group of authors attended the college. Named ‘The Somerville School of Novelists’ by Vera Brittain, their number included Vera Brittain herself, Dorothy L. Sayers, Doreen Wallace, Doreen WallaceWinifred Holtby, Hilda Reid and Sylvia Thompson as well as Margaret Kennedy, and contributions by many of them can be found within the pages of The Fritillary.