Winifred Holtby sets this competition (further evidence, perhaps, that the competition allows us to see across the literary left). She was a reviewer for Time and Tide and The Bookman, but this is a very conservative competition. Rose Macaulay had just published an anthology called The Minor Pleasures of Life (there were a lot of them – there are over 600 pages of text). Holtby asks for six extracts to go with the title The Minor Exasperations of Life (apart from the need to mirror Macaulay’s book, I think exasperations are automatically Minor).
However, competitors seem to stretch the idea of exasperation to the limit. Redling pops up with a verse from Hardy’s The Dead Man Walking and James Hall offers the opening of Ode to a Nightingale. As Holtby says, hardly exasperation in either case.
The novelist and crossword setter E.B.C. (Basil) Thornett chips in with Byron on sea-sickness:
He felt that chilling heaviness of heart,
Or rather stomach, which, alas! attends,
Beyond the best apothecary’s art,
The loss of love, the treachery of friends,
Or death of those we dote on, when a part
Of us dies with them as each fond hope ends:
No doubt he would have been much more pathetic,
But the sea acted as a strong emetic.
Again, as Holtby remarks, this is a misfortune. It would only be an exasperation for another reason, e.g. if you had arranged to met a lover but sea-sickness got in the way. As she also says, Disillusionment and Lies are not cause of exasperation, whereas Book Borrowers and Missing Trains are (she means missing a train, not that the trains are missing, as I first – o tempora! o mores! – read it.
The proxime accessits, who include Allan M. Laing, H.C.M. and H.C. Riddell, also include someone who was in particularly good place to enter – A.M. Smyth, an employee of Oxford University Press. This is Alice Mary Smyth (probably the one born in Gloucestershire in 1908), the first editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1941). A librarian, she was a prolific writer, both under her own name and as Alice Mary Hadfield. She died in 1989 ‘in distressing circumstances’, according to the obituary of her husband, Charles Hadfield, the canal historian (1909 – 1996). (His obituary calls her Alice Mary Miller, but I am not sure if this is an earlier married name or a birthname: probably the former. Alice Smyth is repeatedly identified as ‘later Hadfield’. She wrote a life of her co-worker Charles Williams as A.M. Hadfield. A Mrs. A.M. Hadfield comments on the weather of the 1920s and 1960s in South Cerney’s parish newsletter. This newsletter has been founded by Eric Charles Raymond Hadfield – Charles Hadfield wrote under this name at times. He was joint founder of the Newton Abbot publishing company, David and Charles.)
The winners are Clarence and ‘Fairy’. Holtby says she has collected a neat anthology for herself, and says that Virginia Woolf seems the contemporary writer best fitted to expressions of fury. Woolf, of whom Holtby had written a study, had herself asked Holtby whether she would write an autobiography.