Theodora Bosanquet is a fascinating figure. A trained secretary and indexer with an interest in spiritualism, she contributed book reviews to Time and Tide, was the magazine’s literary editor from 1935, and later joined its board of directors.
Bosanquet was born in 1880 at Sandown, to Gertrude and Frederick, a curate. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and University College, London, where she gained a B.Sc. In 1907, she enrolled at Mary Petheridge’s Secretarial Bureau, where she would have learned skills including typing and shorthand, and in the October of that year became secretary to the great American novelist Henry James, whose work she admired intensely. After he died in 1916, she turned down an opportunity to become Edith Wharton’s secretary in Paris, and worked in the War Trade Intelligence Department and Ministry of Food. She received an MBE for her war work in 1919. From 1920, she served for fifteen years as Secretary to the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), founded in 1919 to promote international understanding and friendship between university women around the world (this organisation continues today as Graduate Women International).
Alongside her secretarial work, Bosanquet had literary aspirations, and in 1916 co-wrote a novel, Spectators, with Clara Smith, who would also contribute to Time and Tide. Following James’s death, Bosanquet wrote articles about him for influential magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, including the English Fortnightly Review (1917) and the American modernist magazine The Little Review (1918). At Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s request, she developed the Little Review article into a memoir, Henry James at Work, which was published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press in 1924 and reprinted, slightly revised, in 1927. Describing James’s working methods, this memoir is now interpreted as a pioneer work of critical biography. Bosanquet also published studies of the French poet, essayist, and philosopher Paul Valery (1933) and the Victorian woman of letters Harriet Martineau (1927).
Bosanquet became a regular reviewer for Time and Tide in 1927. Her first review, in January 1927, was of a new critical study of Henry James; in the same year, the magazine published advance extracts from her study of Martineau. Alongside essays about James, she contributed reviews of works about modernist literature, art, and biography. Bosanquet became more closely acquainted with Time and Tide’s founder Lady Rhondda during the early 1930s, accompanying her on a cruise during 1933. On their return, they set up house together, dividing their time between London and Churt Halewell, a house in Kent. Bosanquet’s promotion to the position of literary editor of Time and Tide in 1935 followed the quick succession, in 1933 and 1934, of two male literary editors, and brought both halves of the paper (the political and the literary) back under female control. She held this position for eight years, a period in which her reviews for the paper increasingly reflected her interests in spiritualism, mysticism, and psychical researchautomatic writing. She was appointed to the magazine’s board of directors, and remained a director until Rhondda’s death, in 1958. Rhondda left Bosanquet Churt Halewell and an annuity in her will, but her estate was found to be much smaller than anticipated and when she died, Bosanquet moved to a single room in the British Federation of University Women’s Crosby Hall, Kensington. She died in 1961. Recent fictional accounts of her life include The Typewriter’s Tale (Heyns, 2005) and The Constant Listener: Henry James and Theodora Bosanquet(Sibbet and Borton, 2017).
By Dr Eleanor Reed
Clay, Catherine. Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine. Edinburgh University Press, Ltd, 2019 (2018)
John, Angela V. Turning the Tide: The Life of Lady Rhondda. Parthian, 2013
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