Elizabeth Myers (1912 – 1947) was an English writer whose tragically early death from tuberculosis at the age of 34 years robbed denied her readers and admirers of one of the most promising writers to emerge from the war years. She was a formidable and original literary talent as is evident from the few offerings of her short literary life. She is perhaps best known for her first novel, ‘A Well Full of Leaves’ (1943) although her other two novels, ‘The Basilisk of St James Square’ (1945) and ‘Mrs Christopher’ (1946) met with a good deal of critical acclaim, the later being made into a film in 1951 under the title of ‘Blackmailed’. As well, Elizabeth wrote several volumes of short stories, including ‘Good Beds – Men Only’ and ‘Thirty Stories’ and a collection of letters (the last two volumes being edited and published posthumously by her husband, Littleton Powys).
She was a wonderful correspondent and her letters to such contemporaries as Walter de la Mare, Richard Church, John Cowper Powys and Eleanor Farjeon published in ‘The Letters of Elizabeth Myers’ (1951) make fascinating reading and give an insight into her life as she struggled with her health and her literary ambition.
Some time ago, I was privileged to be given on loan two boxes of letters of Elizabeth Myers along with some of her writings. At present, I am mid-flow, but have read enough to see her novels as being part of the Powysian tradition, mimicking some of the style (if not the shadows) of John Cowper. Her short stories, particular those that draw on her Irish roots, are engaging and deft, although occasionally subsumed by a morality that appears in various guises. She was meticulous in her planning, noting in a letter to Ann Lee in 1938 that she was setting out on a two-fold programme (a) to tell stories and (b) to tell the truth which she defined as ‘conformity to reality’.
An admirable aim although, thankfully, not one she always achieved.