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Who Was Pioneer Queer Poet Valentine Ackland? Frances Bingham

Festival of Ideas
Frances Bingham, credit Liz Mathews

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Frances Bingham discusses Valentine Ackland’s transgressive life as poet, pioneer gender-rebel, passionate lover and political activist.

One November evening in 1925, two young women from London arrived at the village of Chaldon, in Dorset. They brought with them two suitcases, a gramophone, and a wooden boxful of records; the bare necessities. Both wore trousers and had Eton-cropped hair. The taller of the two, Mrs Turpin, had come to the country to recover from a recent operation to remove her hymen.

Mrs Turpin was Valentine Ackland, on the run from her recent disastrous marriage. She was soon to meet the love of her life, Sylvia Townsend Warner, already a celebrity for her debut novel Lolly Willowes. They would live in Dorset together in a passionate relationship until Valentine’s death in 1969.

Ackland was a dedicated poet, deeply involved with Communism during the 1930s, and an environmentalist and peace campaigner. Recently released MI5 files show that she was blacklisted for confidential work during the Second World War, and remained under long-term surveillance. Despite her commitment to Townsend Warner, she had many affairs with women who fell for her androgynous beauty and her masterful conduct of an amour. She also struggled with alcoholism, but the relationship with Townsend Warner survived all challenges.

Frances Bingham discusses this remarkable life with writer and journalist Sian Norris.

Frances Bingham’s Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life is published by Handheld Press. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our bookselling partners.

Frances Bingham, credit Liz Mathews

Frances Bingham is a freelance writer, poet and playwright. Her books include Journey from Winter (2008), The Principle of Camouflage (2011) and London Panopticon (2020). She has also published short stories and poems in anthologies and magazines, and read her work at numerous literary festivals, as well as contributing to events such as the Southbank Centre’s Literature and Spoken Word programme, and the BBC Radio 4 series From the Ban to the Booker.

Image Credit: Liz Mathews
Sian Norris

Sian Norris is a writer and journalist specialising in reproductive and LGBTIQ rights. Her work has been published by openDemocracy 50:50, the Guardian, the iNew StatesmanByline Timespolitics.co.uk and many more. Her book, Birth Violence, explores how the Far Right is attacking women’s reproductive rights in Europe and will be published by Verso in Autumn 2022. She is also the founder of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. Follow her on Twitter @sianushka

Image credit: David Sturdy

 

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