A Portrait of Women in an English Village
Published January 2011
176 page Hardback 220mm x 165mm
with 32 pages of colour photographs by Justin Partyka
Originally published in 1975, Fenwomen was the first non-fiction book published by Virago. A vivid social and oral history of an isolated village in the Cambridgeshire Fens, it provides a unique portrait, spanning nearly 100 years, via the previously unheard voices of the women who lived there, of a community where there were virtually no professional or middle-class people, where intermarriage was common and a single family owned all the village land. Fenwomen was in a tradition stretching through Ronald Blythe (Akenfield) and 20 years further back to the true pioneer of English oral history, George Ewart Evans, with his publication Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay (1956). In an extended new introduction to this Full Circle edition, Mary Chamberlain recalls her original intent to write a "feminist Akenfield", a "history from the bottom up … not of great country houses and the chatelaines who ran them but of women as labourers and labourers' wives". She describes, too, how she revisited the village and talked to some of the original women about how their lives had changed over 35 years.
"By any measure, this book is essential reading, but in this handsome new edition, with Justin Partyka's eloquent, unforgettable photographic portraits of Isleham and its people, it is a joy to own" - Stephanie Cross, The Lady
Fenwomen: A Portrait of Women in an English Village