Excellence in Scholarship and Learning



A Life in the Making
A Biographer’s Quest for a Forgotten Bloomsbury Polymath

Helen Southworth is Associate Professor of literature at the University of Oregon. She has written and edited numerous books and articles, including The Intersecting Realities and Fictions of Virginia Woolf and Colette (2004), Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism (2010), and with Battershill et al., Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Making the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (2016). This is her first biography.

Fresca is detective story, cultural history and love story. It tells a tale of unconventionality, multifarious creativity, and a quest for new ways of living and loving amidst the complexities of Interwar Britain. For Francesca Allinson life and making art were synonymous, though both were cut short. Her story captures the topsy-turvy quality of a life singularly led; it shows how biography too gets turned upside down in the making – how the story of a single individual can throw the literary and social perspective of the period into relief.

Helen Southworth’s initial goal was to discover how Francesca’s fictional autobiography, A Childhood, made it onto Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s The Hogarth Press list in 1937. The result was to be immediately drawn in to the company of prominent artistic figures of the period. Writer, musicologist, puppeteer and pacifist, British-German Jewish Allinson (1902–1945) published with the Woolfs, dueled with Ralph Vaughan Williams over the origins of folk song and was psychoanalyzed by Adrian Stephen, younger brother of Virginia. Her connections register the cultural ferment of the Interwar years: a rich collaboration and unconsummated romance with homosexual composer Michael Tippett; an affair with Arts League of Service founder Judy Wogan; a friendship with designer Enid Marx; and an infatuation with poet Den Newton, 18 years her junior. Her life of promise, tragically cut short by suicide by drowning in 1945, is an eerie echo of Virginia Woolf’s suicide.

Allinson’s story spans the Twentieth Century, closing with Tippett weeping on stage at the Wigmore Hall during a 1992 performance of “The Heart’s Assurance,” the song cycle he dedicated to Francesca’s memory forty years earlier. In parallel, Allinson’s own A Childhood makes a second journey: a gift for a young woman living in recently liberated Belgium in 1942, the book comes alive again when she transforms it into an artist’s book.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-821-3
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $50.00
Release Date: May 2017
Page Extent / Format: 340 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations

Part One: A Childhood
Part Two: Coming Of Age
Part Three: Judy Wogan
Part Four:  Writer! Composer!
Part Five: Pacifism In The Face Of A Second World War
Part Six: My Own Different Personal Life
Part Seven: No Remaining, No Place To Stay
Part Eight: Love Under The Shadow Of Death

Francesca Allinson, known as Fresca, was a British-German Jewish writer, musicologist, and pacifist in Britain during the interwar period. This biography centers on Allinson’s fictional autobiography, A Childhood, and its reception among the literati of Britain in the mid-1930s. The book reveals her connections to figures such as Virginia Woolf, as well as her love affairs and friendships with men and women in the arts, and examines her writing in support of pacifism at the beginning of WWII. The book also looks at unanswered questions surrounding her suicide. Black and white historical photographs are included.

Virtuoso and occasionally vertiginous exposé of the practices and processes of an archival researcher and biographer who works, in the footsteps of Woolf herself, on the lives of the obscure [...] For researchers interested in literary, artistic, musical, pacifist, and other networks of the interwar years, this ‘biographer’s quest’ is a cornucopia [...] a richly rewarding [reading experience], full of surprises and illuminations.
Kathryn Laing, Woolf Studies Annual, 2018

“Extremely well-researched” “a convincing portrait of [Michael Tippett] and some of the musical outcomes of his relationship with Allinson” “The book culminates in an extended and moving account of The heart’s assurance, the composer’s memorial to his troubled friend, and of the Wigmore Hall concert marking Tippett’s 90th birthday in 1995 –documentary writing at its best [...]” “Focusing primarily on Allinson herself, Southworth’s narrative vividly evokes the trials and tribulations of middle-class life in interwar Britain; how young people with artistic tendencies and internationalist sympathies negotiated their way around the many ingrained conventions of class and culture that were shaken but not destroyed by the First World War” “[An] absorbingly sad chronicle of a life that never managed to root itself securely.”
Arnold Whittall, The Musical Times, Spring 2018

Reviewed at:

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab.

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.