Cover for 1983 edition
A Very Great Profession, first published in 1983, looks at women like Katharine in Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day (‘Katharine, thus, was a member of a very great profession which has, as yet, no title and very little recognition… She lived at home’) and Laura, the heroine of Brief Encounter, women whose lives and habits were wonderfully recorded in the fiction of the time. Drawing on the novels to illuminate themes such as domestic life, romantic love, sex, psychoanalysis, the Great War and ‘surplus’ women, A Very Great Profession uses the work of numerous women writers to present a portrait, though their fiction, of middle-class Englishwomen in the period between the wars.
'One of the most compelling and perceptive books of informal literary criticism ever produced,’ wrote the critic Elizabeth Young when A Very Great Profession was first reprinted. She went on: ‘Ranging through a variety of themes, Nicola Beauman examines their effects upon the characters created by authors as diverse as Virginia Woolf, EM Delafield and Elinor Glyn. An astute critic, she produces an unforgettable picture of the lives of middle-class women during this period.'