Q is for Ada Quayle (Kathleen Louise Woods née Robinson) (1920-2002)

Kathleen Louise Robinson was born in Jamaica in 1920 and very little account has been given of her life or writing within histories of West Indian literature. Her only known work, The Mistress, part plantation novel and part romantic melodrama, was published in 1957 in the UK by MacGibbon and Kee with the rather arresting dedication: ‘to my husband, who is to blame.’ It was included within the Boots ‘Book-Lovers Library’ and was also re-printed by Four-Square Books in 1961.

Narrating the dramatic twists and turns in the fortunes and passions of plantation mistresses in Jamaica in the early twentieth century as the First World War raged in Europe, the novel focuses on the life of Laura Pettigrew who inherits her mother’s plantation just ahead of her sixteenth birthday. While Evelyn O’Callaghan, in Women Writing the West Indies, points out that the novel shows how “violent interracial encounters and dysfunctional gender relations of the slave past survive into the twentieth century and continue to corrupt generations of white a black creoles” (138), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert includes the novel within her list of works offering a Caribbean-centred “emerging female and feminist historiography” (14). Indeed, the novel is unusually explicit in its account of female erotic desire and, alongside its depictions of creole delirium and brutality, also gestures at ground-up transitions in belonging and control towards the African-descended population whose intimate knowledge of the land and of crops enable them to outsmart the conceited fictions of racialised superiority.

We are able to include Ada Quayle in our A-Z because Philippa Bainbrigge saw an earlier project post on Twitter and wrote to tell us that Ada Quayle was her maternal aunt. Philippa was able to share valuable insights into her life:

“My aunt was mixed race and was born in Jamaica in 1920.  She met her English husband on a boat to Kenya (if memory serves me correctly).  They were married in Egypt and settled in Manchester in the immediate years after the war.  This is where she wrote The Mistress.”

She travelled to England during WW2 where she worked as a wireless operator. She lived until the age of 82 and died in December 2002 in Suffolk.

As other entries in our A-Z have shown, it is not an uncommon occurrence for authors, especially women, to adopt a pseudonym, and it is one of the elements that makes the recovery research process for women writers so challenging.

Philippa clarified that: “Ada Quayle was my Aunt Kathie’s nom de plume.  She wrote The Mistress under a pen name, so as not to scandalise her family at the time!  Auntie Kathie chose the name “Ada” in honour of a beloved great aunt and “Quayle”, I was always told, was after Anthony Quayle who was a cousin of my aunt’s husband.”

We are grateful to Philippa for responding to our post and sharing her family research with us, along with these wonderful photographs of her Aunt Kathleen Louise Woods (née Robinson), Ada Quayle.

More about the author

Ada Quayle’s brief Wikipedia profile, which highlights The Mistress.

Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s book chapter, “Decolonizing Feminism: The Home-Grown Roots of Caribbean Women’s Movements,” is available to read.

Ada Quayle’s full book, The Mistress, openly available online.

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