2023 Political Fiction Book prize finalist

After Sappho

Selby Wynn Schwartz

Published by: Galley Beggar Press

It’s 1895. Amid laundry and bruises, Rina Pierangeli Faccio gives birth to the child of the man who raped her – and who she has also been forced to marry. Unbroken, she determines to change her name; and her life, alongside it.

1902. Romaine Brooks sails for Capri. She has barely enough money for the ferry, nothing for lunch; her paintbrushes are bald and clotted… But she is sure she can sell a painting – and is fervent in her belief that the island is detached from all fates she has previously suffered.

In 1923, Virginia Woolf writes: I want to make life fuller – and fuller. Told in a series of cascading vignettes, featuring a multitude of voices, After Sappho is Selby Wynn Schwartz’s joyous reimagining of the lives of a brilliant group of feminists, sapphists, artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th century as they battle for control over their lives; for liberation and for justice.

Sarah Bernhard – Colette – Eleanora Duse – Lina Poletti – Josephine Baker – Virginia Woolf… these are just a few of the women (some famous, others hitherto unsung) sharing the pages of a novel as fierce as it is luminous. Lush and poetic; furious and funny; in After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz has created a novel that celebrates the women and trailblazers of the past and also offers hope for our present, and our futures.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything quite like Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho. Moving from 1880s Italy, and the life of poet Lina Poletti, to Virginia Woolf in the 1920s, it is a chorus of women’s voices – feminists, artists, writers, lesbians – all fighting to be able to live their lives in a world run by men. Schwartz, who takes the inspired decision to tell her story through the collective “we”, brings these trailblazers and their battle for their right to be heard to fierce, vivid life. Joyful, passionate and luminous – this is a novel for “the girl who wishes to avoid being trampled down by the feet of men”, as Schwartz has Sappho put it."