Diana Birchall

Santa Monica

Reading Group

Next Meeting

Sunday, May 23, 6 p.m.
Perdita by Paula Byrne


The Santa Monica reading group meets monthly to bimonthly, generally on a Sunday at 5 p.m. The group frequently meets at the home of Kathi Stafford but occasionally rotates to other members’ homes.


The Santa Monica Reading Group grew out of a previous reading group formed circa 1980 by Harriet Williams and Lucy Magruder. The group met at Harriet Williams’ home in Long Beach until the members living in Santa Monica formed their own group sometime around 1990.

A small but lively assembly, the Santa Monica group primarily reads the works of women authors of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the group’s most successful and enjoyable projects was reading all the works of Elizabeth Gaskell, which took more than a year. Most meetings of the group include a great deal of delicious food!

Reading List Archive


February 21
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

March 21
Busman’s Holiday by Dorothy L. Sayer

April 25
Bronte’s Mistress by Finola Austin

May 23
Perdita by Paula Byrne


January 5
The Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon

March 15
The Bride of Northanger by Diana Birchall

October 11
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers

November 22
Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery

December 20
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby


February 10
Jane and Dorothy by Marian Veevers

April 7
The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

July 7
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

August 11
Summer by Edith Wharton
September 15
Mrs. Delany, Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden
November 10
Hester by Ian McIntyre


January 21
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

February 25
Persuasion by Jane Austen

April 29
Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature by Elizabeth Hardwick

June 17
A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot, and Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

August 26
Old New York by Edith Wharton

October 21
The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose

December 9
Persuasion by Jane Austen


January 15
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

March 5
Child of Light: Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark

April 30
Selected Letters of John Keats (based on the texts of Hyder Edward Rollins, Revised Edition)

July 2
The Poets’ Daughters, Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge by Katie Waldegrave

September 10
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

November 19
The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh


January 17
The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn
The Secret Life of Aphra Behn by Janet Todd

February 28
Matters of Fact in Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

April 10
English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell

June 12
Members’ choice of book by one of the Mitford sisters (Nancy, Jessica or Deborah)

August 7
Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence

October 16
The Princess de Cleves by Madame de La Fayette

December 11
The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson


January 25
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

March 1
A Crisis of Brilliance by David Boyd Haycock

March 21
The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth

April 19
Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

June 7
Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey

August 23
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

November 8
The Daisy Chain by Charlotte M. Yonge

In addition to reading all of the works of Mrs. Gaskell, the group has read widely of the following authors: Virginia Woolf (and peripheral Bloomsbury material), Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Margaret Oliphant, Fanny Burney, George Eliot, Maria Edgeworth, the Brontës, the Mitfords, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Colette, E.M. Delafield, Ann Radcliffe, Madame de Stael, Vita Sackville-West, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Elizabeth Goudge, Angela Thirkell, Dorothy Whipple, Harriet Martineau, Vera Brittain, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Fanny Kemble and many, many more.

According to Diana Birchall, some of the group’s more enjoyable readings have been of books that might be described as social history, such as Parallel LivesA Crisis of BrillianceEminent Victorians or A Sultry Month: Scenes of Literary Life in London, 1846, by Alethea Hayter. “Although we stray into other pastures, we always come back to Jane Austen and have read an extensive number of books about her life, letters and times, as well as literary criticism.”

The male authors read by the group have included Anthony Trollope, Lord Byron, Samuel Johnson, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.

While Birchall reports that the group has greatly enjoyed the vast majority of chosen books, two recent selections were not as well-received: Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmur and The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn.