Gay, communist, female: why MI5 blacklisted the poet Valentine Ackland

A biography of the Dorset poet, who was a lover of the novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, traces her struggle ‘to live as herself’

With the help of Dorset police, MI5 were confidently closing in on three subversive potential terrorists living quietly together near the sea almost 85 years ago. Local officers had been alerted to their shared communist sympathies and were now monitoring the suspects: Ackland, Townsend and Warner, each one deemed a threat to Britain’s security in the run-up to the second world war.

But in fact, as recently released secret service documents show, this potentially dangerous trio under covert surveillance were actually female poets. And what’s more, there were just two of them: lesbian lovers Valentine Ackland and Sylvia Townsend Warner.

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