As its dynamic title suggests, Open the Door! is a novel about movement and space, concerned with exploring and crossing the boundaries of identity, gender and aesthetics. This traversing and transgressing of space is manifested in various ways: first in the novel's preoccupation with different locations - Glasgow, Italy, London - and their symbolic significance; secondly in the challenges it poses to women's existing roles and spheres; and, perhaps most importantly, in its attempt to understand and redefine the formation of a gendered identity, ‘opening the door’ to a new perspective on the self.
Carswell's project, then, is clearly an ambitious one. In this chapter I want to examine the strategies used to achieve such a ‘breaking through’, and in so doing to give a sense both of the novel's achievements and of its inherent tensions. Open the Door!, although ostensibly using the format of romance, is a dense and complex text, wide-ranging in the issues it considers and fascinating in the interconnections established between them. My focus in this chapter, therefore, will be on formal elements of the novel, including its heavy use of symbolism and literary allusion, its shifts between nineteenth-century realism and twentieth-century experimentalism, and its reworking of a romance motif, all considered in relation to the novel's wider thematic concerns with the emergence of a gendered self.
Catherine Carswell was bom in 1879, brought up in Glasgow by prosperous and religious middle-class parents she later described as a ‘simple and philistine family’. From an early age Carswell perceived herself - and her family because of their evangelical fervour - as alien to their environment. Like the heroines of both Open the Door! and The Camomile, her early life reads as a search for escape from the moral and cultural confines of Glasgow. She attended English Literature classes at Glasgow University (at a time when women couldn't sit for a degree), visited Italy, and studied music at the Frankfurt Conservatory. Her first marriage, to Herbert Jackson in 1904, ended in disaster when he attempted to kill her and was declared insane. She then had to fight a long legal battle to have her marriage annulled. Her second marriage, to the journalist and writer Donald Carswell, was a successful partnership both professionally and personally. She also enjoyed friendships with D. H. Lawrence, Hugh MacDiarmid, Rebecca West, and Edwin and Willa Muir.