"SPAIN, Germany, Russia – all are elbowed out. The marriage stretches from one end of the paper to another.”

This is Virginia Woolf writing in her diary about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on December 7, 1936.

No doubt the royal events of this weekend in London will spike stories from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria happening right now.

Woolf was correct to fret about Spain and Franco’s fascism; she’d noted the “docile hysteria” of fellow travellers, the Nazis, in 1935, during a three-day holiday to Germany. But what should the author do about the Spanish Civil War?

As Sarah Watling notes, Woolf “saw the lure of avoidance” and wrote that: “Intellectually, there is a strong desire either to be silent; or to change the conversation … and so evade the issue and lower the temperature.”

Same old, same old.

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Watling’s book is subtitled “Following writers and rebels in the Spanish Civil War” and focuses on the experiences of women on the frontline that were both physical and intellectual.

As with the current political moment, there was an urgency to their dispatches; it was a time to take sides.

Consider Nancy Cunard – party animal, a modernist poet influenced by Eliot, an aristo hanging out with Scottish ambulance drivers in Barcelona. She was on the nose when she said: “The equivocal attitude, the Ivory Tower, the paradoxical, the ironic detachment, will no longer do.”

Unlike our current equivocating Prime Minister, you can’t imagine her shaking hands with the likes of Giorgia Meloni.

As for detachment Arthur Dooley’s statue of Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria, overlooking the Clyde at Custom House Quay, is testimony to the fact that 65 Glaswegians rejected such attitudes. Unimpressed by Westminster’s policy of non-intervention they went to fight.

As with Watling’s Cassandras they knew the ovine impassivity of the majority would facilitate the Nazi threat.

Her women had serious intuition, their minds – like seismographs – were attuned to tremors in the European body politic. They knew they had to take a stand.

Watling tells us about Sylvia Townsend Warner, a Dorset-based Communist, a lesbian who immediately celebrated the frankness and freedoms of Republican Barcelona.

She would write for The New Yorker calling Britain a “mealy-mouthed” country for its policy of neutrality.

Then there was Martha Gellhorn from St Louis hightailing it to the Madrid frontline who thought “Nazi papers had one solid value: Whatever they were against, you could be for.”

Watling tells us Gellhorn developed “a literary voice that distilled outrage into unforgiving clarity.” She wrote with a cold anger.

Watling’s book is thus a corrective to those more publicised accounts from male writers reporting on the civil war. Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell are here, of course, but with the dial turned down.

More space is given to the likes of Jessica Mitford, Decca to her sisters, who rebelled against Diana, wife of Oswald Mosely, and the frightful Unity, an Aryan berserker who wore a swastika badge and was in love with Adolf.

Jessica decamped to Bilbao by boat in early 1937. She was 19.

The Mitford family agitated the government and Anthony Eden sent a destroyer to bring her home.

Those Unity types haven’t gone away. Watling muses that fascism may have been a refuge for “bored and undereducated young women” of privilege, the sort we see today advocating internment for protesters against the coronation.

Watling acknowledges that several of the women she profiles had “despite their unconventionality … certain safety nets of their class”.

She’s aware too that many had a significant degree of naivety about the horrors of Soviet Russia and Stalin.

She’s particularly fine on the question of confrontation or evasion when it comes to great evils, that writing in times of crisis is not for fence-sitters.

And she also notes a recent cartoon about the climate crisis and how that fence is now on fire.

The book’s cover design perfectly captures its contents: it’s a photograph by Gerda Taro, like Joseph Roth, a Galician Jew highly attuned to the eliminationist antisemitism of the Nazis.

We see a young lady in profile as she kneels on one knee, a Republican militiawoman in training. She wears stylish heels and in one hand aims a revolver.

The photo says if you’re faced with fascism get ready, aim, then fire.