Freya Johnston

Freya Johnston is writing a book about un-written books.

Dorothy​ is a badly paid, unenthusiastic adjunct professor of English at an unnamed New York City university. Trained to criticise and evaluate, she pays meticulous attention to herself and her surroundings – to no particular end. The Life of the Mind, Christine Smallwood’s first novel, begins with Dorothy having a miscarriage, and charts her mental and physical state over the...

Mary Wollstonecraft​ is in many ways ill-suited to the role of the earliest advocate of women’s rights. The term ‘feminism’ and its tradition postdate her by at least half a century; she appears to have intensely disliked most women; and she celebrated qualities of mind that she tended to label ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’. In the works for which she is...

‘How much are the Poor to be pitied, & the Rich to be blamed!’ the young Jane Austen exclaimed in a marginal note to Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England. Mary Toft, the notorious 18th-century ‘rabbit breeder’, was undoubtedly very poor. But was she to be pitied? Contemporary accounts of her hoax identified her as ‘poor’ in ways that combined...

No Bottom to Them: Pockets, like Novels

Freya Johnston, 5 December 2019

Like the novel​, with whose origins it is contemporary, the pocket is a repository that promises to contain and disburse secrets. Pockets, like novels, can enclose a story about the lost and found. Just as characters in 18th-century fiction are often begged to provide the histories of their lives and adventures, so too they may be talked out of their possessions. ‘You do wisely...

To read his life in his work – to see that work as bearing the imprint of an existence that was, in Johnson’s words, ‘radically wretched’ as well as triumphant – is to attempt the kind of biographical criticism at which Johnson himself excelled, which he might indeed be said to have invented in the Lives of the Poets. He might also be said, posthumously, to have suffered from it, since the grip of Boswell’s vivid and brilliantly idiosyncratic account of his friend on readers’ imaginations was so immediate and so tenacious.

Beastliness: Eric Griffiths

John Mullan, 23 May 2019

Quite​ a few academics in British universities are still called ‘lecturers’ even if plenty of humanities students seem to think lecturing is unnecessary. They can see the point of...

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Bring some Madeira: Thomas Love Peacock

Thomas Keymer, 8 February 2018

Marilyn Butler​, whose Peacock Displayed was published in 1979, wasn’t the first to connect Peacock’s name with the showy wit of his satires. It started with Shelley, his friend...

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