Jane Miller

Jane Miller’s most recent book is In My Own Time: Thoughts and Afterthoughts.

News from No One

Jane Miller, 21 January 2021

I’ve​ had several official letters recently (including two in one week) telling me to look out because I’m a ‘clinically extremely vulnerable person’. They’re signed by ‘Matt’, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Another government minister, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, signs them too,...

At Home

Jane Miller, 4 June 2020

It’sapril, and beyond our back wall a line of ambulances is queuing up to deliver sick passengers to the hospital. We are self-isolated, safe in our fortress, as we wait on our order from the local bakery. This will be delivered too. An innocent contrast perhaps, though hardly benign. We are a month into coronavirus time. I began it by rereading Camus and then The Betrothed by...

New Romance

Jane Miller, 14 May 1992

Within the first half-page of Toni Morrison’s novel, an 18-year-old girl has been shot dead by her middle-aged lover, and his wife has been manhandled from the funeral after attempting to cut the dead girl’s face with a knife. Both events are witnessed and kept secret by a community which has reason to distrust the police and to look kindly upon a hitherto gentle, childless couple, whose sudden, violent sorrows they recognise and are able to forgive. And as the spring of that year, 1926, bursts a month or two later upon the ‘City’ of this extraordinary novel, its all-seeing gossip of a narrator is moved to declare – if only provisionally – that ‘history is over, you all, and everything’s ahead at last.’’

Gissing may damage your health

Jane Miller, 7 March 1991

My great-aunt Clara and George Gissing were friends during the last ten years of his life. He wrote to her about once a week, always as Miss Collet, and quite often bared his soul to her. She was an expert on women’s work and a civil servant. During his lifetime she gave him money to educate his sons, and after he died she not only arranged with Downing Street for a Civil List pension for them. ‘in recognition of the literary services of their father and of his straitened circumstances’, but also managed to get several of his novels reissued. That is why I grew up amongst two-inch-thick, plum-coloured volumes of The Whirlpool and the rest, in what might well be thought of as a two-Veranilda household. I must admit, however, that though Eve’s Ransom and The Crown of Life did well as bed legs and door-stops, they were not much read. And though Clara herself was probably at least half in love with George Gissing, it isn’t clear that she liked his novels very much either. Indeed, as she wrote some years later, she disliked The Odd Women ‘so much that I nearly did not make George Gissing’s acquaintance because of it’: which is not so surprising, perhaps, since more than one Gissing scholar has claimed that his novel drew on his relations with Clara, even though it was written before they met.

My Friend Sam

Jane Miller, 16 August 1990

The landscape of Ellen Douglas’s Mississippi is designed to keep us out, to resist recognition; and the lines of its knobs and bluffs and ridges may be deciphered only by those who have been born and bred amongst them. For the rest of us they are edged but also obscured by lovingly named plants, by smilax, trillium, scuppernog vines and plum thickets. And the birds in their midst, the towhees, the goatsuckers, the magnolia warblers and juncos, do not sing to us out of some shared childhood, but out of memories we are adjured to hear as entirely different from our own. They will be mythic and mysterious memories, but they will also – so consciously Southern is this (and so much other) writing from the American South – be delivered with due attention paid to the clichés to be navigated therein. Leafless briars viciously obstruct the solitary wanderer in this landscape, and so does the barbed wire surrounding the government defence station, whose recent installation has added itself to a history of depredations of the land. It is as if it is only possible to enter these places and their past with a local guide and through literature.’

What We Are Last: Old Age

Rosemary Hill, 21 October 2010

There is something irreducible about old age, even now when, in the West at least, the several stages of life have become blurred. The Ages of Man, which until the 1950s seemed as distinct as the...

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Feminist Perplexities

Dinah Birch, 11 October 1990

Not so long ago, the most prestigious intellectual work, in the arts as in the sciences, was supposed to be impersonal. The convention was that the circumstances in which such work was produced...

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Pen Men

Elaine Showalter, 20 March 1986

One of the more useful side-effects of the widely-publicised troubles at the International PEN Congress held this January in New York may ironically have been the new timeliness which Norman...

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Gift of Tongues

John Edwards, 7 July 1983

Bilingualism, multiculturalism, ethno-linguistic identity – they may not be words to conjure with, but much conjuring has nevertheless been done with them. Even the most casual observer can...

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