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Burnished and braced

Alethea Hayter

12 July 1990
A Second Self: The Letters of Harriet Granville 1810-1845 
edited by Virginia Surtees.
Michael Russell, 320 pp., £14.95, April 1990, 0 85955 165 2
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... Relaxation is my bane, Lady Morpeth. All my habits and tastes lean that way and in consequence I am going to wage war upon them all. I dread a languid yellow old age, hot, perfumed and dawdling, and I prefer our Julia’s course, active, smart, burnished and braced.’ This selection of letters to an adored sister concentrates on the ‘active, smart, burnished and braced’ aspect of an ambivalent ...


Frank Kermode: Wordsworth at Sea

6 February 2003
The Wreck of the ‘Abergavenny’ 
by Alethea Hayter.
Macmillan, 223 pp., £14.99, September 2002, 0 333 98917 1
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... some anecdote, some occurrence remote from the mainstream of historical writing, and from it deduces an entire culture, the conflicts or negotiations of power within a whole historical community. AletheaHayter deals with a single event, focusing on a particular moment in history, but she is not a new or micro-historian and is innocent of Foucauldian or any other theoretical ambitions. Nevertheless ...

Reader, I married you

Alethea Hayter

30 March 1989
Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett: The Courtship Correspondence 1845-1846 
edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 363 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 818547 2
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... Your letters began by being first to my intellect, before they were first to my heart,’ Elizabeth Barrett told Browning when they had been corresponding for over a year and had acknowledged their love. When she first got the fan letter from a fellow poet, six years younger and much less celebrated than she was, she took it for the opening of another correspondence such as she had had in the past ...

Into the Gulf

Rosemary Hill

17 December 1992
A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846 
by Alethea Hayter.
Robin Clark, 224 pp., £6.95, June 1992, 0 86072 146 9
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Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850 
edited by John Barrell.
Oxford, 301 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198173922
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London: World City 1800-1840 
edited by Celina Fox.
Yale, 624 pp., £45, September 1992, 0 300 05284 7
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... in his journal, with that absence of insight or humour that makes him such a sad, and at the same time such a tiresome figure. That summer there was a tremendous heatwave, the ‘sultry month’ of AletheaHayter’s title. Haydon worked with increasing desperation on his painting Alfred and the First British Jury. It was a hopeless endeavour. No one would buy it, hardly anyone would admire it: the ...


Alethea Hayter

14 September 1989
Frances Burney: The Life in the Works 
by Margaret Anne Doody.
Cambridge, 441 pp., £30, April 1989, 9780521362580
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... In a spirited attempt to forestall criticism, Margaret Doody warns her readers that they may ‘feel horrified at what they they regard as a changeling-substitution of a mad Gothic feminist for the cheerful little Augustan chatterbox’ which is the conventional picture of Fanny Burney. Stimulated to anger by past biographers who see Fanny Burney as sunny and shallow, ‘dear little Burney’, who ...

The Chop

John Bayley

27 January 1994
A History of Warfare 
by John Keegan.
Hutchinson, 432 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 09 174527 6
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How Great Generals Win 
by Bevin Alexander.
Norton, 320 pp., £22, November 1993, 9780393035315
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The Backbone: Diaries of a Military Family in the Napoleonic Wars 
edited by Alethea Hayter.
Pentland, 343 pp., £18.50, September 1993, 1 85821 069 0
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... obliterated by Mongol invasion. Writing or reading about war is bound to be a mode of enjoying it; and it is a relief to turn from the guilty pleasure of campaigning with Keegan and Alexander to AletheaHayter’s more subtly engaging and absorbing presentation of her military families’ diaries. Soldiering for them was a purely domestic affair; and following the drum was like going to the office ...

Bigger Peaches

Rosemary Hill: Haydon

22 February 2001
The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817 
by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.
Viking, 336 pp., £15.99, September 2000, 0 670 87999 1
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... In the blistering summer of 1846, unable to bear his poverty and his ungratified ambition any longer, poor Haydon went to his studio and cut his throat. The last weeks of his life were described by AletheaHayter in A Sultry Month, which, like The Immortal Dinner, uses a single episode as the keyhole through which to survey an age. Hayter’s book is more tightly structured and covers less well-trodden ...

A Favourite of the Laws

Ruth Bernard Yeazell

13 June 1991
Married Women’s Separate Property in England, 1660-1833 
by Susan Staves.
Harvard, 290 pp., £27.95, April 1990, 0 674 55088 9
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The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship and the Life of the Mind in 18th-century England 
by Sylvia Harcstark Myers.
Oxford, 342 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 19 811767 1
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Portrait of a Friendship: Drawn from New Letters of James Russell Lowell to Sybella Lady Lyttleton 1881-1891 
by Alethea Hayter.
Michael Russell, 267 pp., £16.95, September 1990, 0 85955 167 9
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Fierce Communion: Family and Community in Early America 
by Helena Wall.
Harvard, 243 pp., £23.95, August 1990, 0 674 29958 2
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... there that should never have been made, as if they had been caught up from the babblings of discharged housemaids. One blushes in reading, and feels like a person caught listening at the keyhole.’ AletheaHayter’s new book reproduces hitherto unpublished letters from Lowell to his friend and confidante, Sybella Lady Lyttleton, but Portrait of a Friendship contains little to embarrass – or to ...

Snakes and Leeches

Rosemary Hill: The Great Stink

4 January 2018
One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli and the Great Stink of 1858 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Yale, 352 pp., £25, July 2017, 978 0 300 22726 0
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... Not otherwise a particularly significant year, it is the perfect subject for a microhistory. Great events cast shadows over details which in an undramatic year, or season, can be more clearly seen. AletheaHayter’s A Sultry Month, published in 1965, was one of the earliest and best examples of what has become a popular genre. Set in another heatwave, in June 1846, Hayter’s account weaves together ...

If It Weren’t for Charlotte

Alice Spawls: The Brontës

16 November 2017
... of these imaginings is intriguing, but also testament to her unhappiness. Harman calls them ‘phantasms’, and suggests that Charlotte may have taken opium in order to induce them. She quotes AletheaHayter’s description of the mental traits that (Hayter claims) predispose people to opium addiction, telling us that it represents ‘Charlotte Brontë’s condition at Roe Head with uncanny ...

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