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Rotten as Touchwood

Loraine Fletcher

21 September 1995
The Poems of Charlotte​ Smith 
edited by Stuart Curran.
Oxford, 335 pp., £35.50, March 1994, 9780195078732
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... CharlotteSmith was the first English novelist to make a castle or great house into an emblem of the state. Before her, houses in novels provided appropriate settings or confined rebellious heroines: Smith introduced the house as a microcosm of the condition of England and a site for the subtlest display of an author’s political loyalties. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in ...

Never mind the neighbours

Margaret Anne Doody

4 April 1996
by Germaine de Staël, translated by Avriel Goldberger.
Northern Illinois, 468 pp., $50, September 1995, 0 87580 200 1
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... smacks a bit too much of novelness rather than novelty. What Goldberger leaves out is Delphine’s place in English literature. The novel has strong connections with the ‘Jacobin’ novels of CharlotteSmith, William Godwin, Amelia Opie and Thomas Holcroft. The use of engagements and marriages as symptoms of the state of society belongs peculiarly to CharlotteSmith as a Revolutionary subject. To ...

Tit for Tat

Margaret Anne Doody

21 December 1989
Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology 
edited by Roger Lonsdale.
Oxford, 555 pp., £20, September 1989, 0 19 811769 8
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... the poetry largely untouched. Some of these poets are truly fine in command of voice, rhythm and line. Their fineness is felt usually more in short lines than long, though some, such as Yearsley and CharlotteSmith, are successful in iambic pentameter blank verse. Poets from Rowe through Yearsley sometimes express an impatient sense of the limitations of language itself, ‘the human line/ Of alphabets ...

If It Weren’t for Charlotte

Alice Spawls: The Brontës

16 November 2017
... A wood engraving​ by the illustrator Joan Hassall, who died in 1988, shows Elizabeth Gaskell arriving at the Brontë parsonage. Patrick Brontë is taking Gaskell’s hand; Charlotte stands between them, arms open in a gesture of introduction. We – the spectators, whose gaze Charlotte seems to acknowledge (or is she looking at her father apprehensively?) – stand in the ...

The Collage Police

Christian Lorentzen: Ali Smith

8 March 2018
by Ali Smith.
Penguin, 272 pp., £8.99, August 2017, 978 0 241 97331 8
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by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp., £16.99, November 2017, 978 0 241 20702 4
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... Several factors​ contribute to the innocuousness of Ali Smith’s current project. She’s now published two novels of her projected ‘Seasonal Quartet’: Autumn, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Winter. These books don’t share characters or ...

Had I been born a hero

Helen Deutsch: Female poets of the eighteenth century

21 September 2006
Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre 
by Paula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 514 pp., £43.50, January 2006, 0 8018 8169 2
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... by the loss of a feminine mirror in which to glimpse his own superiority. Woolf is angry too and her anger is similar to the anger that radiates from the work of such writers as Anne Finch and Charlotte Brontë, who write ‘in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth’. Here is Finch, slighted by Pope’s depiction of melancholy poetesses in The Rape of the Lock: Disarm’d ...

Her pen made the first move

Ruth Bernard Yeazell

7 July 1994
Charlotte​ Brontë: A Passionate Life 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 418 pp., £17.99, March 1994, 9780701161378
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Shared Lives 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Vintage, 285 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 09 942461 4
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The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill 
by Miriam Bailin.
Cambridge, 169 pp., £30, April 1994, 0 521 44526 4
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... When Charlotte Brontë was not yet 21, she submitted a sample of her work to the reigning poet laureate, Robert Southey, together with a letter in which she apparently confided her ambition ‘to be for ever known ...

Travelling Text

Marina Warner: ‘The Arabian Nights’

18 December 2008
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, with Ursula Lyons.
Penguin, 2715 pp., £125, November 2008, 978 0 14 091166 4
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‘The Arabian Nights’ in Historical Context: Between East and West 
edited by Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum.
Oxford, 337 pp., £55, November 2008, 978 0 19 955415 7
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... ordinary princeling, rather than as the heavenly vehicle of Solomon and his djinns. The new Penguin looks sumptuous, a boxed set with metallic blue tooled cloth bindings, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, which reinterpret Oriental motifs. But it hovers uneasily between a scholarly attempt at a definitive edition and a popular (and canny) piece of publishing intended for a wide market. Every ...


Ian Campbell Ross: ‘provincial genius’

23 October 2003
Hermsprong; or Man as He Is Not 
by Robert Bage, edited by Pamela Perkins.
Broadview, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2002, 1 55111 279 5
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... 1755), through the tempered sympathy of Charles Johnstone in Chrysal (1760-65), to the harsh relation of Lismahago’s captivity among the Miami in Humphry Clinker (1771) and the ambivalence of CharlotteSmith in The Old Manor House (1793). (Writing about these matters in Captives, Linda Colley underestimates the extent to which British perceptions of Native Americans in the period were mediated ...

Fuss, Fatigue and Rage

Ian Gilmour: Two Duff Kings

15 July 1999
George IV 
by E.A. Smith.
Yale, 306 pp., £25, May 1999, 0 300 07685 1
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... Georges. The 20th century has seen several biographies of the last of the four, much the best of which is Christopher Hibbert’s two-volume study published nearly thirty years ago. The late E.A. Smith, who sadly died between the writing and the publication of this biography, thought that all previous studies were ‘to some degree superficial, and most follow the view that George IV was a ...
7 October 1993
Maximilian and Juárez 
by Jasper Ridley.
Constable, 353 pp., £16.95, March 1993, 0 09 472070 3
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Maximilian’s Lieutenant: A Personal History of the Mexican Campaign, 1864-7 
by Ernst Pitner, translated and edited by Gordon Etherington-Smith.
Tauris, 256 pp., £35, October 1993, 9781850435600
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... it, a royal couple more suitable for export could scarcely be imagined. Maximilian was a scion of the most illustrious of royal houses, used to governing an unlikely combination of polyglot subjects. Charlotte was the beautiful and ambitious daughter of the most successful off-the-peg monarch, Leopold I of the Belgians, who had shown since 1831 how ersatz German royalty could offer a new and shaky state ...

Look on the Bright Side

Seamus Perry: Anna Letitia Barbauld

25 February 2010
Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment 
by William McCarthy.
Johns Hopkins, 725 pp., £32, December 2008, 978 0 8018 9016 1
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... like “passages that lead to nothing”, and characters occasionally turn out quite different from what our fond expectations have led us to expect.’ It was with fellow feeling that she said of CharlotteSmith, whose marriage was in its way no less catastrophic, ‘the life of this lady was a very chequered one.’ In retrospect, the odd defeat of God’s purpose in the early poem about Corsica can ...

Female Heads

John Bayley

27 October 1988
Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... of prolonged and loving female friendships in the 18th century, and anonymous independent women by the score who depended on each other’s society, but apart from stylised Utopias and parodies, like Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote, there are no explorations of the topic, although one should add, thinking of the role of dramatic confidantes – that it was a part of life too much taken for granted ...

All together

Humphrey Carpenter

7 December 1989
The Safest Place in the World: A Personal History of British Rhythm and Blues 
by Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Quartet, 178 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 7043 2696 5
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Mama said there’d be days like these: My Life in the Jazz World 
by Val Wilmer.
Women’s Press, 336 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 7043 5040 8
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Lenya: A Life 
by Donald Spoto.
Viking, 371 pp., £15.95, September 1989, 0 670 81211 0
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... m not a Beatle any more!’ George Harrison is said to have cried delightedly after their last public appearance), and left one wondering how they had managed to stay together so long. Dick Heckstall-Smith defines a band as ‘a passengerless collective’, but he doesn’t say ‘driverless’, and his often rivetingly interesting book, which deals largely with the breakup of bands, frequently ...
4 August 1988
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 400 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3018 0
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Selected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 330 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3311 2
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The Poetical Works of Robert Browning: Vol. III 
edited by Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler.
Oxford, 542 pp., £60, June 1988, 0 19 812762 6
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The Complete Works of Robert Browning: Vol. VIII 
edited by Roma King and Susan Crowl.
Ohio/Baylor University, 379 pp., £47.50, September 1988, 9780821403808
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... They did not exactly worship but explored themselves: in a sense, they became themselves. A process especially important for women writers. Emily Brontë was in her own way a self-dramatiser, Charlotte a self-esteemer. Her example was easier to follow, much more influential. When Aurora Leigh was published in 1857, reviewers pointed out a striking resemblance to much in the plot of Jane Eyre ...

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