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Diary

Elaine Showalter: My Year of Living Dangerously

2 April 1998
... studio. ‘Bullets are too good for you!’ snarled a pony-tailed man in army fatigues at a Washington bookstore. In Denver, bookstores received anonymous threatening faxes: ‘I understand that Ms Showalter will appear today at your store for a book-signing. Are you aware that she has been met with “outraged” patients? On one occasion she had to be quickly “whisked” away from the angry mob. I ...
10 December 1998
Between Us Girls 
by Joe Orton.
Hern, 224 pp., £14.99, October 1998, 1 85459 374 9
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‘Fred & Madge’ and ‘The Visitors’ 
by Joe Orton.
Hern, 224 pp., £12.99, October 1998, 1 85459 354 4
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... Joe Orton came 16th this year in the National Theatre’s poll of the hundred top playwrights of the century. Not bad for someone who failed the 11-plus, spent six months in prison, and was bludgeoned to death at the age of 34. He wrote Between Us Girls in 1957, after he had ended a period of collaboration with his lover and mentor Kenneth Halliwell. A classics scholar and failed actor, Halliwell was ...

Diary

Elaine Showalter: On the Phi Beta Kappa Tour

10 March 1994
... the lagoon. Over dinner with the English department that evening (hush puppies, frogs’ legs and catfish) I could speak of little else. Finally my hosts grew impatient. ‘I must tell you, Professor Showalter,’ one said coldly, ‘that is not the original Ralph.’ After two weeks in Canada, the Phi Beta Kappa tour kicked off at the University of Oregon in Eugene, a little oasis of the Sixties where the ...

The Divine Miss P.

Elaine Showalter

11 February 1993
Sex, Art and American Culture 
by Camille Paglia.
Viking, 256 pp., £16.99, March 1993, 0 670 84612 0
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... varied, but her general message is the same: ‘My scholarship is ten times better than any of those women who are there, but they’re there because they are convenient.’ Or: ‘How the hell did ElaineShowalter ever get credentials for being a feminist?’ Paglia had refused to speak on a panel with any feminist teachers from the university (‘No one is in my intellectual league,’ she snapped ...

Mother-Haters and Other Rebels

Barbara Taylor: Heroine Chic

3 January 2002
Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage 
by Elaine Showalter.
Picador, 384 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 330 34669 5
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... Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist heroine sans pareil, didn’t approve of heroines. Great Women – or ‘icons’, as ElaineShowalter prefers to call the three centuries’ worth of feminist ‘rule-breakers and path-blazers’ celebrated in her new book – get short shrift in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: I shall not lay ...
30 January 1992
Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle 
by Elaine Showalter.
Bloomsbury, 242 pp., £15.99, March 1991, 0 7475 0827 5
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Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing 
by Elaine Showalter.
Oxford, 193 pp., £22.50, September 1991, 0 19 812383 3
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... book Fin-de-Siècle Vienna (1980) and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring in Modris Eksten’s book (1989) of the same name, the discordant high-pitched tones of Strauss’s Salome resonate throughout Elaine Showaltcr’s Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. The discordant notes are apt because all three works point to a breaking-up, to a fragmentation and dislocation of cultural ...

Diary

Elaine Showalter: At Sundance

22 February 2001
... It’s 5 a.m. and we are bundled up like Sherpas in our boots and sheepskins, boarding the plane to Utah with a contingent of young New Yorkers with pony tails talking into cellphones and carrying skis. They are buyers, development executives, actors, journalists, publicists, directors and producers, heading for the Sundance Film Festival, where they will wheel and deal. We are not here for the snowboarding ...

The Word on the Street

Elaine Showalter

7 March 1996
Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics 
by Anonymous.
Chatto, 366 pp., £15.99, February 1996, 0 7011 6584 7
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... At Kramerbooks, Washington’s best bookstore-café, there’s a menu of ‘Primary Colors Specials’, including Lasagne di Paul Begalanese and Pork Chop George Stephen-applesauce. There’s a copy prominently displayed in the new books section of the White House library, and 742,000 have been shipped to bookstores to meet the demand. It’s number one on the New York Times bestseller list; North ...

Hagiophagy

Elaine Showalter

2 October 1997
Impossible Saints 
by Michèle Roberts.
Little, Brown, 308 pp., £14.99, May 1997, 0 316 63957 5
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... In ‘Taking It Easy’, one of the stories in During Mother’s Absence (1993), Michèle Roberts provides a recipe for a deliciously female mode of creative imagination. Her heroine, a freelance short-story writer of many genres and pseudonyms (Alexis K. Triffel, Virginia Lindisfarne, Jay C. Dacey), leaves her London life with its perpetual diets, its writing ‘squeezed in’ between domestic errands ...

How to Be Good

Elaine Showalter: Carol Shields

11 July 2002
Unless 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 213 pp., £16.99, May 2002, 0 00 713770 2
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... The debate about women’s writing – is it too restricted, domestic and love-obsessed, in contrast to the more sweeping, historical, socially aware and experimental novels of men? – has been going on since Jane Austen’s day. Charlotte Brontë was one who rejected Austen’s plot, which she called ‘a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden’. Recently Gillian Beer even announced the death ...

The Straight and the Bent

Elaine Showalter

23 April 1992
Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault 
by Jonathan Dollimore.
Oxford, 388 pp., £35, August 1991, 0 19 811225 4
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Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories 
by Diana Fuss.
Routledge, 432 pp., £40, March 1992, 0 415 90236 3
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... In 1895, at a café in Algiers, Oscar Wilde procured a young Arab musician for André Gide, and thereby launched the French writer into a new life. It probably wasn’t Gide’s first homosexual experience, but it was the one he credited in his journals with the initiation into his real sexual nature, the moment, he recalled, in which he began ‘to discover myself – and in myself the tables of a ...

Risky Business

Elaine Showalter

22 September 1994
Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography 
by Linda Wagner-Martin.
Rutgers, 201 pp., $22.95, July 1994, 0 8135 2092 4
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... Linda Wagner-Martin, a highly respected scholar of American literature who teaches at the University of North Carolina, was bewildered by the hostile reception in Britain of her biography of Sylvia Plath, published in 1987. Not only had she run into major conflicts with the Plath estate, she explains in her preface to Telling Women’s Lives, but some critics saw her as both an ‘unethical commercial ...

The Snowman cometh

Elaine Showalter: Margaret Atwood

24 July 2003
Oryx and Crake 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 378 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 7475 6259 8
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... Margaret Atwood’s 11th novel delivers two huge surprises: a male protagonist and an action-movie plot. Atwood has never written a novel from a male point of view before, and John Updike was among the reviewers who complained that the men in The Blind Assassin* were mysterious and unlovable. Rather, she is known for her chronicles of women’s victimisation and resistance, and her use of first-person ...

A Perfect Eel

Elaine Showalter: ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’

21 June 2012
Lady Audley’s Secret 
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, edited by Lyn Pykett.
Oxford, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2012, 978 0 19 957703 3
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... There is no accounting for tastes,’ the Westminster Review declared in 1866. ‘Blubber for the Esquimaux, half-hatched eggs for the Chinese and Sensational novels for the English.’ The extraordinary popularity in the 1860s of sensation fiction, or ‘bigamy novels’, as these books were sometimes known, led critics to conclude that the genre was ‘a sign of the times – the evidence of … ...

Dazeland

Andrew Scull

29 October 1987
The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980 
by Elaine Showalter.
Virago, 309 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 86068 869 0
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... of colonial wars’: it tells ‘us more about the relations between the imperial powers than about the “third world” of the mental patients themselves’. For this reason, among many others, ElaineShowalter’s The Female Malady is to be welcomed, for its primary focus is upon this neglected group – for the most part, on female patients. Her account makes it plain that in the psychiatric ...

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