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Dear Lad

Penelope Fitzgerald

19 March 1981
The Simple Life: C.R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Lund Humphries, 204 pp., £7.95, January 1981, 0 85331 435 7
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Philip Mairet: Autobiographical and Other Papers 
edited by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 266 pp., £7.95, February 1981, 0 85635 326 4
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... beautiful, tactless, irritating, unknowable man – unknowable in spite of his frank gaze – we have to wait for the family biography and for the definitive study by Alan Crawford. Meanwhile FionaMacCarthy has written The Simple Life, an excellent introduction to C.R.A. and his most ambitious experiment. This was the Great Move of 1902, when he led his band of 150 craftsmen from the East End of London ...
23 February 1995
William Morris: A Life for Our Time 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 780 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 571 14250 8
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... devoted to tapestry weaving as he was to theories of surplus value. For his non-socialist admirers, the one could always be highlighted at the expense of the other: in this shrewd, stylish biography, FionaMacCarthy tells us that Stanley Baldwin once gave a speech on Morris which managed to omit all mention of his political activities, which would be rather like seeing Dickens only as a sanitation ...
19 October 2006
Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 305 pp., £20, October 2006, 0 571 22859 3
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... with a piercing laugh and no conversation, her head-scarfed profile softened only slightly by the glow of John Betjeman’s ardour. This is just the sort of ‘facile and patronising view’ that FionaMacCarthy, herself one of those who queued up to curtsey in 1958, is determined to counter. Nearly fifty years on, having spent the intervening decades hoping that nobody would find out about her ...

Oh! – only Oh!

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Burne-Jones

9 February 2012
The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 629 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 571 22861 4
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... cast here as the ‘wicked’ angel to Morris’s good – and that the two of them exchanged obscene letters that made Burne-Jones, by his own account, ‘scream with bliss’. In her new biography FionaMacCarthy describes a series of ‘brilliantly scurrilous cartoons’, now in the British Library, composed in mocking response to Swinburne’s involvement with the flamboyant American actress Adah ...

Hidden Consequences

John Mullan: Byron

6 November 2003
Byron: Life and Legend 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 674 pp., £9.99, November 2003, 0 571 17997 5
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... ever heard about him is true,’ the husky female voice-over promised. Here was a story that would excite us because of what we already thought we knew. Judging by the immediate critical response to FionaMacCarthy’s biography, the appetite for Byron’s life is indeed sharpened by all the stories we already have. In the Guardian the historian Kathryn Hughes thought that ‘Byron was indeed someone ...
5 February 2015
A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan 
by Laura Thompson.
Head of Zeus, 422 pp., £20, November 2014, 978 1 78185 536 2
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... that are easier to see: details are also emerging in the memoirs of people, especially women, who were at the time more or less silent witnesses. Among those Thompson should not have ignored are FionaMacCarthy’s The Last Curtsey (2006), a witty account of coming out at a time when debs were turning into dolly birds, and Elisabeth Luard’s My Life as a Wife (2008). Luard’s book casts a sharp ...

Francis and Vanessa

Peter Campbell

15 March 1984
Francis Bacon 
by Michel Leiris, translated by John Weightman.
Phaidon, 271 pp., £50, September 1983, 0 7148 2218 3
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Vanessa Bell 
by Frances Spalding.
Weidenfeld, 399 pp., £12.95, August 1983, 0 297 78162 6
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The Omega Workshops 
by Judith Collins.
Secker, 310 pp., £15.95, January 1984, 0 436 10562 4
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The Omega Workshops 1913-1919: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury 
Crafts Council, 96 pp., £6.95, March 1984, 0 903798 72 7Show More
The Omega Workshops: Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920 
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 80 pp., £4.95, February 1984, 0 947564 00 4Show More
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... second-hand furniture being bought in for painting-up. But attention is not being given to Omega simply because it has suddenly become fashionable to paint furniture and stencil drawing-room walls. FionaMacCarthy writes in her introduction to the Crafts Council catalogue that people have been trying to put Omega into a cupboard ‘partly because they could not see what else to do with it and partly ...

Stag at Bay

Adam Phillips: Byron in Geneva

25 August 2011
Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816 
by David Ellis.
Liverpool, 189 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 1 84631 643 2
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... evolutions punctured and punctuated by crises. Leslie Marchand, in the abbreviated version of his three-volume Byron: A Portrait, gives the summer in Geneva only 20 pages out of nearly 500, and FionaMacCarthy’s more bracing recent biography, Byron: Life and Legend, gives it just over 30 pages in her slightly longer book.* Perhaps Byron is always ill-served by biography because his ...

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