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Poetry is a horrible waste of time

Frances Wilson: Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 28 October 1999

Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Selected Poetry 
edited by Judith Higgens and Michael Bradshaw.
Carcanet, 116 pp., £8.95, June 1999, 1 85754 408 0
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... I ought to have been among other things a good poet,’ Thomas Lovell Beddoes wrote in the postscript to the brief and perfunctory note he left before swallowing a lethal dose of poison. He was 45 years old and had published nothing, save the odd poem, for a quarter of a century. In 1821, as a precocious Oxford undergraduate, he had brought out a volume called The Improvisatore, which was followed in 1822 by a verse drama, The Brides’ Tragedy ...

The Italy of Human Beings

Frances Wilson: Felicia Hemans, 16 November 2000

Felicia Hemans: ‘Records of Woman’ with Other Poems 
edited by Paula Feldman.
Kentucky, 248 pp., £15.50, September 1999, 0 8131 0964 7
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... Mrs Hemans – or Hewomans, as Byron called her, for no one was less of a he-man than Felicia – was lavishly praised in her lifetime, and second only to Byron in popularity and sales. But while Byron was disowned by the Victorians, embarrassed that this ‘huge sulky dandy’, as Thomas Carlyle called him, should have received so much adoration and respect, Felicia Hemans’s reputation grew, and her work went out of print only after the First World War ...

At Free Love Corner

Jenny Diski, 30 March 2000

Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 258 pp., £12.99, October 1999, 0 571 19288 2
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... and end of my fishlike emotion.’ Seduction is a process of leading astray, and all writing, Frances Wilson contends, attempts to seduce, to distract the reader from the world around him to the world on the page. Her conviction that all seducers have themselves been seduced leads to the notion that writers, having been ensnared by writing, become ...

I am the thing itself

Rosemary Hill: Hooray for Harriette, 25 September 2003

Harriette Wilson’s ‘Memoirs’ 
edited by Lesley Blanch.
Phoenix, 472 pp., £9.99, December 2002, 1 84212 632 6
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The Courtesan’s Revenge: Harriette Wilson, the Woman who Blackmailed the King 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 338 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20504 6
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... Most people know two things about Harriette Wilson, one of which is untrue. She is rightly famous for that most tantalising of opening sentences: ‘I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of 15, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.’ With it she ushered in her Memoirs, published in 1825 as a frankly commercial venture ...

The Animalcule

Nicholas Spice: Little Mr De Quincey, 17 May 2017

Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey 
by Frances Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 397 pp., £25, April 2016, 978 1 4088 3977 5
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... decades of the 19th century, it’s not clear De Quincey would have come to anything. But, as Frances Wilson says, the benefit was reciprocal: ‘De Quincey helped shape a new kind of professional critic and a new literary genre.’ The ephemerality of the periodical essay suited his temperament. The conversational mode of the medium – its ...

Out of Babel

Michael Hofmann: Thomas Bernhard Traduced, 14 December 2017

Collected Poems 
by Thomas Bernhard, translated by James Reidel.
Chicago, 459 pp., £25, June 2017, 978 0 85742 426 6
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... in an exquisitely bound volume from Notting Hill Editions, with a justly amused introduction by Frances Wilson: ‘Few writers have received more applause than Thomas Bernhard, Austrian novelist, playwright and enfant terrible, and few have bitten more sharply the hand that clapped.’ But, still staggering on, the effort continues. James Reidel, who ...

Political Purposes

Frances Spalding: Art in postwar Britain, 15 April 1999

New Art New World: British Art in Postwar Society 
by Margaret Garlake.
Yale, 279 pp., £35, July 1998, 0 300 07292 9
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Cultural Offensive: America’s Impact on British Art since 1945 
by John Walker.
Pluto, 304 pp., £45, September 1988, 0 7453 1321 3
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... an unacknowledged arm of the Foreign Office. Garlake quotes a letter, first brought to light in Frances Donaldson’s history of the British Council, in which a member of the Foreign Office admitted that the Cold War ‘is in essence a battle for men’s minds’ and that ‘the British Council is one of our chief agencies for fighting it.’ From the ...

Right-ons

Jenny Turner, 24 October 1991

Gaudi Afternoon 
by Barbara Wilson.
Virago, 172 pp., £4.99, August 1991, 1 85381 264 1
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The players come again 
by Amanda Cross.
Virago, 229 pp., £12.99, August 1991, 1 85381 306 0
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Poetic Justice 
by Amanda Cross.
Virago, 176 pp., £4.99, August 1991, 1 85381 025 8
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Birth Marks 
by Sarah Dunant.
Joseph, 230 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 7181 3511 3
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Burn Marks 
by Sara Paretsky.
Virago, 340 pp., £4.99, April 1991, 9781853812798
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Deep Sleep 
by Frances Fyfield.
Heinemann, 198 pp., £13.99, September 1991, 0 434 27426 7
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... realist blockbusters, and if you’ve been to Barcelona for a brief holiday recently, Barbara Wilson’s Gaudi Afternoon is just the novel for you. It has a great new heroine, Cassandra Reilly, an Irish-American dyke of fortysomething, who seems to spend her life sorting out people’s problems here and there, translating the odd thing from the Spanish ...

Good as boys

Penelope Fitzgerald, 15 August 1991

The Best Type of Girl: A History of the Girls’ Independent Schools 
by Gillian Avery.
Deutsch, 410 pp., £20, January 1991, 0 233 98642 1
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There’s something about a convent girl 
edited by Jackie Bennett and Rosemary Forgan.
Virago, 217 pp., £4.99, January 1991, 1 85381 308 7
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... of Gillian Avery’s book are the distant, half-familiar figures of extraordinary women, pioneers: Frances Buss of North London Collegiate, Dorothea Beale of Cheltenham, Frances Dove of Wycombe Abbey, Lydia Rous of The Mount. ‘A pupil at The Mount remembered saying loudly: “Well, I hate her.” A voice outside said ...

This Trying Time

A.N. Wilson: John Sparrow, 1 October 1998

The Warden 
by John Lowe.
HarperCollins, 258 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 215392 0
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... An odder vagueness occurs when he tells us out of the blue that Sparrow was the friend of ‘Mrs Frances Horner, a relation and friend of the Asquiths who as a widow lived at Mells’. This implies that ‘the Asquiths of Mells’ had taken her in as a lodger. In fact, Frances Graham, one of the favourite and most ...

Scoutmaster General

Peter Clarke, 24 September 1992

Tony Benn 
by Jad Adams.
Macmillan, 576 pp., £20, July 1992, 0 333 52558 2
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The End of an Era: Diaries, 1980-1990 
by Tony Benn, edited by Ruth Winstone.
Hutchinson, 704 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 09 174857 7
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... the Scoutmaster General. This was, of course, the golden age of another Congregationalist, Harold Wilson. Though his much misunderstood resignation from the Attlee Government in 1951 had identified him as a Bevanite, Wilson spent most of the following decade trying to build bridges with the Gaitskellite leadership, whose ...

Too Many Pears

Thomas Keymer: Frances Burney, 26 August 2015

The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney 1786-91, Vols III-IV: 1788 
edited by Lorna Clark.
Oxford, 824 pp., £225, September 2014, 978 0 19 968814 2
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... When​ Frances Burney’s journals were published by her niece in a seven-volume series of highlights (Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, 1842-46), they were savaged by John Wilson Croker in the Tory Quarterly Review. Hatchet jobs were Croker’s speciality: it was his review of Endymion that Byron joked was the cause of Keats’s death in Don Juan (‘’Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,/Should let itself be snuff’d out by an article ...

‘A Naughty House’

Charles Nicholl: Shakespeare’s Landlord, 24 June 2010

... resident in the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate, and a woman from Whitechapel called Frances Williams. The charge was fornication. Though not in itself unusual, the charge had an extra twist, repeated with minor variations in most of the entries relating to it: ‘they were all 4 seene in bed together at one tyme.’ The documentation is ...

Gaiety

Frank Kermode, 8 June 1995

Angus Wilson 
by Margaret Drabble.
Secker, 714 pp., £20, May 1995, 0 436 20038 4
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... At a party given forty-odd years ago by the suddenly-famous Angus Wilson, Dwight Macdonald ‘introduced himself, American-style, to Rose Macaulay, describing himself as an editor of the Partisan Review and founder of his own journal Politics: she stared at him and said, “Have you come all the way across the room to tell me that? How kind ...

Lucky’s Dip

James Fox, 12 November 1987

Trail of Havoc: In the Steps of Lord Lucan 
by Patrick Marnham.
Viking, 204 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 670 81391 5
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Lucan: Not Guilty 
by Sally Moore.
Sidgwick, 271 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 9780283995361
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... Goldsmith from January 1976 to May 1977. The Eye had been investigating possible links between Wilson and the KGB, using material leaked to them by MI5 – the first evidence of that MI5 subversion of the Wilson Government dealt with by famous Peter Wright. Lady Falkender and ...

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