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Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal

3 February 2000
Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... I love dead, hate living,’ intones Boris Karloff’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein. He’s not alone. ‘I prefer my subjects dead,’ FredKaplan confesses in the prelude to his ambitious biography of Gore Vidal. Kaplan, a professor of English in New York whose taxidermies include Henry James, Dickens and Carlyle (they hardly get deader than ...


Richard Altick

19 July 1984
Thomas Carlyle: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Cambridge, 614 pp., £25, January 1984, 0 521 25854 5
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Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages 
by Phyllis Rose.
Chatto, 318 pp., £11.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2825 9
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A Carlyle Reader 
edited by G.B. Tennyson.
Cambridge, 544 pp., £25, May 1984, 0 521 26238 0
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... a few physical details. Logan Pearsall Smith called him ‘the Rembrandt of English prose’. In his French Revolution, his private letters, and elsewhere, he dashes off one vignette after another. FredKaplan quotes one of the less well-known of these cameo portraits, depicting the French historian Thiers: ‘a noticeable subject ... with the light eupeptic practical Gascon spirit very strong in ...

Unhappy Childhoods

John Sutherland

2 February 1989
Trollope and Character 
by Stephen Wall.
Faber, 397 pp., £17.50, September 1988, 0 571 14595 7
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The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope 
by R.H. Super.
Michigan, 528 pp., $35, December 1988, 0 472 10102 1
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Dickens: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 607 pp., £17.95, November 1988, 0 340 48558 2
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Charlotte Brontë 
by Rebecca Fraser.
Methuen, 543 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 9780413570109
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... Trollope’s personality, one which will help us understand sympathetically (and as something more than absent-mindedness) what produced a narrative as symptomatically distorted as An Autobiography. FredKaplan begins his Dickens: A Biography with the event that makes writing a biography of Dickens so frustrating. On a fine September day in 1860 the author had a gigantic bonfire at Gad’s Hill in ...


Tony Tanner

22 April 1993
The Correspondence of William James. Vol. I: William and Henry 1861-1884 
edited by Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley.
Virginia, 477 pp., £39.95, January 1993, 0 8139 1338 1
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Henry James: The Imagination of Genius 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 620 pp., £25, November 1992, 9780340555538
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... himself out of the market. As of course he did. But that is another, later story. You can read the whole Henry James story – read it again, if you have already read Leon Edel’s biography – in FredKaplan’s new biography, and it is worth the effort. Inevitably Kaplan covers much of the same ground as Edel (not to mention F.W. Dupee or R.W.B. Lewis), but, taking advantage of the copious ...

A Terrible Bad Cold

John Sutherland

27 September 1990
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 1195 pp., £19.95, September 1990, 1 85619 000 5
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... flash back to the start of things. It is a device that stakes out the territory while creating a sense of overall shape – something that even famous lives lack in the day-to-day business of living. FredKaplan’s 1988 life of Dickens began with the vivid scene of his incinerating ‘every letter he owned not on a business matter’ in a bonfire at his Gad’s Hill garden. What Kaplan ruefully ...

Nelly gets her due

John Sutherland

8 November 1990
The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 317 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 670 82787 8
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The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant 
edited by Elisabeth Jay.
Oxford, 184 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 19 818615 0
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... line which traces itself back to Nelly’s own confession supposes that she accepted Dickens’s financial support but resisted him sexually until 1862-3, and that her surrender was reluctant. FredKaplan has suggested that the relationship was sexual even before the Dickenses separated, and that there was no reluctance. Whichever side one takes, there are enigmas. Why did Dickens leave Ellen anything ...

I can’t, I can’t

Anne Diebel: Edel v. the Rest

21 November 2013
Monopolising the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship 
by Michael Anesko.
Stanford, 280 pp., £30.50, March 2012, 978 0 8047 6932 7
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... the Jameses’ or ‘to give them too much mental anguish’. (He added with alarm: ‘Biography will probably move closer to pornography.’) More recent books by Sheldon Novick (1996, 2007) and FredKaplan (1992) have served as correctives to Edel’s genteel evasion. A valiant attempt to commemorate James as he wanted to be remembered – for his work – was made by Theodora Bosanquet, his ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age

21 June 2001
The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... periods they cover, are Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976, of course), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), Washington, DC (1967) and now The Golden Age. According to Vidal’s biographer, FredKaplan, it was while at work on Lincoln, in the early 1980s, that Vidal conceived of the series in its totality (though there were earlier links, 1876 being a sequel to Burr, and both introducing characters ...

Roaming the Greenwood

Colm Tóibín: A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods

21 January 1999
A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition 
by Gregory Woods.
Yale, 448 pp., £24.95, February 1998, 0 300 07201 5
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... which I lie curled – With dreams like this, Jack’s ready for the world. ‘Something extraordinary began happening to [Henry] James in the mid-1890s, and more frequently in the next decade,’ FredKaplan wrote in his biography of James. He began to fall in love with young men. ‘James’s sexual self-consciousness,’ Kaplan continued, ‘seemed either impossibly innocent or embarrassingly ...

The Israel Lobby

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt: The Israel Lobby

23 March 2006
... have been set up at Berkeley, Brandeis and Emory. Academic administrators emphasise their pedagogical value, but the truth is that they are intended in large part to promote Israel’s image. Fred Laffer, the head of the Taub Foundation, makes it clear that his foundation funded the NYU centre to help counter the ‘Arabic [sic] point of view’ that he thinks is prevalent in NYU’s Middle ...

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