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A Stick on Fire

Gillian Beer, 7 February 1985

Clarkey: A Portrait in Letters of Mary Clarke Mohl 1793-1883 
by Margaret Lesser.
Oxford, 235 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 211787 4
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George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form 
by Suzanne Graver.
California, 340 pp., £22.70, August 1984, 0 520 04802 4
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... In her first public writing after her elopement with George Henry Lewes in 1854, George Eliot compared the position of women in England and in France: ‘in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language, making crisp and definite what is elsewhere heavy and blurred.’ And, writing under cover of anonymity for the Westminster Review, she declared that one reason for the achievement of women in France is ‘laxity of opinion and practice with regard to the marriage-tie ...

What about the aeroplanes?

Gillian Beer, 23 April 1987

The Essays of Virginia Woolf: Vol. 1 1904-1912 
edited by Andrew McNeillie.
Hogarth, 411 pp., £20, November 1986, 0 7012 0666 7
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The Interrupted Moment: A View of Virginia Woolf’s Novels 
by Lucio Ruotolo.
Stanford, 262 pp., $29.50, November 1986, 0 8047 1342 1
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Virginia Woolf and the Real World 
by Alex Zwerdling.
California, 370 pp., £24.95, October 1986, 0 520 05684 1
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... If one spirit animates the whole, what about the aeroplanes?’ queries a character in Virginia Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts. Both Alex Zwerdling in Virginia Woolf and the Real World and Lucio Ruotolo in The Interrupted Moment engage with the implications of this question – though neither has much to say about aeroplanes. Zwerdling concentrates on Woolf’s ‘intense interest in the life of society and its effect on the individual’; Ruotolo emphasises ‘the rhythm of broken sequence ...

Englamouring the humdrum

Rosemary Ashton, 23 November 1989

Arguing with the past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney 
by Gillian Beer.
Routledge, 206 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 415 02607 5
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Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays 
edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor.
Cambridge, 306 pp., £35, July 1989, 0 521 35383 1
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... Gillian Beer’s Arguing with the past, a collection of essays published in recent years (with one, on Richardson and Milton, dating from as long ago as 1968), is richly written, contains many sharp critical insights, and shows the author to have a good ear for nuances of language in the literary works she chooses to discuss ...

Homage to Mrs Brater

Rosemary Ashton, 7 August 1986

George Eliot 
by Gillian Beer.
Harvester, 272 pp., £16.95, May 1986, 0 7108 0506 3
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German Women in the 18th and 19th Centuries: A Social and Literary History 
edited by Ruth-Ellen Joeres and Mary Jo Maynes.
Indiana, 356 pp., $29.95, January 1986, 0 253 32578 1
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Red Jenny: A Life with Karl Marx 
by H.F. Peters.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 04 928053 8
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Wives of Fame: Mary Livingstone, Jenny Marx, Emma Darwin 
by Edna Healey.
Sidgwick, 210 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 283 98552 6
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A Mid-Victorian Feminist: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon 
by Sheila Herstein.
Yale, 224 pp., £16.95, January 1986, 0 300 03317 6
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George Eliot and Blackmail 
by Alexander Welsh.
Harvard, 400 pp., £20.50, November 1985, 0 674 34872 9
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... ambivalence on the woman question is discussed, among other things, in two recent books, by Gillian Beer and Alexander Welsh. Gillian Beer, with a nice sense of the difficulty of taking up a single-minded position on the question of whether George Eliot was more liberated or more constrained about women’s ...

Taking Darwin in

Michael Mason, 16 February 1984

Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and 19th-Century Fiction 
by Gillian Beer.
Routledge, 303 pp., £17.95, September 1983, 0 7100 9505 8
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... that too often scuttle to a modish vocabulary for refuge (it is undignified in a scholar of Mrs Beer’s seniority to use ‘deconstruct’ when she means ‘dismantle’, ‘recuperate’ when she means ‘recover’, and ‘fracture’ and ‘problematise’ when she means scarcely anything at all). She feels the nuclearity of The Origin, how you can go ...

Learning to speak

Gay Clifford, 21 February 1980

Gya/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 485 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7043 2829 1
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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 719 pp., £15.75, October 1980, 0 300 02286 7
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Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes 
by Margaret Dickie Uroff.
Illinois, 235 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 252 00734 4
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Women Writing and Writing about Women 
edited by Mary Jacobus.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 85664 745 4
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... distinguished collection, valuable to anyone interested in 19th and 20th-century literature. Gillian Beer on George Eliot and Woolf, Cora Kaplan on Emily Dickinson, Showalter on feminist poetics, Elaine Feinstein on Tsvetayeva, Goode on Jude the Obscure, Jacobus on Villette, all offer criticism that is original in its detail and tough-minded in its ...

How to Be Good

Elaine Showalter: Carol Shields, 11 July 2002

by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 213 pp., £16.99, May 2002, 0 00 713770 2
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... Austen’s plot, which she called ‘a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden’. Recently Gillian Beer even announced the death of the traditional women’s novel: instead of the masochistic themes of unrequited love, she said at the Hay Festival, ‘women have freed themselves to write more forcefully about much larger ...

Bright Blue Dark Blue

Rosemary Hill: ‘Weatherland’, 5 November 2015

by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 432 pp., £24.95, September 2015, 978 0 500 51811 3
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... theory on the art and literature of the 19th century – by James Secord in Victorian Sensation, Gillian Beer in Darwin’s Plots and A.N. Wilson in God’s Funeral – that it is surprising as well as frustrating that Harris takes no account of it. Had she been more curious about the variety and striking contrasts that characterise Victorian weather it ...

Such a Husband

John Bayley, 4 September 1997

Selected Letters of George Meredith 
edited by Mohammad Shaheen.
Macmillan, 312 pp., £47.50, April 1997, 0 333 56349 2
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... of himself and Mary, still in a sense attempting to exorcise its trauma by means of art. (Gillian Beer has explored this brilliantly in Meredith: A Change of Masks.) Dramatised on the stage, the relationship could have shown a conflict of almost Ibsenian power, presented in terms of modernised Restoration Comedy. Sadly, the fine project was never ...


Ian Sansom: D.J. Enright, 25 September 2003

Injury Time: A Memoir 
by D.J. Enright.
Pimlico, 183 pp., £12.50, May 2003, 9781844133154
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... Within a couple of paragraphs in Injury Time, he moves from Yeats to David Beckham to Dame Gillian Beer – consummations devoutly to be desired. He is consistently pleasantly unpredictable, in the way that, say, E.B. White was consistently pleasantly unpredictable, or perhaps Alastair Cooke delivering his weekly Letter from America. Picking up a ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers, 10 November 1988

The Faber Book of Seductions 
edited by Jenny Newman.
Faber, 366 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 571 15110 8
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Journeys to the Underworld 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 226 pp., £10, October 1988, 9780701132231
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... from his noble purpose – or, in Adam’s case, his noble lack of purpose – is now praised, as Gillian Beer has praised her, for being ‘the first scientist’. (Pitt-Kethley, who, unlike most of her sisters, is a feminist in practice as well as in her reading, makes the somewhat sophistical point that ‘it was only Adam who got kicked out of the ...


Patricia Beer, 8 November 1979

The Intruder 
by Gillian Tindall.
Hodder, 286 pp., £5.95
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Mother Can You Hear Me? 
by Margaret Forster.
Secker, 269 pp., £5.90
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Treasures of Time 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 199 pp., £4.95
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Wild Nights 
by Emma Tennant.
Cape, 134 pp., £4.50
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... many points throughout The Intruder fantasy and reality come together in this way. In the preface, Gillian Tindall states that she is not writing about identifiable people or places, yet what she relates is firmly based on actual events, including the final tragedy; it is also the stuff of nightmares. ‘History couldn’t possibly be true because it was too ...

Seeing through Fuller

Nicholas Penny, 30 March 1989

Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace 
by Peter Fuller.
Chatto, 260 pp., £15, November 1988, 0 7011 2942 5
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Seeing through Berger 
by Peter Fuller.
Claridge, 176 pp., £8.95, November 1988, 1 870626 75 3
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Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain. Vol. IX: Since the Second World War 
edited by Boris Ford.
Cambridge, 369 pp., £19.50, November 1988, 0 521 32765 2
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Ruskin’s Myths 
by Dinah Birch.
Oxford, 212 pp., £22.50, August 1988, 9780198128724
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The Sun is God: Painting, Literature and Mythology in the 19th Century 
edited by J.B. Bullen.
Oxford, 230 pp., £27.50, March 1989, 0 19 812884 3
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Artisans and Architects: The Ruskinian Tradition in Architectural Thought 
by Mark Swenarton.
Macmillan, 239 pp., £35, February 1989, 0 333 46460 5
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... self-indulgence, the dotty and at times distracted character of much of Ruskin’s later writings. Gillian Beer, in a scintillating, funny and touching contribution to The Sun is God, which concerns Darwin’s work on earthworms and Victorian anxieties about the death of the Sun, admits parenthetically that her imaginative pursuit of the latter question ...


Ian Hamilton: Novels for the Bright, Modern Woman, 1 July 1982

... expect to divert tough, fast-moving types like Sue Davie and Jane Forsyth: An Easter Egg Hunt by Gillian Freeman is set in a boarding-school during the First World War and has a heroine whose shame is that she has to have an abortion, and Columbine by Raymond Kennedy stars a ‘13-year-old girl wise and foolish beyond her years’. The year is circa 1945. It ...

We must think!

Jenny Turner: Hannah Arendt’s Islands, 4 November 2021

Hannah Arendt 
by Samantha Rose Hill.
Reaktion, 232 pp., £11.99, August 2021, 978 1 78914 379 9
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... should on no account now wish to have missed’. Varnhagen, Luxemburg and Arendt form Gillian Rose’s central trio of outsider women thinkers in The Broken Middle (1992), excluded from all clubs by ethnicity and gender, but who learned to use that exclusion as a ‘coign of vantage, in letters as in life’. ‘It was,’ as Arendt put it, ‘the ...

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