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Elaine Showalter and English Showalter: The first black female novelist?

18 August 2005
In Search of Hannah CraftsCritical Essays on ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ 
edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr and Hollis Robbins.
Basic Books, 458 pp., £17.50, January 2005, 0 465 02708 3
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... manuscript of the ‘earliest known novel by a female African-American slave and probably the earliest known novel by a black woman anywhere’. According to the article, the novel, signed by HannahCrafts and called ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’, was the story of a woman’s life as a house slave on the North Carolina plantation of John Hill Wheeler, her escape to New Jersey in 1857, and her ...

The Shape of Absence

Hilary Mantel: The Bondwoman’s Narrative

8 August 2002
The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel 
by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates.
Virago, 338 pp., £10.99, May 2002, 1 86049 013 1
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... adhere to the page have been pressed down with a thimble. Visitors to Jane Austen’s cottage at Chawton notice that Jane’s sewing box is bigger than her writing box. It may have been the same with HannahCrafts. Where had this manuscript been? Its early adventures are uncertain. Before 1948 it seems to have been in an attic in New Jersey. Then it was bought by the black historian and bibliographer ...

Spurious, Glorious

Lavinia Greenlaw: Three Long Poems

13 September 2018
Three Poems 
by Hannah​ Sullivan.
Faber, 73 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 0 571 33767 5
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... The long poem​ pre-empts its own significance. We expect more of it and less of ourselves, adjusting our pace and investing in the big picture. Hannah Sullivan’s majestic debut offers three big pictures – birth, coming of age and death – but this isn’t a triptych. Instead, these themes extend across the book, with the poems acting as a set ...

‘We would rather eat our cake than merely have it’

Rosemary Hill: Victorian men and women

4 October 2001
A Circle of Sisters: Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin 
by Judith Flanders.
Penguin, 392 pp., £17.99, September 2001, 0 670 88673 4
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The Hated Wife: Carrie Kipling 1862-1939 
by Adam Nicolson.
Short Books, 96 pp., £4.99, May 2001, 0 571 20835 5
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Victorian Diaries: The Daily Lives of Victorian Men and Women 
edited by Heather Creaton.
Mitchell Beazley, 144 pp., £14.99, February 2001, 1 84000 359 6
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... who, throughout their childhood, was sent from mission to mission in Birmingham, Sheffield and London. Flanders is good on the domestic implications of this and much else. It was their mother, Hannah, who bore the brunt of the struggle on a tiny income, the laborious process of moving, the new starts in strange houses, most of them undertaken in the course of one of her 11 pregnancies. The ...

Toxic Lozenges

Jenny Diski: Arsenic

8 July 2010
The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work and Play 
by James Whorton.
Oxford, 412 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 0 19 957470 4
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... in 1848 of killing her brother for the burial money. She probably also poisoned her husband and at least some of her 14 children – ‘most of whom died suddenly’. May, in her turn, had taught Hannah Ham (the names chime gay as nursery rhymes and Dr Seuss) how to kill her husband with arsenic. Local women talked of ‘white powdering’ their husbands and children, ‘seasoning a pie’ or ...

Like a Manta Ray

Jenny Turner: The Entire History of Sex

21 October 2015
The Argonauts 
by Maggie Nelson.
Graywolf, 143 pp., £23, May 2015, 978 1 55597 707 8
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... a poet of plain language – William Carlos Williams would be another hero, also George Oppen, also Eileen Myles – Nelson finds her artistic focus drawn in two main directions. On the one hand, she crafts her words until she gets them to ‘facet’ as accurately as she can: ‘How to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is OK – desirable even … whereas for others ...

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