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Uneasy Guest

Hermione Lee: Coetzee in London

11 July 2002
Youth 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 169 pp., £14.99, May 2002, 0 436 20582 3
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... By comparison with the acclaim for Disgrace, and the respectful reception of Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Youth has been met here with some disappointed and negative reviews (‘a tortuous exercise in intellectual introspection, and not much else’; ‘as fiction it is so interior and cerebral, it fails to engage’; ‘not wholly satisfactory as either novel or memoir’). Is the tide turning ...

I like you

Hermione Lee: Boston Marriage

24 May 2007
Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England 
by Sharon Marcus.
Princeton, 356 pp., £12.95, March 2007, 978 0 691 12835 1
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... In 1852, Elizabeth Barrett Browning met the expatriate American actress Charlotte Cushman (famous for her trouser roles) and her companion Matilda Hays, a writer and feminist. They had ‘made vows of celibacy and of eternal attachment to each other – they live together, dress alike,’ Barrett Browning wrote to her sister. ‘It is a female marriage.’ She added that she had remarked, after the ...

All Reputation

Hermione Lee: Eliza and Clara

17 October 2002
The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch 
by Anne Enright.
Cape, 230 pp., £12.99, September 2002, 0 224 06269 7
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Clara 
by Janice Galloway.
Cape, 425 pp., £10.99, June 2002, 0 224 05049 4
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... Both these outstanding women novelists have decided, with deliberate and rewarding feminist intent, to resuscitate and make central the lives of women whose stories have been overshadowed by the men they spent their lives with. Both have placed so-called women’s subject-matter – domestic details, clothes, female bodies, sexuality and pleasure, pregnancy and childbirth – at the centre of their ...

Bewitchment

James Wood

8 December 1994
Shadow Dance 
by Angela Carter.
Virago, 182 pp., £9.99, September 1994, 1 85381 840 2
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Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter 
edited by Lorna Sage.
Virago, 358 pp., £8.99, September 1994, 1 85381 760 0
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... this in an essay on Carter in the New York Review of Books in April 1992, nine weeks after her death, and he is the wicked uncle of Lorna Sage’s collection of critical essays, Flesh and the Mirror. HermioneLee, in an intelligent and warm-hearted defence of Carter, calls Bayley’s essay ‘a striking exercise in insidious disparagement’; Elaine Jordan, in a less eloquent contribution, calls it ‘a ...

Firm Lines

Hermione Lee

17 November 1983
Bartleby in Manhattan, and Other Essays 
by Elizabeth Hardwick.
Weidenfeld, 292 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 297 78357 2
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... Alabama street where a group of Civil Rights demonstrators is standing. A girl in Professor Adorno’s classroom in Frankfurt takes off all her clothes as he discourses on the dangers of spontaneity. Lee Harvey Oswald is photographed holding up two guns, together with the Daily Worker and the Trotskyite Militant: ‘There he stands in the midst of his iconography.’ It is the job of the ‘defining ...

Wangling

Hermione Lee: Katherine Anne Porter

12 February 2009
Collected Stories and Other Writings 
by Katherine Anne Porter, edited by Darlene Harbour Unrue.
Library of America, 1039 pp., $40, October 2008, 978 1 59853 029 2
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... It is 1912, and Miranda Gay, one of Katherine Anne Porter’s versions of her younger self, is travelling to a family reunion in South Texas, in the country between Austin and San Antonio. She has made a rash early marriage and alienated herself from her family. She talks to an elderly woman cousin on the train, who bursts out: ‘Ah, the family … the whole hideous institution should be wiped from ...

Smashing the Teapots

Jacqueline Rose

23 January 1997
Virginia Woolf 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 722 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 7011 6507 3
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... turn a blind eye’. Even now business carries on as usual in Oxford Street, though it wouldn’t be altogether unreasonable to expect poison gas, or at any rate a bomb. It is a great strength of HermioneLee’s major new biography of Virginia Woolf that she never lets us forget just how closely Woolf’s life, and her death, were shadowed by the two wars. In a moment of extreme depression during the ...

Pioneering

Janet Todd

21 December 1989
Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up 
by Hermione Lee.
Virago, 409 pp., £12.99, October 1989, 0 86068 661 2
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... on a leash by a beautiful lady’. But having read Willa Cather: A Life Saved, I feel she guards the secret of her greatness, if that is what she has, and leaves an impression of talents sold short. HermioneLee, so sensitive an interviewer on television, has not quite interviewed Cather successfully. This may be because Lee refuses to discuss so many cruxes. She says that she wants to avoid the special ...

Gatsby of the Boulevards

Hermione Lee: Morton Fullerton

8 March 2001
Mysteries of Paris: The Quest for Morton Fullerton 
by Marion Mainwaring.
New England, 327 pp., £23, March 2001, 1 58465 008 7
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... In the spring of 1907, a few weeks after Edith Wharton had met Morton Fullerton in Paris, she described him to a mutual friend as ‘very intelligent, but slightly mysterious, I think’. Eight years later, by which time her passionate affair with Fullerton was long over, Henry James, in one of his last letters to her, confirmed her first thoughts about the man who had fascinated them both. ‘WMF ...

Self-Made Man

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Edith Wharton’s Domestic Arrangements

5 April 2007
Edith Wharton 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 853 pp., £25, February 2007, 978 0 7011 6665 6
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... that myth is itself one of her many creations. Though the mature novelist would express great scorn for the American belief in perpetual self-improvement, the construction of Edith Wharton, as HermioneLee’s biography demonstrates, was a lifelong activity. The absence of Wharton’s important women friends from A Backward Glance, Lee suggests, intensifies the impression that the achievement was ...

Too late to die early

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Virginia Woolf and Harriet Martineaun in the sick room

5 February 2004
Life in the Sick-Room 
by Harriet Martineau, edited by Maria Frawley.
Broadview, 260 pp., £8.99, March 2003, 1 55111 265 5
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On Being Ill 
by Virginia Woolf, edited by Hermione Lee.
Paris Press, 28 pp., £15, October 2002, 1 930464 06 1
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... a striking figure for the process: ‘taking his pain in one hand, and a lump of pure sound in the other . . . so to crush them together that a brand new word in the end drops out.’ The essay, HermioneLee explains, had its origins in a fainting spell Woolf suffered at a party given by her sister Vanessa at Charleston in the summer of 1925, which was followed by months of illness marked by terrible ...

Magical Realism

D.A.N. Jones

1 August 1985
The House of the Spirits 
by Isabel Allende, translated by Magda Bogin.
Cape, 368 pp., £8.95, July 1985, 0 224 02231 8
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Linden Hills 
by Gloria Naylor.
Hodder, 304 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 9780340360330
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Careful with the Sharks 
by Constantine Phipps.
Cape, 216 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 9780224023085
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... when Marina Warner asserted on television that the book ‘gives you an astonishing understanding of a political situation’. On the same day, Marilyn Butler was equally effusive on Radio 3 and HermioneLee assured us in the Observer that the author has ‘impeccably heroic socialist and feminist credentials’. My daughter-in-law brought home Cosmopolitan with a long extract, prettily illustrated ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald

19 December 2013
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... in Battersea. She made her own clothes from material bought in the sales, and seemed never to acquire a handbag: acquaintances remember a trusty William Morris carrier, and she took a spongebag, HermioneLee reports, to the Booker dinner. In her letters she uses the dotty-lady schtick for two main purposes. It’s there to entertain and mollify her daughters, on whom she depended for all sorts of ...

Good enough for Jesus

Charlotte Brewer

25 January 1990
The State of the Language: 1990 Edition 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels.
Faber, 531 pp., £17.50, January 1990, 9780571141821
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Clichés and Coinages 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 305 pp., £17.50, October 1989, 0 631 15691 7
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Rhetoric: The Wit of Persuasion 
by Walter Nash.
Blackwell, 241 pp., £25, October 1989, 0 631 16754 4
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... speech or writing) make any headway against langue (the language system)? The problem is exactly analogous to that faced by feminists, and in the section on ‘The Body Politic’ Marina Warner, HermioneLee and Sandra Gilbert explore the ways in which women might or do speak and write so as to convey their experience in a way that communicates a female point of view without being disenfranchising ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann

7 January 1999
John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... and part-time commercial traveller at the Hogarth Press. They had already run through two assistants, but, all the same, Wright is perhaps rather too hard on them. In her biography of Virginia Woolf, HermioneLee describes Lehmann as one of the ‘ambitious, thwarted, talented young men’ who ‘rubbed up against Leonard’s adamantine proprietariness and perfectionism ... It was a well-known joke among ...

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