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How to Kowtow

D.J. Enright: The thoughts of China, 29 July 1999

The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds 
by Jonathan Spence.
Penguin, 279 pp., £20, May 1999, 0 7139 9313 8
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... iron to make nails.) Even the armour they wore was made from shiny paper. (In the second part of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe had ridiculed China’s trade, pitiful in comparison with ‘the universal commerce’ of Europe, and its pathetic army, furnished with erratic firearms and powder lacking in strength. What particularly annoyed Defoe in his fiction was ...

Had I been born a hero

Helen Deutsch: Female poets of the eighteenth century, 21 September 2006

Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre 
by Paula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 514 pp., £43.50, January 2006, 0 8018 8169 2
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... that suits women best: less burdened by male tradition, easier to write while distracted (remember Jane Austen, composing in the sitting-room, hiding her manuscript behind a sheet of blotting-paper when friends came to call), more congenial to the social observation that comes of having been confined indoors for centuries. Yet before the great flowering of the ...

I’ll be back

Marjorie Garber: Sequels, 19 August 1999

Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel 
edited by Paul Budra and Betty Schellenberg.
Toronto, 217 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 8020 0915 8
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... would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of her people,’ Jane Austen’s nephew wrote in his Memoir of his aunt. In this traditionary way we learned that Miss Steele never succeeded in catching the Doctor; that Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher ...


Pat Rogers, 7 August 1986

Mothers of the Novel: One Hundred Good Women Writers before Jane Austen 
by Dale Spender.
Pandora, 357 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 86358 081 5
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Scribbling Sisters 
by Dale Spender and Lynne Spender.
Camden Press, 188 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 948491 00 0
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A Woman of No Character: An Autobiography of Mrs Manley 
by Fidelis Morgan.
Faber, 176 pp., £9.95, June 1986, 0 571 13934 5
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by Fanny Burney.
Virago, 919 pp., £6.95, May 1986, 0 86068 775 9
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Millenium Hall 
by Sarah Scott.
Virago, 207 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86068 780 5
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by Susan Ferrier.
Virago, 513 pp., £4.50, February 1986, 0 86068 765 1
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by Maria Edgeworth.
Pandora, 434 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86358 074 2
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by Mary Brunton.
Pandora, 437 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 9780863580840
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The Female Quixote: The Adventures of Arabella 
by Charlotte Lennox.
Pandora, 423 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86358 080 7
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... difficulties start with her struggle to locate the material. Her ‘100 good women writers before Jane Austen’ are an arbitrary bunch, many obtained from a hacker’s job on Janet Todd’s Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800. Spender calls this a ‘Dictionary of Women Novelists’ – a significant blunder. Todd covers ...

A Djinn speaks

Colm Tóibín: What about George Yeats?, 20 February 2003

Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats 
by Ann Saddlemyer.
Oxford, 808 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 19 811232 7
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... homosexual men to confide in and gossip with, and these came in the guise of the playwright Lennox Robinson and the poet Thomas MacGreevy. Since most of Dublin suspected their homosexuality, ‘neither was a threat to the good name of Mrs W.B. Yeats,’ Saddlemyer writes. She worked with both on the Dublin Drama League, which sought to produce more ...

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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... authenticity of Charlotte Brontë’s harrowing depiction of the scene of her childhood suffering. Jane Eyre’s Lowood School was, Charlotte claimed, ‘true’ and ‘photographed’ from the reality of the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge. Those who knew the school and its director Carus Wilson (Mr Brocklehurst in the novel) furiously contradicted ...


John Sutherland, 15 September 1988

The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins 
by William Clarke.
Allison and Busby, 239 pp., £14.95, August 1988, 0 85031 960 9
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Wilkie Collins: Women, Property and Propriety 
by Philip O’Neill.
Macmillan, 238 pp., £27.50, September 1988, 9780333421994
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... his name and dates of birth and death. This has proved to be an exaggeration. Thanks to Kenneth Robinson (whose revised Wilkie Collins, A Biography came out in 1974) and now, preeminently, to William Clarke, we now know much more – especially about Collins’s family affairs, or scandals, as they would have seemed to his contemporaries. As its title ...

In search of Eaffry Johnson

Brigid Brophy, 22 January 1981

Reconstructing Aphra 
by Angeline Goreau.
Oxford, 339 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 19 822663 2
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... First she remarks that Aphra Behn wrote novels (which she calls ‘novels’) before Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, a work that Ms Goreau asserts is ‘generally termed the first novel’ – by, I must suppose, people who have not read La Princesse de Clèves or Don Quixote, let alone Genji or Daphnis and Chloe. Presently she notices that there were novels ...

Turncoats and Opportunists

Alexandra Walsham: Francis Walsingham, 5 July 2012

The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I 
by John Cooper.
Faber, 400 pp., £9.99, July 2012, 978 0 571 21827 1
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... of reform’ and may have been implicated (with other members of his family) in support for Lady Jane Grey and in Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary of 1553-54: perhaps this was one of the reasons he fled England shortly afterwards. No less formative was the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, when thousands of Protestants were slaughtered by their ...

Making Do and Mending

Rosemary Hill: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Letters, 25 September 2008

So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald 
edited by Terence Dooley.
Fourth Estate, 532 pp., £25, August 2008, 978 0 00 713640 7
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... first from Oxford had no need to feel intellectually inferior, certainly not to Robert Robinson and the ‘dread’ Malcolm Bradbury, who seem to have been especially condescending. The petty humiliations of fame, however, gave her a new comic theme for the letters. There was the impertinence of photographers, who made her sit on a coil of wet rope ...

I’m not an actress

Michael Newton: Ava Gardner, 7 September 2006

Ava Gardner 
by Lee Server.
Bloomsbury, 551 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 7475 6547 3
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... was not a bad one. She outlasted some other promising femmes fatales, such as Rita Hayworth or Jane Greer, whose movie work was effectively over by the early 1950s. In the end, her staying power was her strength. When nearly everyone of her generation was dead, retired or in TV, she produced what may be her best ever performance, in John Huston’s ...

Always the Bridesmaid

Terry Castle: Sappho, 30 September 1999

Victorian Sappho 
by Yopie Prins.
Princeton, 278 pp., £40, May 1999, 0 691 05918 7
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... off a cliff, perhaps as punishment for nameless (homosexual?) debaucheries. Still others, such as Jane McIntosh Snyder, suggest that the Phaon myth may have arisen from an ancient exegetical slip; for given the obvious mythological and metaphoric implications of the story, it is likely that if Sappho ever did refer in her songs to leaping off the White Rocks ...

Seeing Stars

Alan Bennett: Film actors, 3 January 2002

... who seemed to want to be a man and certainly behaved like one; and the wholesome but plain Jane Wyman, who, on account of the plainness and wholesomeness, could be relied on in the end to get her man, homespun values always winning out against brittle sophistication. The supreme exponent of brittle sophistication was Bette Davis, and for my aunties in ...

Benign Promiscuity

Clair Wills: Molly Keane’s Bad Behaviour, 18 March 2021

Good Behaviour 
by Molly Keane.
NYRB, 291 pp., £12, May, 978 1 68137 529 8
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... book?” Nannie asked, incredulous.’) He knows not to admit to poetry, and claims he was deep in Robinson Crusoe, but this makes him guilty of lying as well as verse. Mrs Brock is, naturally, immediately dismissed, and soon arrives in Ireland to corrupt the children at Temple Alice.Aroon’s narrative unfolds in a style in which everything is explained and ...

A Favourite of the Laws

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 13 June 1991

Married Women’s Separate Property in England, 1660-1833 
by Susan Staves.
Harvard, 290 pp., £27.95, April 1990, 0 674 55088 9
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The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship and the Life of the Mind in 18th-century England 
by Sylvia Harcstark Myers.
Oxford, 342 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 19 811767 1
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Portrait of a Friendship: Drawn from New Letters of James Russell Lowell to Sybella Lady Lyttleton 1881-1891 
by Alethea Hayter.
Michael Russell, 267 pp., £16.95, September 1990, 0 85955 167 9
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Fierce Communion: Family and Community in Early America 
by Helena Wall.
Harvard, 243 pp., £23.95, August 1990, 0 674 29958 2
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... be brought up in the Patriot din of Liberty and property and to be allow’d neither?’ Elizabeth Robinson inquired as a young woman. As Mrs Montagu, she would eventually acquire a considerable measure of both – but only after the death of the man by whose name she has since been known to posterity. None of the women Syliva Myers includes in the first ...

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