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‘This is not a biography’

Jacqueline Rose: Sylvia Plath, 22 August 2002

... that they take sides. In The Silent Woman (1994), her openly partisan study of Plath biography, Janet Malcolm insists that this is unavoidable: ‘As the reader knows, I, too, have taken a side.’ One flier for her book stated: ‘A writer finds Ted Hughes innocent but biographies as a group guilty,’ which suggests the process is interminable and ...

It’s Been a Lot of Fun

David Runciman: Hitchens’s Hitchens, 24 June 2010

Hitch-22: A Memoir 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 435 pp., £20, June 2010, 978 1 84354 921 5
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... detail. Was there really no note for Peter? And why does Christopher feel the need to tell us so? Janet Malcolm recently published a short fragment from an abandoned autobiography, explaining why journalists should not memorialise themselves. Another obstacle in the way of the journalist turned autobiographer is the pose of objectivity into which ...

She gives me partridges

Bee Wilson: Alma Mahler, 5 November 2015

Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler 
by Oliver Hilmes, translated by Donald Arthur.
Northeastern, 360 pp., £29, May 2015, 978 1 55553 789 0
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... light, and told false stories about their life together. (‘The silence of the famous dead,’ as Janet Malcolm put it, ‘offers an enormous temptation to the self-promoting living.’) Alma even interfered with Mahler’s compositions, demanding – based on her authority as the widow – that the middle movements of his Sixth Symphony be reordered ...

Sorrows of a Polygamist

Mark Ford: Ted Hughes in His Cage, 17 March 2016

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life 
by Jonathan Bate.
William Collins, 662 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 00 811822 8
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... which has been roundly condemned not only by the estate but in reviews by such as Craig Raine and Janet Malcolm, is yet further evidence that accusations of betrayal and threats of violence are likely to engulf anyone who tries to interpret the Hughes-Plath saga and its aftermath. Jacqueline Rose inspired a ferocious epistolary assault from Hughes for ...

Mother! Oh God! Mother!

Jenny Diski: ‘Psycho’, 7 January 2010

‘Psycho’ in the Shower: The History of Cinema’s Most Famous Scene 
by Philip Skerry.
Continuum, 316 pp., £12.99, June 2009, 978 0 8264 2769 4
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... Hitchcock said that this revolution in movie habits was necessary because having seen Janet Leigh’s starry name on the awning, people who arrived halfway through the movie would spend the rest of the film wondering where she was. I remember it clearly, although I wasn’t old enough to get in to see the X-rated Psycho when it came out. In the ...

Unnatural Rebellion

Malcolm Gaskill: ‘Witches’, 2 November 2017

The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present 
by Ronald Hutton.
Yale, 360 pp., £25, August 2017, 978 0 300 22904 2
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... bothered with the law. In 1705 in the fishing village of Pittenweem in Fife a mob set about Janet Cornfoot, who they believed had cast spells on the community. They dragged her to the harbour, hung her by the ankles, pelted her with stones, crushed her under a door piled with rocks, then ran her over with a cart. Cornfoot’s lynching may seem ...

Stiffed

David Runciman: Occupy, 25 October 2012

The Occupy Handbook 
edited by Janet Byrne.
Back Bay, 535 pp., $15.99, April 2012, 978 0 316 22021 7
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... common with the second. Direct democracy and representative democracy remain poles apart. In 2010, Malcolm Gladwell was widely criticised for an article he wrote in the New Yorker about the Iranian ‘green’ revolution, which disputed the far-reaching political effects of social networking. ‘The revolution will not be tweeted,’ Gladwell insisted. The ...

If everybody had a Wadley

Terry Castle: ‘Joe’ Carstairs, the ‘fastest woman on water’, 5 March 1998

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water 
by Kate Summerscale.
Fourth Estate, 248 pp., £12.99, August 1997, 1 85702 360 9
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... a beautiful man, smoked cigars, and was pursued from race to race by a gaggle of female fans. (Sir Malcolm Campbell of Bluebird fame called her – apparently without irony – ‘the greatest sportsman I know’.) Special ‘friends’ included the lesbian actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar. Carstairs, the Evening News reported in 1925, could ...

Courage, mon amie

Terry Castle: Disquiet on the Western Front, 4 April 2002

... point, early in 1915, when Brittain, still at Somerville, contemplates enlisting as a VAD nurse: Janet Adie came to tea to help me learn to typewrite. She is feeling very busy because she now has the secretaryship of one of those soup-kitchen affairs on her shoulders. It does not sound very strenuous occupation; these people who never had anything to do ...

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