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Mrs G

John Bayley

11 March 1993
Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 690 pp., £20, February 1993, 0 571 15182 5
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... internal one. The fact remains that I would rather read about them and about their background, in such an excellent biography as this one is, than re-enter today the world of her own novels. JennyUglow is an erudite Victorianist, presenting with great deftness and understanding a dynamic and densely peopled world of journalists and Unitarians, clergymen, railway engineers, the labouring poor, the ...

How They Brought the Good News

Colin Kidd: Britain’s Napoleonic Wars

20 November 2014
In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 739 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 571 26952 5
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... mythology fixated on the achievements of Nelson, Wellington and Sir John Moore at Corunna tends to filter out fear and uncertainty in favour of a seemingly inevitable procession of victories. As JennyUglow stresses in her gripping account of Britain during the Napoleonic era, contemporaries had no such feeling of security. There were major invasion scares in 1798 and 1803, prompting defensive ...

Sex Sex Sex

Mark Kishlansky: Charles II

27 May 2010
A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 580 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 0 571 21733 5
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... Charles, would that be a signal for a peaceful restoration or another military coup? Charles II chanced his life and his crown when he returned unarmed in 1660. It was the first of many gambles, in JennyUglow’s useful trope, and it was the one that hit the jackpot. The restoration was accomplished with unexpected ease. National anxiety dissipated as if a fresh wind had blown through a fetid swamp ...

Learned Insane

Simon Schaffer: The Lunar Men

17 April 2003
The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 588 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 571 19647 0
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... we may at least hope that nothing of the kind now prevails.’ The hope was vain. When Darwin’s biography was printed it lacked all but the most rudimentary expressions of Enlightened doctrine. Now JennyUglow’s The Lunar Men, a collective biography of Erasmus Darwin and his extraordinary group of Midlands friends, announces its aim as the recovery of the repute and reality of their visionary ...

Against Michelangelo

Rosemary Hill: ‘The Pinecone’

11 October 2012
The Pinecone 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 332 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 571 26950 1
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... That Pevsner should have regretted this fact and wanted to know more, is an indication of how different, peculiar and elusive the story of Losh’s life is from the scant biographical outline which JennyUglow has undertaken, with courage and considerable success, to try and fill in. What caught Pevsner’s eye, as it catches the eye of almost everyone who finds themselves in Wreay, was the parish ...

A Scene of Furniture

Rosemary Hill: Hogarth

4 February 1999
Hogarth: A Life and a World 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 794 pp., £14.99, September 1998, 0 571 19376 5
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... as distinct from a Hogarthian one. ‘Missing the point’ was not in Hogarth’s repertoire of satire, which drew harder, darker lines, telling us that we are all like that, given the chance. Uglow’s book takes us into this strange, deceptively familiar world. It is full of ‘intricacy’ in the sense the 18th century admired, the play of light and shade that makes the view properly ...

Were you a tome?

Matthew Bevis: Edward Lear

14 December 2017
Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 608 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 571 26954 9
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... went into some lady’s room by mistake, thinking it mine. Great fuss thereanent.’ Lear’s nonsense is full of mistakes that both the characters and their creator may or may not want to make, and JennyUglow’s absorbing new biography brings to the fore the question of the relation of his creativity to the accidence of his experience. In his diaries Lear often quotes or invokes his nonsense ...


Frank Kermode: Being a critic

27 May 1999
... than a vestigial, even a metaphorical existence, although there was a genuine 18th-century Grub Street, a real place in Moorfields, where hacks worked in poverty on various ephemeral compilations. JennyUglow writes here about them, but her main interest is in Henry Fielding, who was not only a novelist, a playwright and a magistrate but a prolific high-class journalist and editor. In his day there ...

Unruly Sweet Peas

Alison Light: Working-Class Gardens

18 December 2014
The Gardens of the British Working Class 
by Margaret Willes.
Yale, 413 pp., £25, March 2014, 978 0 300 18784 7
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... gardens display cabbages and potatoes out front but hollyhocks line the path and a rose rambles around the door; the grimmest slum has its musk in the shadowy courtyard or a pot draped with creeping jenny. The 19th-century press is full of notices of local flower shows, which attracted competitors from the roughest boroughs and the poorest villages; while in the 1840s official reports on the condition ...

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