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Vicarious Sages

Michael Mason

3 November 1983
John ForsterA Literary Life 
by James Davies.
Leicester University Press, 318 pp., £25, June 1983, 0 7185 1164 6
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Mr George Eliot: A Biography of George Henry Lewes 
by David Williams.
Hodder, 288 pp., £12.95, June 1983, 0 340 25717 2
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Johnnie Cross 
by Terence de Vere White.
Gollancz, 153 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 575 03333 9
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... biographies of two substantial Victorian literary figures, over a hundred years after the death of either man. The coincidence is made more striking by the similarities between George Henry Lewes and JohnForster. They were two of the stars of Victorian literary journalism: much in demand as editors, and absolutely reliable in their capacity to produce essays and reviews of first-rate quality on a ...
9 October 1986
... Pen’s performance at Oxford, but had agreed to go to Scotland in August with Sarianna his sister and Pen, and join forces at North Berwick with his friends the Storys. Before starting, he had told JohnForster that Pen and the Storys had persuaded him to this course, but that he meant to stay only a month. The friendship with the Storys was an old and affectionate one: they had met in Italy in 1848 ...

Love of His Life

Rosemarie Bodenheimer: Dickens

8 July 2010
Charles Dickens 
by Michael Slater.
Yale, 696 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 300 11207 8
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... of 1864: always for Dickens the best way for a writer or any other artist to be remembered was not through biographies, unless they redounded as much to the honour of the art concerned as did Forster’s Goldsmith, nor through celebratory odes … still less through the erection of monuments, but through the continued circulation and enjoyment of their work. Slater’s splendid new biography is ...

His Friends Were Appalled

Deborah Friedell: Dickens

5 January 2012
The Life of Charles Dickens 
by John Forster.
Cambridge, 1480 pp., £70, December 2011, 978 1 108 03934 5
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Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist 
by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.
Harvard, 389 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 674 05003 7
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Charles Dickens: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 527 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 670 91767 9
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... arrested my attention and left a vivid impression on my mind for some time afterwards. Why, I could not, for the life of me, understand. It wouldn’t be until 1872, when the first volume of JohnForster’s biography appeared, that Dickens’s wife and children learned about the pots of boot blacking he’d covered (‘first with a piece of oil paper, and then with a piece of blue paper’) for ten ...

To be continued

Brigid Brophy

6 November 1980
The Mystery of Edwin Drood 
by Charles Dickens and Leon Garfield.
Deutsch, 327 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 233 97257 9
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... copies) should be repaid ‘if the said Charles Dickens shall die’ or be otherwise incapacitated ‘during the composition of the said work’. (Presumably nothing had, in fact, to be repaid, since JohnForster recorded that 50,000 copies were sold ‘while the author yet lived’.) The clause shows that Dickens knew he might be dying, but it is also witness to his splendid confidence that nothing ...

Fiction and E.M. Forster

Frank Kermode: At the Cost of Life

10 May 2007
... E.M. Forster wrote a surprising amount of criticism of one kind or another, but he believed that criticism was of almost no use to art or to artists. He certainly regarded himself as an artist, and his own art ...

Doing the bores

Rosemary Ashton

21 March 1991
The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, Duke–Edinburgh Edition. Vols XVI-XVIII: 1843-4 
edited by Clyde Ryals and Kenneth Fielding.
Duke, 331 pp., £35.65, July 1990, 9780822309192
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... Pathless. And Jane catches a likeness of Dickens at a Christmas party in 1843: Only think of that excellent Dickens playing the conjuror for one whole hour – the best conjuror I ever saw... and Forster acting as his servant! –This part of the entertainment concluded with a plum pudding made out of raw flour raw eggs – all the raw usual ingredients – boiled in a gentleman’s hat-and tumbled ...

He ate peas with a knife

John​ Sutherland: Douglas Jerrold

3 April 2003
Douglas Jerrold: 1803-57 
by Michael Slater.
Duckworth, 340 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 7156 2824 0
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... He liked the half-profits contract, he observed, ‘because it never leads to division between author and publisher’. Idly picking up a pencil, he observed it to be the exact counterpart of JohnForster: ‘short, thick, and full of lead’. A luckless would-be comrade once told him that, politically, they were rowing in the same boat: ‘but not with the same skulls,’ Jerrold replied. The ...

Sly Digs

Frank Kermode: E.M. Forster​ as Critic

25 September 2008
‘The Creator as Critic’ and Other Writings 
by E.M. Forster, edited by Jeffrey Heath.
Dundurn, 814 pp., £45, March 2008, 978 1 55002 522 4
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... This volume contains 30 broadcasts and 40 uncollected essays, talks and lectures written by E.M. Forster between his time as a 19th-century undergraduate and his candid old age, when, in his eighties, he jotted down a memorandum about his sex life. The broadcasts and essays fill about three hundred ...

Diary

Cynthia Lawford: On Letitia Elizabeth Landon

21 September 2000
... departure in 1838, tales circulated of her supposed affairs with the journalists William Jerdan and William Maginn, and the painter Daniel Maclise. Though the rumours put an end to her engagement to JohnForster in 1835, nothing surfaced that she and her friends could not refute or explain away, and once she was dead, and in such a manner, the scandals faded into the background. It was said that she ...
4 August 1988
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 400 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3018 0
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Selected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 330 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3311 2
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The Poetical Works of Robert Browning: Vol. III 
edited by Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler.
Oxford, 542 pp., £60, June 1988, 0 19 812762 6
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The Complete Works of Robert Browning: Vol. VIII 
edited by Roma King and Susan Crowl.
Ohio/Baylor University, 379 pp., £47.50, September 1988, 9780821403808
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... this, while admiring the poem’s bold story and advanced views. The ‘feel’ for things in the early part, in the narrator’s consciousness, can be delicious: as good as Virginia Woolf, or John Betjeman, who would have adored subtle pentameters like ‘The irregular line of elms by the deep lane’. And like Sonnets from the Portuguese, which Robert Browning had advised Elizabeth to present ...

Glimmerings

Peter Robb

20 June 1985
Selected Letters of E.M. ForsterVol. I: 1879-1920, Vol. II: 1921-1970 
edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank.
Collins, 344 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 00 216718 2
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... letters is at times an equivocal business. There’s always the question of what, exactly, of value they may tell us, of what there is that makes their publication more than merely intrusive. Forster lived a long time, and there’s some sorry reading in the second of these volumes. To Joe Ackerley in 1947 from the USA: ‘the view from the window is the Californian desert, mistaken by me for the ...
24 November 1988
Algernon Sidney and the English Republic 1623-1677 
by Jonathan Scott.
Cambridge, 258 pp., £27.50, August 1988, 0 521 35290 8
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Seeds of Liberty: 1688 and the Shaping of Modern Britain 
by John​ Miller.
Souvenir, 128 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 285 62839 9
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Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 
by W.A. Speck.
Oxford, 267 pp., £17.50, July 1988, 9780198227687
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War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough 
by D.W. Jones.
Blackwell, 351 pp., £35, September 1988, 0 631 16069 8
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Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister 
by Brian Hill.
Yale, 259 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 300 04284 1
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A Kingdom without a King: The Journal of the Provisional Government in the Revolution of 1688 
by Robert Beddard.
Phaidon, 192 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 9780714825007
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... the people would naturally do what the nobility told them. The assumption may surprise those historians who describe 17th-century England as a country ridden with class hatred, but 1688 bore it out. John Miller’s Seeds of Liberty, although emphasising the dependence of the Revolution on its acceptance by a broad and well-informed political nation, concedes that the nobles led and the people ...

A Proper Stoic

John​ Bayley

8 May 1986
Duff Cooper: The Authorised Biography 
by John​ Charmley.
Weidenfeld, 265 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 297 78857 4
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... and finds her going to a party. He blurts out that he is mortally ill and may not be seeing her again. She ignores this news and gives him a smiling farewell as she gets into her carriage. E.M. Forster thought the scene one of the most odious in the novel, or rather in the Novel, and he seems to assume, rather naively, that Proust is as shocked by the incident as he is. Forster’s reaction ...

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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... always being known as that) would in her own way have gone along: and of course she liked Mrs Gaskell much more than other woman writers, Victorian or contemporary. Writing to Dickens’s biographer, JohnForster, about Charlotte Brontë’s forthcoming marriage to her curate Arthur Nicholls, Mrs Gaskell said that Charlotte ‘would never have been happy but with an exacting, rigid, passionate, law ...

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