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Perfect Light

Jenny Diski, 9 July 1992

Diana: Her True Story 
by Andrew Morton.
Michael O’Mara, 165 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 1 85479 191 5
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Shared Lives 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 285 pp., £16.99, April 1992, 0 7475 1164 0
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Antonia White: Diaries 1958-1979 
edited by Susan Chitty.
Constable, 352 pp., £19.95, May 1992, 0 09 470660 3
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... VW in a whisper, is humbug? Still, finding meaning in the ordinary life is the stated purpose of Lyndall Gordon’s biography of her three girlhood friends, Romy, Rose and Ellie, who never became famous for anything before they each died, younger than people are supposed to these days. Of course, an early death is almost as sexy as fame and ...

Freedom

Lyndall Gordon, 18 September 1980

Olive Schreiner: A Biography 
by Ruth First and Ann Scott.
Deutsch, 383 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 233 97152 1
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... It is astonishing that since Olive Schreiner died in 1920 there have been six biographies. Why should the life of a woman writing from remote farms and railway stoppings in South Africa between the 1870s and the First World War attract this attention? The new Olive Schreiner has been commissioned with the renewed interest in the feminist heroine of The Story of an African Farm (1883), and this approach to Olive Schreiner, which places her as a polemicist rather than a novelist, may be the most durable basis for her fame ...

Men, Women and English Girls

Lyndall Gordon, 24 January 1980

Looking for Laforgue 
by David Arkell.
Carcanet, 248 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 85635 285 3
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A Night of Serious Drinking 
by René Daumal, translated by David Coward.
Routledge, 150 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7100 0325 0
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... David Arkell calls his biography Looking for Laforgue and he has undoubtedly found him. Without attempting what is popularly labelled ‘official’ biography, Arkell’s informal portrait is so convincing that it is hard to see an official biography adding more than superfluous detail. He brings us close to the living temper of a poet who is still fairly unknown to English-speakers but who, through his impact on T ...

Feast of St Thomas

Frank Kermode, 29 September 1988

Eliot’s New Life 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Oxford, 356 pp., £15, September 1988, 0 19 811727 2
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The Letters of T.S. Eliot 
edited by Valerie Eliot.
Faber, 618 pp., £25, September 1988, 0 571 13621 4
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The Poetics of Impersonality 
by Maud Ellmann.
Harvester, 207 pp., £32.50, January 1988, 0 7108 0463 6
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T.S. Eliot and the Philosophy of Criticism 
by Richard Shusterman.
Duckworth, 236 pp., £19.95, February 1988, 0 7156 2187 4
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‘The Men of 1914’: T.S. Eliot and Early Modernism 
by Erik Svarny.
Open University, 268 pp., £30, September 1988, 0 335 09019 2
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Eliot, Joyce and Company 
by Stanley Sultan.
Oxford, 326 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 19 504880 6
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The Savage and the City in the Work of T.S. Eliot 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 251 pp., £25, December 1987, 9780198128694
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T.S. Eliot: The Poems 
by Martin Scofield.
Cambridge, 264 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 521 30147 5
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... that Eliot’s poetry was rooted in private aspects of his life has now been accepted,’ says Lyndall Gordon in the Foreword to her second volume of biographical rooting among these aspects. This acceptance, which she evidently approves, has undoubtedly occurred, as a root through the enormous heap of books about the poet, now augmented by the ...

Her pen made the first move

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 7 July 1994

Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 418 pp., £17.99, March 1994, 9780701161378
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Shared Lives 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Vintage, 285 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 09 942461 4
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The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill 
by Miriam Bailin.
Cambridge, 169 pp., £30, April 1994, 0 521 44526 4
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... Winifred Gérin’s 1967 biography remarked the writer’s ‘good sense – and good manners’, Lyndall Gordon reports that ‘present-day audiences hear the sarcasm undetected by Southey, and never fail to laugh.’ Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life is very much directed at those audiences. Indeed, if ...

‘I thirst for his blood’

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Henry James, 25 November 1999

Henry James: A Life in Letters 
edited by Philip Horne.
Penguin, 668 pp., £25, June 1999, 0 7139 9126 7
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A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 500 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 7011 6166 3
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... welcomed the editorial scrupulousness and interpretative restraint of Horne’s Life in Letters. Lyndall Gordon also offers her book as a biographical experiment, but her assumptions about what counts as James’s ‘life’ are radically different. ‘James’s own letters,’ she announces at the outset, ‘are, for the most part, too public, too ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 7 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... think like other people!’ Percy Florence was unusual in a uniformly cerebral family. Charlotte Gordon’s premise for writing a dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley is that while their lives overlapped only for ten days, they shared a spirit. Wollstonecraft’s work – especially her treatise on education and A Vindication of the Rights ...

Emily v. Mabel

Susan Eilenberg: Emily Dickinson, 30 June 2011

Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Virago, 491 pp., £9.99, April 2011, 978 1 84408 453 1
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Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 535 pp., £25.95, September 2010, 978 0 674 04867 6
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... Did she want readerly guests? Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries and Lyndall Gordon’s Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds take different positions on this question. In the more ambitious and freewheeling of the two studies, Gordon treats not only Dickinson’s ...

A Lot of Travail

Michael Wood: T.S. Eliot’s Letters, 3 December 2009

The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. II: 1923-25 
edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton.
Faber, 878 pp., £35, November 2009, 978 0 571 14081 7
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... abruptly married and turned his back on the academic career that calmly awaited him in America. As Lyndall Gordon nicely says, in her biography of Eliot, both he and Ezra Pound were ‘lapsed professors’. He was working full-time at Lloyds Bank, where he stayed until 1925, and editing the Criterion in the spare moments he didn’t have. This tale of ...

‘I love you, defiant witch!’

Michael Newton: Charles Williams, 7 September 2016

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling 
by Grevel Lindop.
Oxford, 493 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 0 19 928415 3
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... friends and colleagues seem to have treated him as a guru, compelled by his ‘holiness’. Yet Lyndall Gordon suggests that later in life, visited by moods in which evil seemed everywhere, T.S. Eliot sometimes suspected the man he too had once thought holy was in fact diabolic. Reading Williams, you can sometimes see what Eliot meant. Williams seems ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home, 3 January 2008

The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... have become even more interesting because of the sharp and fascinating commentary on them by Lyndall Gordon in A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art (1998), which is the best single book about James. In the letter that broke the news, James’s mother expressed her regrets for ‘dear bright little Minny’. ...

Pomenvylopes

Mark Ford: Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts, 18 June 2014

The Gorgeous Nothings 
by Emily Dickinson.
New Directions, 255 pp., £26.50, October 2013, 978 0 8112 2175 7
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The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping 
by Francis Nenik, translated by Katy Derbyshire.
Readux, 64 pp., £3, October 2013, 978 3 944801 00 1
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... of Austin and Mabel’s favourite locations for their adulterous liaisons, although, according to Lyndall Gordon, who tells the whole story in lurid, gripping detail in Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds (2010), they proved adept at finding a range of love nests in Amherst, and even, or so their diaries suggest, took to ...

The Soul of Man under Psychoanalysis

Adam Phillips: ‘The Soul of Man under Psychoanalysis’, 29 November 2001

... which, in their view, we cannot help but abide by. For Eliot there was what his biographer Lyndall Gordon called ‘a consuming search for salvation’; for Freud, there was no salvation, no redemptive myth, but the secular alternative: a realistic apprehension of one’s incestuous nature, a paradoxical acknowledgment of one’s unconsciousness ...

If It Weren’t for Charlotte

Alice Spawls: The Brontës, 16 November 2017

... Charlotte’s 200th birthday was Claire Harman’s Life, the first serious new biography since Lyndall Gordon’s Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life in 1994 and Juliet Barker’s The Brontës from the same year (biographies seem to come in generational bursts). All writers on the Brontës now benefit from Margaret Smith’s magisterial – much ...

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