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No Fol-de-Rols

Margaret AnneDoody: Men in suits, 14 November 2002

The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity: England 1550-1850 
by David Kuchta.
California, 299 pp., £29.95, May 2002, 0 520 21493 5
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... just the military officer with his red coat and sword who allured with dangerous attractions. Anne Hollander has pointed out in Seeing through Clothes that the male body, as presented in the fashions of the 18th century and the Regency, is crotch-centred. Breeches – in their beautiful unpractical light colours of fawn or yellow or grey or white – were ...

Where a man can be a man

Margaret AnneDoody, 16 December 1993

All the Pretty Horses 
by Cormac McCarthy.
Picador, 302 pp., £5.99, November 1993, 0 330 33169 8
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... In Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, the young hero, imprisoned in a jail in Mexico and suffering harsh conditions, has a brilliant dream – a dream calling for some very earnest writing on the part of the author: That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain ... and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colours shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised ...

Dressed in black

Margaret AnneDoody, 11 March 1993

The Furies 
by Janet Hobhouse.
Bloomsbury, 296 pp., £15.99, October 1992, 0 7475 1270 1
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... black (like her heroine), tall and alienated and dramatic, stalking through the corridors of Lady Margaret Hall. I had only one real conversation with Janet Hobhouse, and that, as I remember it, was in Oxford train station – a location suitable to the memory of one who was always in transition. Janet said passionately how much she disliked Oxford ...

In praise of manly piety

Margaret AnneDoody, 9 June 1994

The 18th-Century Hymn in England 
by Donald Davie.
Cambridge, 167 pp., £27.95, October 1993, 0 521 38168 1
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... Donald Davie is already known for – among many other things – his striking comments on the hymns of Watts and Wesley in A Gathered Church: The Literature of the English Dissenting Interest 1700-1930 (1978). Now he has devoted an entire book to the hymn in 18th-century England – or rather, as the title indicates, he is trying to define a specific genre or set of modes and tones that constitute ‘the 18th-century hymn ...

Preceding Backwardness

Margaret AnneDoody, 9 January 1992

Women’s Lives and the 18th-Century English Novel 
by Elizabeth Bergan Brophy.
University of South Florida Press, 291 pp., $29.95, April 1991, 0 8130 1036 5
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Fictions of Modesty: Women and Courtship in the English Novel 
by Ruth Bernard Yeazell.
Chicago, 306 pp., £19.95, August 1991, 0 226 95096 4
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... Both of these books are on ‘women’s subjects’. That is to say, they deal with the major arrangements of a society in its (usually uneasy) dispositions of property and power, including control over reproduction. Elizabeth Bergen Brophy’s book is a response to the question which must have occurred to every reader of 18th-century novels: ‘Are the novels really at all like life at the time?’ Were there ‘real life’ counterparts to Clarissa Harlowe and Sophia Western – and to the other ladies, old and young, married, widowed or single, who turn up in the pages of 18th-century novels? Brophy has undertaken an impressive labour in reading a couple of hundred separate (and often, one gathers, large) manuscript sources, collections of journals and letters by various women who lived between the late 17th and the early 19th centuries ...

Royal Classic Knitwear

Margaret AnneDoody: Iris and Laura, 5 October 2000

The Blind Assassin 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 521 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 0 7475 4937 0
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... Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel is both familiar and new. As it is an Atwood novel, we get eggs, a ravine, shit, snow, an ethereal double or sisterly doppelgänger, a bridge, a river, an act of violence – images and themes from her earlier fiction metamorphosed. The Blind Assassin also possesses the unusual lyrical sensuousness that distinguished Alias Grace (1996), Atwood’s last major work ...

Tit for Tat

Margaret AnneDoody, 21 December 1989

Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology 
edited by Roger Lonsdale.
Oxford, 555 pp., £20, September 1989, 0 19 811769 8
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... the male poets: they were among the poets that the male poets read. That Pope adapted a line from Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, when he wrote ‘Die of a rose in aromatic pain’ (Essay on Man) is constantly referred to in footnotes, but editors and critics have generally fought shy of considering the impact on Pope and other poets of his time of ...

Poxy Doxies

Margaret AnneDoody, 14 December 1995

Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection and the Woman Poet 
by Germaine Greer.
Viking, 517 pp., £20, September 1995, 0 670 84914 6
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... Let us not glamorise or cleanse them, or avert our eyes from their lesions. Greer suggests that Anne Wharton, Rochester’s niece and an admired poet, suffered from inherited ‘primary syphilis’, showing the first symptoms in her childhood. The fact that she settled her whole estate on her husband is brought in as evidence that she might have been making ...

Never mind the neighbours

Margaret AnneDoody, 4 April 1996

Delphine 
by Germaine de Staël, translated by Avriel Goldberger.
Northern Illinois, 468 pp., $50, September 1995, 0 87580 200 1
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... a novel set in France in the Revolutionary period. It was the first of two novels by Anne Louise Germaine, Baronne de Staël-Holstein, née Necker. Published in 1802 when its author was 36, it is at the same time a long fatal love story, a political drama, a historical novel, an Enlightenment apocalypse, and a female philosophe’s analysis of ...

Studied Luxury

Margaret AnneDoody, 20 April 1995

No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton 
by Shari Benstock.
Hamish Hamilton, 546 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 241 13298 3
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Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life 
by Eleanor Dwight.
Harry Adams, 335 pp., $39.95, May 1994, 0 8109 3971 1
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... The title of Benstock’s biography of Edith Wharton is somewhat mal à propos. Edith Wharton, other reviewers have pointed out, had plenty of gifts from chance. She was born, in 1862, into wealth and leisure, she had a sufficiency of good looks (in an era when that mattered even more than now). As a writer she was highly successful, both critically and commercially ...

Boom and Bust

Margaret AnneDoody, 19 June 1997

A History of the Breast 
by Marilyn Yalom.
HarperCollins, 331 pp., £15.99, March 1997, 0 04 440913 3
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... The sexualised view of the breast,’ Marilyn Yalom asserts, is a Western phenomenon. Non-Western cultures, she assures us, ‘have their own fetishes’. This seems dismissive, running the risk of a National Geographic style of condescension, other cultures representing the (scorned) site of an (inferior) idyll in which everything hangs out, and there are no hang-ups ...

Docility Rampant

Margaret AnneDoody, 31 October 1996

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Romance Writings 
edited by Isobel Grundy.
Oxford, 276 pp., £14.50, August 1996, 0 19 812288 8
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... Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) is known to us as the author of travel writings, witty poems and remarkable letters. If it were not for Isobel Grundy’s diligent work in the archives, we should not know that Lady Mary also produced prose fiction. This is hardly strange. She published in her own time neither the travel writings nor (of course) her letters to her daughter ...

Very very she

Margaret AnneDoody, 22 April 1993

The Works of Aphra Behn. Vol. I: Poetry 
edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 481 pp., £55, September 1992, 1 85196 012 0
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Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works 
by Aphra Behn, edited by Janet Todd.
Penguin, 385 pp., £6.99, November 1992, 0 14 043338 4
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... All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds,’ Virginia Woolf asserted. Aphra Behn (c. 1640-89) was the first Englishwoman to make her living ‘by her pen’, as we used to say. Now, nobody makes her – or his – living by the phallic and virile pen. Linguistic and cultural structures no longer combine in exhibiting the exciting transgression, the impudent androgyny, of the man-woman who picks up her pen to write, for the she-writer, like the he-writer, will feed symbols through the word processor, a brooding matrix-box far more uterine than penile ...

Fear of Rabid Dogs

Margaret AnneDoody, 18 August 1994

Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time 
by Marina Warner.
Vintage, 104 pp., £4.99, April 1994, 0 09 943361 3
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... In his last days, the exiled and ageing Aristotle wrote to a friend: ‘The lonelier and the more isolated I am, the more I have come to love myths.’ We may puzzle over what Aristotle meant. Did he love folk-tales, religious stories or high-minded allegories? The Greek word mythos means (centrally) ‘story’ but all stories have or acquire meanings, and we tell ourselves stories all the time ...

Taking it up again

Margaret AnneDoody, 21 March 1991

Henry James and Revision 
by Philip Horne.
Oxford, 373 pp., £40, December 1990, 0 19 812871 1
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... Why do they do it? Why would they ever want to? Why do novelists revise novels? The very thought of revising one is daunting. Yet of course novelists do revise their printed works, on occasion, for various reasons. No novelist has made such a job of it as Henry James. In July 1905 he began the task of revising his life’s work, in order to create a final statement, a complete collection of his works, called from its inception the New York Edition ...

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