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‘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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... 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 busy, too ...

In the Hothouse

Peter Howarth: Swinburne, 8 November 2018

21st-Century Oxford Authors: Algernon Charles Swinburne 
edited by Francis O’Gorman.
Oxford, 722 pp., £95, December 2016, 978 0 19 967224 0
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... verse tragedy on families living out a curse: Atalanta in Calydon, three plays on the grim fate of Mary Stuart and her lover, and three versions of the doomed affair of Tristram (‘Queen Yseult’, ‘Tristram and Iseult’, ‘The Sailing of the Swallow’). There are many lyric poems set on cliffs, beaches or marshes which must endure the relentless assault ...

At the North Miami Museum

Mary Ann Caws: Alice Paalen Rahon, 20 February 2020

... in Mexico City, including Cesar Moro, Remedios Varo, Benjamin Péret, Leonora Carrington, Gordon Onslow-Ford and his wife, the writer Jacqueline Johnson, who became a close friend to whom Rahon dedicated a few poems. Her last collection, Noir Animal, appeared in 1941, although she did contribute some work to Dyn, the journal founded by Paalen, which ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview all the exes of Philip Rahv would be an undertaking from which the most committed Boswellian might ...

God’s Iceberg

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 4 December 1986

The ‘ Titanic’: The Full Story of a Tragedy 
by Michael Davie.
Bodley Head, 244 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 9780370307640
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The IT Girls: Elinor Glyn and Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon 
by Meredith Etherington-Smith and Jeremy Pilcher.
Hamish Hamilton, 258 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11950 2
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... have been spilled’), he told them that he ‘was going up on deck to see the fun’. Lucy Duff Gordon, a fashionable dress designer, whose life, together with that of her sister Elinor Glyn, is told in the second of these books, was on her way to New York with her husband, a Scotch baronet, and her secretary. She heard people running along the deck outside ...

La Bonita Cigarera

Katy Emck, 3 October 1996

The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers: Sex and Culture in 19th-Century New York 
by Amy Gilman Srebnick.
Oxford, 238 pp., £18.99, February 1996, 9780195062373
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... woman,’ Edgar Allan Poe wrote, ‘is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’ Mary Rogers, ‘the Beautiful Cigar Girl’ whose corpse was fished from the Hudson in New York in 1841, was the prototype for many subsequent mystery tales – not least Poe’s own story, ‘The Mysterious Death of Marie Roget’. The unsolved mystery of ...

Gobblebook

Rosemary Hill: Unhappy Ever After, 21 June 2018

In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter 
by Miranda Seymour.
Simon and Schuster, 560 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 1 4711 3857 7
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Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist 
by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin and Adrian Rice.
Bodleian, 128 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 85124 488 1
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... a beginning to a tragedy. If any couple bore out that maxim it was Annabella Milbanke and George Gordon Byron. The ‘happy’ chapter lasted barely 24 hours, the ‘ever after’ is with us still. Even the clergyman who performed the service was soon disillusioned. The Rev. Thomas Noel had been promised some ‘substantial’ token of the groom’s ...

No wonder it ached

Dinah Birch: George Eliot, 13 May 1999

The Journals of George Eliot 
edited by Margaret Harris and Judith Johnston.
Cambridge, 447 pp., £55, February 1999, 0 521 57412 9
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George Eliot: The Last Victorian 
by Kathryn Hughes.
Fourth Estate, 384 pp., £20, November 1998, 1 85702 420 6
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... by her own name? One reason is that it has never been quite clear what it was. She began life as Mary Anne Evans, daughter of Robert Evans, a sturdy and prosperous land agent in Warwickshire. But Mary Anne sounds rather like a servant’s name (the White Rabbit’s housemaid is called ...

One Night in Maidenhead

Jean McNicol, 30 October 1997

Noel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 150 pp., £15.95, November 1996, 0 231 10596 7
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Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall 
edited by Joanne Glasgow.
New York, 273 pp., £20, March 1997, 0 8147 3092 2
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Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, June 1997, 9780719554087
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... in The Well of Loneliness bears an unmistakable resemblance to Coward. Hall’s heroine Stephen Gordon (Radclyffe Hall was called John for most of her adult life) knows that Brockett, a playwright with soft white hands and an effeminate voice, is a man ‘who would never require more of her than she could give’. When they visit Versailles together he ...

A New Kind of Being

Jenny Turner: Angela Carter, 3 November 2016

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography 
by Edmund Gordon.
Chatto, 544 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 7011 8755 2
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... Mark Pearce, her second husband, and Alexander, the couple’s son, born in 1983. As Edmund Gordon says towards the beginning of his biography, Carter was never so widely acclaimed in life as she would be in the weeks and years after her death. The tributes were long, sometimes fulsome, always affectionate, and full of great table talk and funny stories ...

The Common Touch

Paul Foot, 10 November 1994

Hanson: A Biography 
by Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £20, September 1994, 1 85702 189 4
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... were not quite as humble as his accent might suggest. ‘The same entrepreneurial spirit that led Mary Hanson to expand her transport business in 1846 – when she began to haul wool and other goods across the Pennines to Manchester on packhorses – pulsed through the veins of her great-grandsons,’ Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe write without a trace of ...

No nation I’ve ever heard of

Garth Greenwell: Matthew Griffin’s ‘Hide’, 19 January 2017

Hide 
by Matthew Griffin.
Bloomsbury, 272 pp., £16.99, August 2016, 978 1 4088 6708 2
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... any more than queer people have. In his survey of gay novels, Griffin leaves out writers from Mary Renault to Gordon Merrick, whose bestselling, sexually daring Charlie and Peter trilogy explores a life-long relationship between two men. He ignores the novels of Iris Murdoch, whose A Fairly Honourable Defeat, from ...

Lustmord

John Burnside: Fred and Rosemary West, 10 December 1998

Happy like Murderers 
by Gordon Burn.
Faber, 390 pp., £17.99, September 1998, 0 571 19546 6
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... in its midst; the most common epithets for the perpetrators are ‘monster’ and ‘madman’. Gordon Burn concerns himself for much of this book with Fred West’s everyday existence: his obsession with machines and pornography; his pride in owning the house in Cromwell Street and the countless alterations he made to it; his apparent liking for dirt and ...

Settling accounts

Keith Walker, 15 May 1980

‘A heart for every fate’: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. 10, 1822-1823 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 239 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 0 7195 3670 7
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... her father and brother, occupied separate apartments in the same house. About a mile down the hill Mary Shelley occupied herself by making fair copies of Don Juan. (Byron’s convenience is our loss, because he made many further revisions and improvements in the early cantos, in copying them himself.) With Mary Shelley was ...

The Cow Bells of Kitale

Patrick Collinson: The Selwyn Affair, 5 June 2003

... looked for a position of some kind but without success. A deal was struck with his elder brother, Gordon, a leading Anglican theologian and Dean of Winchester, who took possession of the title deeds of the farm and offered them a loan. But the condition was that Helen was to take over. Her husband was to follow her instructions, even obey her orders. She ...

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