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The Sage of Polygon Road

Claire Tomalin, 28 September 1989

The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vols I-VII 
edited by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler.
Pickering & Chatto, 2530 pp., £245, August 1989, 1 85196 006 6
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... Mary who? was the person I mostly seemed to be dealing with in the early Seventies, when I wrote a biography of the extraordinary woman whose works have now been collected for the first time, nearly two hundred years after her death. And ‘Mary Who?’ is still the common form of her name, outside a small circle of specialists and enthusiasts ...

Learning to speak

Gay Clifford, 21 February 1980

Gya/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 485 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7043 2829 1
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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 719 pp., £15.75, October 1980, 0 300 02286 7
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Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes 
by Margaret Dickie Uroff.
Illinois, 235 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 252 00734 4
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Women Writing and Writing about Women 
edited by Mary Jacobus.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 85664 745 4
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... books, though it is the kind of strain that implies energy, not exhausted repression or defeat. Mary Daly is a theologian trained at Fribourg. Her two earlier books, The Church and the Second Sex and Beyond God the father, analysed the misogynist basis of Christianity and its influence on western thinking. In the latter, she suggested that to be human is ...

A Parlour in Purley

Tessa Hadley: Life as a Wife, 17 June 2021

The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives 
by Diane Johnson.
NYRB, 242 pp., £14.99, July 2020, 978 1 68137 445 1
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... yet another plausible case of a wife abused by posterity. When Diane Johnson was writing about Mary Ellen Meredith, who died aged forty in 1861, that history was still close enough for her to touch the tail of its reality. The Preface to the reprint begins:I found Mary Ellen Meredith’s letters to her lover Henry Wallis ...

I jolly well would have

Paul Foot, 20 August 1992

Claire clairmont and the Shelleys 
by Robert Gittings and Jo Manton.
Oxford, 281 pp., £20, April 1992, 0 19 818594 4
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Mab’s Daughters 
by Judith Chernaik.
Pan, 229 pp., £5.99, July 1992, 0 330 32379 2
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... Did Shelley have sex with Claire Clairmont? I first heard this central question debated with great solemnity at a meeting of the Byron Society in Albemarle Street way back in 1978. I went with three fellow Shelleyans, Geoffrey Matthews, Claire Tomalin and Judith Chernaik, to hear Marion Stocking talk about Claire ...

Gnawed by rats, burnt at Oxford

Claire Tomalin, 10 October 1991

G.H. Lewes: A Life 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Oxford, 369 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 19 812827 4
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... Greenwich, may have been a medical student, and at 20 was a radical and a convinced atheist with Shelley as his idol. Lewes actually wrote a biography of Shelley, encouraged by Leigh Hunt, though not by Mary Shelley. It was never published, he himself soon deciding it was a poor ...

Troglodytes

Patrick Parrinder, 25 October 1990

Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society and the Imagination 
by Rosalind Williams.
MIT, 265 pp., £22.50, March 1990, 9780262231459
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The Mask of the Prophet: The Extraordinary Fictions of Jules Verne 
by Andrew Martin.
Oxford, 222 pp., £27.50, May 1990, 0 19 815798 3
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... since the 18th century have enthused over the subterranean wonders of this part of Italy. In 1818, Mary Shelley and her husband visited the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl, and eighty years later, H.G. Wells joined the throng of sightseers at the entrance to the Blue Grotto of Capri. Lake Avernus, the site of Aeneas’s descent into the underworld, was a place ...

Awfully Present

Thomas Jones: The Tambora Eruption, 5 February 2015

Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World 
by Gillen D’Arcy Wood.
Princeton, 293 pp., £19.95, April 2014, 978 0 691 15054 3
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... first major economic depression’; not to mention several major works of Romantic literature (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Percy Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’, Keats’s ode ‘To Autumn’, Byron’s ‘Darkness’). One of the ways of investigating long-ago eruptions is by looking at the density of sulphate ...

Shelley in Season

Richard Holmes, 16 October 1980

The Unacknowledged Legislator: Shelley and Politics 
by P.M.S. Dawson.
Oxford, 312 pp., £16.50, June 1980, 0 19 812095 8
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Shelley and his World 
by Claire Tomalin.
Thames and Hudson, 128 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 9780500130681
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... If all poets have their psychic season, Shelley belongs to the very late stormy autumn and the very early frosty spring. His is a time of transitions: of high winds, wild hopes and freezing regrets. Both poetically and politically, it is an equinoctial world: restless, dangerous, brimming, beautiful and often cruel ...

Why edit socially?

Marilyn Butler, 20 October 1994

Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vol. VII 
edited by Byron.
Oxford, 445 pp., £52.50, March 1993, 0 19 812328 0
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The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 832 pp., £25, April 1993, 0 19 214158 9
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... Lamb, Lady Caroline; Lee, Harriet; Lee, Sophia; Radcliffe, Ann: Sévigné, Marie de; Seward, Anna; Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft; Staël-Holstein, Anne Louise Germaine, Baronne de Worldly, informed and informal, the index is a fitting finale to an edition which extends the range of information scholarly editions usually ...

Floating Hair v. Blue Pencil

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1996

Revision and Romantic Authorship 
by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 354 pp., £40, March 1996, 0 19 812264 0
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... moment of inspiration is the best determinant of the right text. This opinion unconsciously echoes Shelley’s famous notion that ‘the mind in creation is as a fading coal ... When composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline’ – whence it follows that all the ‘labour and study’ later bestowed on a poem merely take one further away from ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters, 8 September 2011

The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... novels of the 18th century and of the founding text in the philosophy of anarchism, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, the father of Mary Shelley, and the friend or acquaintance of almost everyone on the liberal left over 50 of the most intellectually exciting years in British history. In November last year his ...

Sprawson makes a splash

John Bayley, 23 July 1992

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero 
by Charles Sprawson.
Cape, 307 pp., £15.99, June 1992, 0 224 02730 1
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... the mystical feeling for water and immersion of other Romantic poets, notably the non-swimmer Shelley. Byron promised to teach him but never got around to it. It is an odd fact that many sailors in those days deliberately refused to learn (Trelawney, who had been in the Navy, was an exception), maintaining that the hazards of their calling made a ...

Balloons and Counter-Balloons

Susan Eilenberg: ‘The Age of Wonder’, 7 January 2010

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science 
by Richard Holmes.
HarperPress, 380 pp., £9.99, September 2009, 978 0 00 714953 7
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... the mathematician and inventor of the difference engine; in Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Byron; in Mary Shelley, Frankenstein’s monster’s creator; in everyone’s connections and hobbies and miseries and follies; and in Joseph Banks, who kept a friendly eye on as many of them as he could ...

Peripheries

Charles Rzepka, 21 March 1991

The Puritan-Provincial Vision: Scottish and American Literature in the 19th Century 
by Susan Manning.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £32.50, May 1990, 0 521 37237 2
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... his romances, and delights in the ‘colonisation’ of other minds by the ‘chameleon poet’. Shelley’s poetry, saturated with Gothic motifs, is fixated on the quest for an ultimate reality. Starkly ‘puritan-provincial’ themes dominate Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an ...

Semi-Happy

Michael Wood, 22 February 1996

James Whale: A Biography 
by Mark Gatiss.
Cassell, 182 pp., £12.99, July 1995, 0 304 32861 8
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... are just mysterious. Why is Frankenstein, called Victor in most versions of this story, including Mary Shelley’s, here called Henry? Why is his friend called Victor? The bereaved father of the little girl drowned by the monster because he thought she would float like a flower – something seems to have happened to the abnormal criminal brain he is ...

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