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Escaping the curssed orange

Norma Clarke: Jane Barker, 5 April 2001

Jane Barker, Exile: A Literary Career 1675-1725 
by Kathryn King.
Oxford, 263 pp., £40, September 2000, 0 19 818702 5
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... There is a moment in Jane Barker’s 1723 novel, A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies, which prefigures Jane Eyre, and makes one wonder how much or how little 19th-century women like Charlotte Brontë were acquainted with their sister writers (as Barker might have put it) of this earlier period. Barker’s heroine, Galesia, is supporting herself by practising medicine in London while at the same time writing poetry, a passion she finds it impossible to resist, ‘poetry being one of those subtle devils, that if driven out by never so many firm purposes, good resolutions, aversion to that poverty it entails upon its adherents; yet it will always return and find a passage to the heart, brain, and whole interior ...

Blush, grandeur, blush

Norma Clarke: One of the first bluestockings, 16 December 2004

Hannah More: The First Victorian 
by Anne Stott.
Oxford, 384 pp., £20, September 2004, 0 19 927488 6
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... The first edition of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More sold out within three weeks; a second and third followed rapidly. ‘Holy Hannah’, as Horace Walpole called her (William Cobbett called her ‘the Old Bishop in petticoats’), was already a celebrity. William Roberts, the family friend entrusted with the task of producing the book, made her into a saint ...

I ham sorry

Norma Clarke: Poor Lore, 1 August 2019

Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s 
by Steven King.
McGill, 480 pp., £27.99, February 2019, 978 0 7735 5649 2
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... Frances Soundy​ lived in Battersea. She had several children and a husband who periodically disappeared. Off and on, throughout the 1820s, she wrote to the church wardens and overseers of the parish of Pangbourne in Berkshire asking for money. One son needed shoes, another clothes; the rent was due; debts had mounted. Mrs Soundy was apologetic: ‘Honerable Gentilmen I ham sorry to have the misfortchin of havin the unplesent nessesity of making application unto you for relefe I ham sorry to say my husband as left me a gain with 3 small children goin the fortnight and will not give me one farthen to by them a bit of bred ...

A Skeleton My Cat

Norma Clarke: ‘Poor Goldsmith’, 21 February 2019

The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith 
edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £64.99, July 2018, 978 1 107 09353 9
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... Is​ there an 18th-century writer to rival Oliver Goldsmith? Who else achieved lasting popular and critical success in all three major genres? The Vicar of Wakefield has never been out of print; The Deserted Village was a schoolroom favourite well into the 20th century; and She Stoops to Conquer is still performed. Despite these works, and the other poems, plays, histories, biographies and essays he also produced, a tone of condescension has tended to accompany Goldsmith’s name, so that Adam Sisman in his book on Boswell could describe Goldsmith as ‘an awkward, improvident and slightly ridiculous Irishman … whose genius [Johnson] nevertheless acknowledged and championed’ – though in fact almost every reference to Goldsmith in the Life of Samuel Johnson itself belittles him ...

My Faults, My Follies

Helen Deutsch: Laetitia Pilkington, ‘Foot-ball of Fortune’, 17 July 2008

Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington 
by Norma Clarke.
Faber, 364 pp., £20, February 2008, 978 0 571 22428 9
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... a woman wanted a champion,’ Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘it is obviously Laetitia Pilkington.’ Norma Clarke intends to vindicate both the author and her Memoirs (she pays tribute to A.C. Elias’s invaluable 1997 edition). Correcting the long-standing categorisation of Pilkington as a ‘scandalous memoirist’ (her story was advertised alongside ...

A Light-Blue Stocking

Helen Deutsch: Hester Lynch Salusbury Thrale Piozzi, 14 May 2009

Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’ 
by Ian McIntyre.
Constable, 450 pp., £25, November 2008, 978 1 84529 449 6
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... the pleasures of the table and eventually ate himself to death.) Hester’s adult writing life, Norma Clarke has observed, could be said to have begun at that dinner table, where she first met Johnson in January 1765. ‘He has fastened many of his own Notions on my Mind … that I am not sure whether they grew there originally or no: of this I am ...

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