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Marilyn Butler, 19 December 1985

The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory 
by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 352 pp., £19.50, May 1985, 0 19 811730 2
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The Politics of Language: 1791-1819 
by Olivia Smith.
Oxford, 269 pp., £19.50, December 1984, 0 19 812817 7
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... interests and powers served by the proliferation of hermeneutic techniques’. Jerome McGann and Olivia Smith are two good critics, both Americans publishing in England, who fall in with Mitchell’s injunction to ‘historicise’. Each regards a work of the past as both an individual literary performance and an event occurring in space and time. They ...

I am the Watchman

Linda Colley: William Cobbett, forerunner of the Sun, 20 November 2003

William Cobbett: Selected Writings 
edited by Leonora Nattrass.
Pickering & Chatto, 2312 pp., £495, December 1998, 1 85196 375 8
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Rural rides 
by William Cobbett, edited by Ian Dyck.
Penguin, 576 pp., £9.99, September 2001, 0 14 043579 4
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... it is historians who need to work hardest at seeing Cobbett afresh. Literary specialists such as Olivia Smith and Nattrass herself have done sterling work demonstrating the rhetorical art and innovativeness behind his seemingly artless prose, but with some few exceptions – Ian Dyck is one – current historians are not much interested in ...

Make use of me

Jeremy Treglown: Olivia Manning, 9 February 2006

Olivia Manning: A Life 
by Neville Braybrooke and June Braybrooke.
Chatto, 301 pp., £20, November 2004, 0 7011 7749 7
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... novels nowadays are just travel books,’ Ivy Compton-Burnett grumbled to Barbara Pym in 1960. ‘Olivia has just published one about Bulgaria.’ She hadn’t noticed that the setting of The Great Fortune is in fact Romania. But she had a point. Journeys, voluntary and enforced, are big in Olivia Manning’s work, as they ...

Not at Home

Emma Smith: Shipwrecked in Illyria, 16 February 2023

... lexicon: overwhelming love is like a rough and immense sea in Orsino’s opening speech, Olivia weeps saltwater tears, Maria and Andrew parry ‘dry jests’, Cesario is ‘standing water’ and encouraged to ‘hoist sail’: ‘no, good swabber,’ he replies, ‘I am to hull it here a little longer.’ The maritime imagery continues. This is a ...

I like you

Hermione Lee: Boston Marriage, 24 May 2007

Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England 
by Sharon Marcus.
Princeton, 356 pp., £12.95, March 2007, 978 0 691 12835 1
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... and queer theorists – such as Judith Butler, Martha Vicinus, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg – through whom she has evidently formulated her thinking, proposes a new account of women’s lives in the mid to late 19th century. The advantage of her method is that it complicates our historical view, doesn’t over-schematise the past and ...

Working under Covers

Paul Laity: Mata Hari, 8 January 2004

Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War 
by Tammy Proctor.
New York, 205 pp., $27, June 2003, 0 8147 6693 5
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... ink!), run "by the sort of men who called each other Wolly, Bunter, Biffy and Blinker. Mansfield Smith Cumming, the original ‘C.’, thought espionage ‘a capital sport’, and is memorably described by Phillip Knightley in his recently reissued study of 20th-century spying, The Second Oldest Profession:* He wore a gold-rimmed monocle, wrote only in ...


Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

Stevie SmithA Critical Biography 
by Frances Spalding.
Faber, 331 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 571 15207 4
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... she had with Kay Dick in November 1970 (the best source for the flavour of her speech), Stevie Smith remarked: I’m straightforward but I’m not simple ... In some ways I’m romantic but my basic root is profoundly sensible – profoundly sensible. About everything. There is a balance; I am aware of a balance. I know the sort of things that can knock ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Heinemann, 378 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 434 44105 8
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... This biography gets off to a bad start with its title. The writer called Stevie Smith was also a celebrity called Stevie – a spiky sprite who was famous for being unfashionable. This creature thrived on being a spinster, which licensed her to be a bit cuckoo, and on speaking her hard words from a spindly frame decked out like a schoolgirl’s – as if it were a feat to think behind a fringe ...

Little Philadelphias

Ange Mlinko: Imagism, 25 March 2010

The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists 
by Helen Carr.
Cape, 982 pp., £30, May 2009, 978 0 224 04030 3
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... poem had come a long way from ‘Casabianca’. As a historian, Carr is ecumenical: William Brooke Smith, a student who died of tuberculosis in 1908, is given as much consideration as Pound’s other early friend William Carlos Williams; Marianne Moore, who matriculated at Bryn Mawr in the same year as H.D., is barely mentioned. Snippets of truly mediocre ...

Incandescent Memory

Thomas Powers: Mark Twain, 28 April 2011

Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol. I 
edited by Harriet Elinor Smith et al.
California, 736 pp., £24.95, November 2010, 978 0 520 26719 0
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... at a local printing office. The Florentine dictations stopped with the death of Twain’s wife, Olivia, in June 1904, the second of two powerful blows struck Twain by death. The first had been the sudden and unexpected death of his daughter Susy at 24 in 1896. Twain was in London when the news arrived, ‘standing in our dining room thinking of nothing in ...

Had I been born a hero

Helen Deutsch: Female poets of the eighteenth century, 21 September 2006

Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre 
by Paula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 514 pp., £43.50, January 2006, 0 8018 8169 2
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... elegies of Mary Darwall and Anna Seward, the sonnet sequences of Mary Robinson and Charlotte Smith are only a few examples. The woman poet herself thus becomes a complex character, contemplating her public image with the pleasure of Mary Jones at mid-century: ‘Well, but the joy to see my works in print!/Myself too pictur’d in a mezzo-tint!’ Take ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1986, 18 December 1986

... it, why not ‘This is the fibre-enriched bread of the New Testament’? London, 5 August. Neville Smith plays the police inspector in the Orton film. He was an undergraduate at Hull and is unimpressed by the current canonisation of Larkin. He came across him twice. Once, waiting at a bus-stop in torrential rain, Neville edged closer and closer to Larkin, who ...

A Djinn speaks

Colm Tóibín: What about George Yeats?, 20 February 2003

Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats 
by Ann Saddlemyer.
Oxford, 808 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 19 811232 7
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... it new, Yeats had iconic status. George’s mother knew him: her second husband’s sister was Olivia Shakespear, Dorothy’s mother, with whom Yeats had had an affair and remained on good terms. George met Yeats in 1911. She remembered vividly that she saw him and recognised him one morning in the British Museum, and later that same day while he was ...

Between the Raindrops

David Bromwich: The Subtlety of James Stewart, 12 December 2002

James Stewart at the NFT 
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... of his leading ladies, including Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich, as well as Norma Shearer, Olivia de Havilland and others, with no hard feelings on either side except in the case of Dietrich. Maybe he ‘walked between the raindrops’, as a marvelling collaborator once said. But reports are just as consistent about less flattering traits. Though he ...

They roared with laughter

Amber Medland: Nella Larsen, 6 May 2021

by Nella Larsen.
Macmillan, 160 pp., £10.99, June 2020, 978 1 5290 4028 9
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... a short story called ‘Sanctuary’, which is nearly identical to ‘Mrs Adis’ by Sheila Kaye-Smith, with race swapped for class. Larsen claimed she’d been told the story by a Lincoln patient, but nobody was buying it. Her new identity was shattered. Then she found out about Gilbert. That she was white. Like Irene, Larsen decided not to confront her ...

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