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Goethe In Britain

Rosemary Ashton, 19 March 1981

Goethe’s Plays 
translated by Charles Passage.
Benn, 626 pp., £12.95, July 1980, 0 510 00087 8
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The Classical Centre: Goethe and Weimar 1775-1832 
by T.J. Reed.
Croom Helm, 271 pp., £14.95, November 1979, 0 85664 356 4
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Goethe on Art 
translated by John Gage.
Scolar, 251 pp., £10, March 1980, 0 85967 494 0
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The Younger Goethe and the Visual Arts 
by W.D. Robson-Scott.
Cambridge, 175 pp., £19.50, February 1981, 0 521 23321 6
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... In 1827, Thomas Carlyle, already the translator of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, was invited by Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review, to ‘Germanise the public’. Jeffrey issued the invitation cautiously, even negatively, asking Carlyle to temper his enthusiasm for ‘your German divinities’ – an enthusiasm he could scarcely understand, let alone share ...

Englamouring the humdrum

Rosemary Ashton, 23 November 1989

Arguing with the past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney 
by Gillian Beer.
Routledge, 206 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 415 02607 5
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Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays 
edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor.
Cambridge, 306 pp., £35, July 1989, 0 521 35383 1
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... Gillian Beer’s Arguing with the past, a collection of essays published in recent years (with one, on Richardson and Milton, dating from as long ago as 1968), is richly written, contains many sharp critical insights, and shows the author to have a good ear for nuances of language in the literary works she chooses to discuss. At the same time, she reveals some straining in her pursuit of the chief ‘argument’ – namely, that half-readings, ‘failed’ readings and forgettings of other authors can make up an important part of a writer’s experience and creativity ...

Mismatch

Rosemary Ashton, 17 October 1985

Troubled Lives: John and Sarah Austin 
by Lotte Hamburger and Joseph Hamburger.
Toronto, 288 pp., £19.50, May 1985, 0 8020 2521 8
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... It was fortunate for George Eliot, or Marian Evans as she was in 1852, that the philosopher Herbert Spencer rejected her brave and desperate pleas for him to marry her. If he had accepted, she might well have found herself in something akin to Sarah Austin’s position as emotional and financial prop to a miserable, selfish hypochondriac. As it was, her relationship with the very different G ...

Satanic School

Rosemary Ashton, 7 May 1987

Forbidden Partners: The Incest Taboo in Modern Culture 
by James Twitchell.
Columbia, 311 pp., £15.60, December 1986, 0 231 06412 8
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Shelley and his Circle 1773-1822: Vols VII and VIII 
edited by Donald Reiman and Doucet Devin Fischer.
Harvard, 1228 pp., £71.95, October 1986, 0 674 80613 1
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Shelley’s Venomed Melody 
by Nora Crook and Derek Guiton.
Cambridge, 273 pp., £25, August 1986, 0 521 32084 4
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The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844 
edited by Paula Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert.
Oxford, 735 pp., £55, March 1987, 0 19 812571 2
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Selected Letters 
edited by H.J. Jackson.
Oxford, 306 pp., £19.50, April 1987, 0 19 818540 5
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... I delight in a palpable imaginable visitable past – in the nearer distances and the clearer mysteries, the marks and signs of a world we may reach over to as by making a long arm we grasp an object at the other end of our own table ... We are divided of course between liking to feel the past strange and liking to feel it familiar.’ Thus Henry James in the Preface to The Aspern Papers, the germ of which was the story of an American Shelley-worshipper seeking out the eighty-year old Claire Clairmont to trick or wheedle her into handing over precious documents illuminating her youthful relations with Shelley and Byron ...

Solomon Tuesday

Rosemary Ashton, 8 January 1987

R.H. Hutton: Critic and Theologian 
by Malcolm Woodfield.
Oxford, 227 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 19 818564 2
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... Coleridge has always been our representative Romantic literary critic, and Matthew Arnold has long been thought of as the type of the Victorian critic. There is, perhaps, no need to topple Arnold from his eminence, but it is high time that a close competitor was brought out from the shadows where he now lurks, uncollected and unread. For Richard Holt Hutton was a prodigious and impressive critic ...

Two Velvet Peaches

Rosemary Ashton, 17 February 1983

... Was George Eliot reticent about sex? During the period in which her reputation was at its lowest, between 1890 and 1940, one element in the general argument that her novels were philosophical treatises rather than art was her supposed coyness in sexual matters.* ‘Pallas with prejudices and a corset,’ cried W.E. Henley in 1890, ‘George Sand plus Science and minus Sex ...
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. IV: 1847-1850 
edited by Frederic Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 744 pp., £32.50, February 1989, 0 521 25590 2
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Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction 
by George Levine.
Harvard, 336 pp., £21.95, November 1988, 0 674 19285 0
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... How clever of Nature to ‘choose’ Darwin to teach the world that she has, against the prevailing view of natural theology, no purpose, no teleology, no choice. No one could be more gentlemanly, cautious, desirous of conforming, unwilling to shock or upset – yet no one could be more deliberate, more stubborn in holding to an opinion once embraced – than Darwin ...

Doing the bores

Rosemary Ashton, 21 March 1991

The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, Duke–Edinburgh Edition. Vols XVI-XVIII: 1843-4 
edited by Clyde Ryals and Kenneth Fielding.
Duke, 331 pp., £35.65, July 1990, 9780822309192
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... There will be many more years –and many more volumes – before the Carlyles’ Collected Letters are brought to completion. Twenty-two more years of Jane Carlyle’s long, witty, sharp, self-dramatising yet oddly attractive litanies about the obstinacy of servants, her husband’s indifference to her, and the annoyances of her lot as a ‘Lion’s wife’ obliged to ‘do the bores’ who come to view the lion himself ...

Leaving it

Rosemary Ashton, 16 February 1989

John Henry Newman: A Biography 
by Ian Ker.
Oxford, 762 pp., £48, January 1989, 0 19 826451 8
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James Fitzjames Stephen: Portrait of a Victorian Rationalist 
by K.J.M. Smith.
Cambridge, 338 pp., £30, November 1988, 0 521 34029 2
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... If there can be said to be such a thing as a Victorian ‘frame of mind’, it must be a broad category indeed to contain two such different representatives as John Henry Newman and James Fitzjames Stephen. They shared a distrust of reform and democracy, a love of England, and a penchant for getting into controversy in print. Otherwise, they strike one as chalk and cheese, or ‘dog and fish’, as Newman put it, à propos of their one encounter, in 1864, when Stephen attacked the ‘dangerous sophistry’ of Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua ...

Homage to Mrs Brater

Rosemary Ashton, 7 August 1986

George Eliot 
by Gillian Beer.
Harvester, 272 pp., £16.95, May 1986, 0 7108 0506 3
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German Women in the 18th and 19th Centuries: A Social and Literary History 
edited by Ruth-Ellen Joeres and Mary Jo Maynes.
Indiana, 356 pp., $29.95, January 1986, 0 253 32578 1
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Red Jenny: A Life with Karl Marx 
by H.F. Peters.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 04 928053 8
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Wives of Fame: Mary Livingstone, Jenny Marx, Emma Darwin 
by Edna Healey.
Sidgwick, 210 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 283 98552 6
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A Mid-Victorian Feminist: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon 
by Sheila Herstein.
Yale, 224 pp., £16.95, January 1986, 0 300 03317 6
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George Eliot and Blackmail 
by Alexander Welsh.
Harvard, 400 pp., £20.50, November 1985, 0 674 34872 9
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... Was it sisterly or unsisterly of George Eliot to celebrate in Middlemarch Dorothea’s contribution to human progress by means of ‘unhistoric acts’ carried out under limiting social conditions which ensured that, unlike St Theresa, she remained ‘foundress of nothing’? Certainly, Dorothea’s sphere of action is represented as being – true to life for her class and time – confined to the domestic ...

Out of Germany

E.S. Shaffer, 2 October 1980

The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Cambridge, 245 pp., £14.50, April 1980, 0 521 22560 4
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Criticism in the Wilderness. The Study of Literature Today 
by Geoffrey Hartman.
Yale, 314 pp., £11.40, October 1980, 0 300 02085 6
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... Rosemary Ashton traces the impact of some German writers, especially Goethe, on the British periodicals and on four writers, Coleridge, Carlyle, Eliot and Lewes; Geoffrey Hartman ranges widely through 19th and 20th-century criticism in pursuit of the idea of philosophic criticism, as it derived from Friedrich Schlegel and his German contemporaries ...

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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... the subject of earlier biographies, he has not been written about with the depth and sympathy that Rosemary Ashton brings to him. ‘Always at the leading edge of Victorian culture, innovative, even shocking, in some aspects of his life and works, but nevertheless typical of the Victorian age at its progressive, energetic best’: this is ...

Tang of Blood

Christian Lorentzen: Something to Do with Capitalism, 4 June 2014

... prose’. Jeanette Winterson calls the book ‘brilliant’ in the Telegraph; Rosemary Ashton in the Literary Review points up its ‘brio’; Lisa Jardine in the Financial Times says Holmes’s ‘fresh and vital style’ renders Eleanor ‘unforgettable’. None of them quotes the book at length; as usual with biographies, it’s ...
The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £25, December 1996, 0 631 18746 4
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Coleridge: Selected Poems 
edited by Richard Holmes.
HarperCollins, 358 pp., £20, March 1996, 0 00 255579 4
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Coleridge’s Later Poetry 
by Morton Paley.
Oxford, 147 pp., £25, June 1996, 0 19 818372 0
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A Choice of Coleridge’s Verse 
edited by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 232 pp., £7.99, March 1996, 0 571 17604 6
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... weaknesses and that his daughter Sara had followed him into hypochondria and drug addiction. As Rosemary Ashton, Richard Holmes and Morton Paley remind us, Coleridge did survive the long years of estrangement, both from Wordsworth and from all he had ceded to Wordsworth; he did begin to return to himself. When the current of critical opinion ...

Snakes and Leeches

Rosemary Hill: The Great Stink, 4 January 2018

One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli and the Great Stink of 1858 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Yale, 352 pp., £25, July 2017, 978 0 300 22726 0
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... within a tight geographical space, which makes events easier to visualise, and so more dramatic. Ashton takes on a broader canvas, with mixed results. Hers is a crowded scene, more like Frith’s The Derby Day, the sensational success of 1858’s Royal Academy exhibition, so popular that a policeman had to be deployed to hold back the crowds. Frith had ...

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