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Tears before the storm

Ruth BernardYeazell, 24 October 1991

The History of Tears: Sensibility and Sentimentality in France 
by Anne Vincent-Buffault.
Macmillan, 284 pp., £40, July 1991, 0 333 45594 0
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... It was front-page news in the United States recently when George Bush brushed away a tear as he described how he had wept while deciding to unleash the air war in the Gulf last January. ‘Like a lot of people, I’ve worried a little bit about shedding tears in public or the emotion of it,’ he told a convention of Southern Baptists in June, but ‘as Barbara and I prayed at Camp David before the air war began, we were thinking about those young men and women overseas ...

Drawing-rooms are always tidy

Ruth BernardYeazell, 20 August 1992

The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton 
by Gloria Erlich.
California, 210 pp., £13.95, May 1992, 0 520 07583 8
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... Among the hot items at my local video store these days is a recent Hollywood thriller called The hand that rocks the cradle. A successful instance of what might be called the yuppie nightmare film, this particular contribution to the genre also manages to exploit a tear that must trouble every mother who has temporarily handed over the care of her children to another woman – not the dread that the caretaker will harm or neglect them, but the anxiety lest she win their love away ...

Sit like an Apple

Ruth BernardYeazell: Artists’ Wives, 23 October 2008

Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet and Rodin 
by Ruth Butler.
Yale, 354 pp., £18.99, July 2008, 978 0 300 12624 2
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... however. Monet did not pay her to sit for him: like the other two women who are the subject of Ruth Butler’s new book – Hortense Fiquet (Paul Cézanne) and Rose Beuret (Auguste Rodin) – Doncieux was first the artist’s mistress and later his wife. Hiring a model cost a minimum of one franc an hour; painting the woman who already shared your bed was ...

‘I can’t go on like this’

Ruth BernardYeazell, 19 January 1989

The Letters of Edith Wharton 
edited by R.W.B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis.
Simon and Schuster, 654 pp., £16.95, October 1988, 0 671 69965 2
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Women Artists, Women Exiles: ‘Miss Grief’ and Other Stories 
by Constance Fenimore Woolson, edited by Joan Myers Weimer.
Rutgers, 341 pp., $42, December 1988, 0 8135 1347 2
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... and with great enjoyment in French and Italian, and perhaps above all in German: one letter to Bernard Berenson speaks nostalgically of returning to her adolescent love for the 13th-century Minneleider and the Old Icelandic Edda; in another, she picks up Nietzsche’s Jenseits von Gut und Böse as a ‘diversion’ from her own writing and finds it ...

Ah, la vie!

Ruth BernardYeazell: Lytton Strachey’s letters, 1 December 2005

The Letters of Lytton Strachey 
edited by Paul Levy.
Viking, 698 pp., £30, March 2005, 0 670 89112 6
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... setting the clocks ahead an hour and a paradoxically vivid account of the crypt-like atmosphere of Bernard Berenson’s establishment at I Tatti: And so much of it, too – such a large corpse – so many long dead corridors, so many dead primitives, so many dead pieces of furniture, and flowers, and servants, such multitudes of dead books; and ...

Doctors’ Orders

Ruth BernardYeazell, 18 February 1982

‘All that summer she was mad’: Virginia Woolf and Her Doctors 
by Stephen Trombley.
Junction, 338 pp., £12.50, November 1981, 9780862450397
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... In the summer following the death of Leslie Stephen in 1904, his daughter Virginia lay in bed, listening to the birds singing in Greek and imagining King Edward lurking naked in the azaleas, shouting obscenities; that same summer she apparently attempted to kill herself by leaping out of the window. ‘I have never spent such a wretched 8 months in my life,’ she wrote to a friend when the crisis had passed ...

The Henry James Show

Ruth BernardYeazell, 7 January 1988

Henry James: A Life 
by Leon Edel.
Collins, 740 pp., £25, July 1987, 0 00 217870 2
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The Complete Notebooks of Henry James 
edited by Leon Edel and Lyall Powers.
Oxford, 662 pp., £25, March 1987, 0 19 503782 0
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... In ‘The Birthplace’ (1903), a tale inspired by the case of a couple who had served as custodians of the Shakespeare house in Stratford, Henry James constructed a marvellously ironic narrative about the ‘stupid’ avidity of a public who care nothing for the artist’s work and everything for his legend, flocking to the shrine to see ‘where He hung up His hat and where He kept His boots and where His mother boiled her pot ...

Domineering

Ruth BernardYeazell, 7 November 1985

The Courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett 
by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 281 pp., £12.95, September 1985, 0 19 811728 0
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... Perhaps all human courtships follow narrative precedents, but few make for such a satisfying story as that of the Brownings. The slightest imaginative pressure can transform the familiar facts of the case into a myth or fairy-tale, with each of the principals in the affair behaving wonderfully true to type: the spellbound maiden, mysteriously immobilised by an unnamed curse; the patriarchal ogre, who keeps his daughter locked away in a darkened room and turns aside all suitors; the lover who arrives with spring to break the spell and carry the heroine south, restoring her to health, happiness and fertility ...

Mongkut and I

Ruth BernardYeazell, 30 January 1992

The Romance of the Harem 
by Anna Leonowens, edited by Susan Morgan.
Virginia, 285 pp., £10.50, August 1991, 0 8139 1328 4
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... In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, The King and I, the English governess quarrels with her royal employer over his refusal to provide her with a separate house, outside the harem walls. Alone in her room afterwards, Anna takes her revenge with a spirited patter song, indignantly denouncing the King as a ‘conceited, self-indulgent libertine’ and seizing the occasion to inform him in – absentia – of ‘certain goings on around this place/That I wish to tell you I do not admire ...

Allowed to speak

Ruth BernardYeazell, 19 November 1992

Sororophobia: Differences Among Women in Literature and Culture 
by Helena Michie.
Oxford, 216 pp., £25, August 1992, 0 19 507387 8
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Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic 
by Elisabeth Bronfen.
Manchester, 460 pp., £45, October 1992, 0 7190 3827 8
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... The category of the Other,’ Simone de Beauvoir declared in the opening pages of The Second Sex, ‘is as primordial as consciousness itself.’ No doubt she was right. But it is hard to believe that the term has ever had such intellectual currency as it has at present. Whether in works of high theory or in the popular press, invocations of ‘the Other’, ‘otherness’ – even ‘othering’ – continue to proliferate ...

Collapse of the Sofa Cushions

Ruth BernardYeazell, 24 March 1994

Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics 
by Isobel Armstrong.
Routledge, 545 pp., £35, October 1993, 0 415 03016 1
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The Woman Reader: 1837-1914 
by Kate Flint.
Oxford, 366 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 19 811719 1
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... New literary movements often declare themselves by denouncing their immediate predecessors, but the Modernist attack on Victorian poetry has endured longer than most. In his Introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) Yeats summed up his generation’s complaint: ‘The revolt against Victorianism meant to the young poet a revolt against irrelevant descriptions of nature, the scientific and moral discursiveness of In Memoriam – “When he should have been broken-hearted,” said Verlaine, “he had many reminiscences” – the political eloquence of Swinburne, the psychological curiosity of Browning, and the poetical diction of everybody ...

Her pen made the first move

Ruth BernardYeazell, 7 July 1994

Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 418 pp., £17.99, March 1994, 9780701161378
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Shared Lives 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Vintage, 285 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 09 942461 4
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The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill 
by Miriam Bailin.
Cambridge, 169 pp., £30, April 1994, 0 521 44526 4
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... When Charlotte Brontë was not yet 21, she submitted a sample of her work to the reigning poet laureate, Robert Southey, together with a letter in which she apparently confided her ambition ‘to be for ever known’ as a poet. Three months later, Southey replied. Though he acknowledged her gift and encouraged her to continue writing ‘for its own sake’, he also made clear that her habit of day-dreaming threatened to unfit her for the ‘ordinary uses’ of the world ...

Vampiric Words

Ruth BernardYeazell, 26 May 1994

The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment 
by Maud Ellmann.
Virago, 136 pp., £7.99, September 1993, 1 85381 675 2
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... When Jane Fonda told an interviewer for Family Circle some months ago that she was heavier than she had previously been but also ‘more comfortable’ with her body, Associated Press duly relayed the news to the world. ‘I don’t weigh myself anymore,’ the 57-year-old Fonda announced, explaining that after two decades of ‘going for the burn’ when she exercised and of binging and purging when she ate, she had decided that there was something unhealthily obsessive about her relation to her flesh ...

Is everybody’s life like this?

Ruth BernardYeazell: Amy Levy, 16 November 2000

Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters 
by Linda Hunt Beckman.
Ohio, 331 pp., £49, May 2000, 0 8214 1329 5
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... Had Amy Levy (1861-89) never existed, contemporary criticism would have thought her up. We have been recovering women writers for three decades now, but Levy was also a Jew and probably a lesbian, as well as a feminist; and at a time like ours when ‘margins’ are central, she can be singled out for having inhabited several at once. Not only did she belong to the pioneering generation of women at Cambridge, she was the first Jew to be admitted to Newnham ...

‘I thirst for his blood’

Ruth BernardYeazell: 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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... Henry James was a generous correspondent in more senses than one, but his fellow writers may have found some of the Master’s letters rather exasperating. ‘I read your current novel with pleasure,’ he wrote to William Dean Howells in 1880, ‘but I don’t think the subject fruitful, & I suspect that much of the public will agree with me ...

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