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Pisseurs

Susannah Clapp, 2 June 1988

A Far Cry from Kensington 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 189 pp., £9.95, March 1988, 0 09 468290 9
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... Twenty years ago Muriel Spark described a principle on which ‘much of my literary composition is based’. This was ‘the nevertheless idea’. Mrs Spark was writing about Edinburgh, about her exile from and her attachment to that city, a city in which, she explained, ‘nevertheless’ becomes ‘niverthelace’: ‘I can see the lips of tough elderly women in musquash coats taking tea at MacVittie’s, enunciating this word of final justification ...

Hoydens

Susannah Clapp, 18 February 1988

A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858-1924 
by Julia Briggs.
Hutchinson, 473 pp., £16.95, November 1987, 9780091682101
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Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children’s Fiction 
by Margaret Rustin and Michael Rustin.
Verso, 268 pp., £22.95, November 1987, 9780860911876
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... The young Noel Coward thought E. Nesbit was ‘the most genuine Bohemian I had ever seen’. Berta Ruck called her ‘the Duchess’. Nesbit set herself up as the complete Edwardian: a free-thinker, a matriarch and a madcap. She bobbed her hair, carried her tobacco in a corset box, and acquiesced in her Fabian husband’s disdain for the suffragettes: ‘Votes for women ...

‘You are my heart’s delight’

Susannah Clapp, 7 June 1984

A Portrait of Fryn: A Biography of F. Tennyson Jesse 
by Joanna Colenbrander.
Deutsch, 305 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 233 97572 1
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... According to Rebecca West, F. Tennyson Jesse was ‘ideally beautiful. I have never seen a lovelier girl.’ A sketch in Joanna Colenbrander’s biography shows a flat, winsome face with wide, rather fishy eyes; her thin limbs are splayed out with flapperish elegance. It may be that her attractions – a fat bundle of love-letters was destroyed when she died, and Mrs Colenbrander finds several witnesses to testify to her ‘aura’ – had less to do with ideal beauty than with loquaciousness and flair ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

Stevie 
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 ...

Who is Laura?

Susannah Clapp, 3 December 1981

Olivia 
by Olivia.
Hogarth, 109 pp., £4.50, April 1981, 0 7012 0177 0
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... In February 1948 André Gide received an uncharacteristically triumphant letter from his English translator. Used to hearing about Gide’s exploits, she now had, girlishly, ‘a little adventure of my own’ to confess. The manuscript of a short story which she had written and sent to Gide 19 years earlier – ‘Oh how could I be so idiotic?’ – and which Gide had stuffed in his desk drawer, had at last been shown to friends in London ...

The Buffalo in the Hall

Susannah Clapp: Beryl Bainbridge, 5 January 2017

Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means, a Biography 
by Brendan King.
Bloomsbury, 564 pp., £25, September 2016, 978 1 4729 0853 7
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... Brendan King​ starts with a difficulty: Beryl Bainbridge’s writing. It makes everyone else’s prose look flabby. But he also has an advantage: his particular knowledge of her life. King worked with Bainbridge for more than twenty years. He looked after her admin and edited her last novel for publication after her death. Diaries, letters and lovers have been open to him ...

Finishing Touches

Susannah Clapp, 20 December 1984

Charlotte Mew and her Friends 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 00 217008 6
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The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Vol. I: 1903-17 
edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott.
Oxford, 376 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 812613 1
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... On 24 March 1928 Charlotte Mew killed herself by drinking a bottle of disinfectant in a nursing-home near Baker Street. She left behind her a volume of poems, a number of uncollected essays and short stories, and instructions that after her death her main artery should be severed: she had thought a lot about being buried alive. Local newspapers reported the ‘suicide whilst of unsound mind’ of ‘Charlotte New, a writer of verse’, and of ‘Charlotte Mew, said to be a writer ...

Criminal Elastic

Susannah Clapp, 5 February 1987

Margaret Oliphant: A Critical Biography 
by Merryn Williams.
Macmillan, 217 pp., £27.50, October 1986, 0 333 37647 1
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Chronicles of Carlingford: The Perpetual Curate 
by Mrs Oliphant.
Virago, 540 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 0 86068 786 4
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Chronicles of Carlingford: Salem Chapel 
by Mrs Oliphant.
Virago, 461 pp., £3.95, August 1986, 0 86068 723 6
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Chronicles of Carlingford: The Rector 
by Mrs Oliphant.
Virago, 192 pp., £3.50, August 1986, 0 86068 728 7
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... I too work hard, Mrs Oliphant,’ said Queen Victoria to the Scottish novelist. Mrs Oliphant was famous for her productivity. She published biographies of Edward Irving and the Comte de Montalembert, a literary history of England and more than sixty fat novels.* From the mid-1850s until her death in 1897 she contributed half a dozen essays a year to Blackwood’s Magazine, delivering on Bunsen, Savonarola, Queen Anne, Marco Polo and Jesus Christ ...

The Best Barnet

Jeremy Harding, 20 February 1997

With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer 
by Susannah Clapp.
Cape, 246 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 0 224 03258 5
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... Susannah Clapp’s memoir of Bruce Chatwin has little in the way of hard-going and nothing of the comprehensive record that bloats a literary biography. It makes no claims about the relation between a writer’s life and work that weren’t already clear from Chatwin’s career, and tends to confirm that the real waywardness of this ur-traveller lay in his darting and musing and drifting intelligence: the long list of places visited, sights seen, hinterlands crossed can seem like a vulgar indiscretion by comparison – the mind, not the world, was Chatwin’s oyster ...

Diary

Nicholas Spice: Karl Miller is leaving, 5 November 1992

... from the London Review of Books is a sad moment for the magazine which, with Mary-Kay Wilmers and Susannah Clapp, he founded in 1979. In all important respects, the present character of the London Review was established then, in the closing months of 1979 and the first months of 1980, even though it appeared as an insert in the New York Review of ...

Hairy Fairies

Rosemary Hill: Angela Carter, 10 May 2012

A Card from Angela Carter 
by Susannah Clapp.
Bloomsbury, 106 pp., £10, February 2012, 978 1 4088 2690 4
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... just after her death. Narrative power was what animated the best of her writing. According to Susannah Clapp, it was what she admired in Shakespeare, whose plays she read like novels, enjoying the ‘bland’ lines that moved the action on, such as ‘a ship has come from France.’ Like Shakespeare, Carter was adept at borrowing plots. The Bloody ...

Diary

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Karl Miller Remembered, 8 October 2014

... owners’ dispute with the unions and the idea was to fill the gap left by the absence of the TLS. Susannah Clapp, who’d also been at the Listener, was the assistant editor; I was to be Karl’s deputy. The first issue of the new paper, designed by Peter Campbell, another refugee from the Listener, appeared at the end of October; a month later the TLS ...

The nude strikes back

John Bayley, 7 November 1985

Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form 
by Marina Warner.
Weidenfeld, 417 pp., £16.95, October 1985, 0 297 78408 0
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... the separate planes of art and life. In her notes Marina Warner records a debt of gratitude to Susannah Clapp for pointing out to her that the Autumn of Keats’s ode – ‘close bosom-friend of the maturing sun’ – could be either a male or a female personification. The Latin god Autumnus was male, but there seems no doubt Keats had a lady in ...

Karl Miller Remembered

Neal Ascherson, John Lanchester and Andrew O’Hagan, 22 October 2014

... was one small book-and-paper-suffocated room, with four of us in it: Karl, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Susannah Clapp and me. Even that staffing level sounds more lavish than it was, because Karl split his time with his other job as Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, about a ten-minute walk away. This was less a ...

A New Kind of Being

Jenny Turner: Angela Carter, 3 November 2016

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography 
by Edmund Gordon.
Chatto, 544 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 7011 8755 2
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... quill and shovel badge. There are bundles of postcards, including the ones sent over the years to Susannah Clapp, the friend and editor Carter would appoint as her literary executor, which formed the basis of the memoir Clapp published in 2012; there’s also one with an illegible postmark, addressed to Bonny Angie ...

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