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Miss Simpson stayed to tea

Philippa Tristram, 20 April 1989

William Wordsworth: A Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 812828 2
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... it.’ That sentence also serves to indicate the first of Gill’s three aims, for William Wordsworth: A Life (while serving that function) is much more than a conduit for new material. Although, as its author claims, it ‘is biography, not an “intellectual history” exegesis of specific works and phases of thought’, it ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors, 11 March 2010

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... James Shapiro’s engaging new book is a tease. Shapiro, the author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), is in no doubt that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon is the author of the works published in his name: not Sir Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or Christopher ...

Sisters come second

Dinah Birch: Siblings, 26 April 2012

Thicker than Water: Siblings and Their Relations 1780-1920 
by Leonore Davidoff.
Oxford, 449 pp., £35, November 2011, 978 0 19 954648 0
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... the richest store of information. Two, the Gladstones and the Freuds, are investigated in detail. William Gladstone’s sister Helen was a misfit who rejected the obligations of female usefulness and became addicted to opiates. Her rebellion then took a religious turn, as she transferred the obedience she might have been expected to owe her male relations to ...

Out of Bounds

Ian Gilmour: Why Wordsworth sold a lot less than Byron, 20 January 2005

The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period 
by William St Clair.
Cambridge, 765 pp., £90, July 2004, 9780521810067
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... of which British poets should be honoured by inclusion in the book. Such behaviour, as William St Clair amply demonstrates in his magnificent, original and compelling study, was characteristic of the London publishers. His book stretches far wider than its title suggests. He has a mass of new and fascinating things to say about the centuries that ...

Voyage to Uchronia

Paul Delany, 29 August 1991

The Difference Engine 
by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
Gollancz, 384 pp., £7.99, July 1991, 9780575050730
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... In February 1812, Byron stood up to speak for the first time in the House of Lords. His speech was a passionate defence of the Nottingham weavers – followers of the mythical King Ludd – who had been smashing the new mechanical stocking-frames; and for the rest of his life Byron went on arguing that ‘we must not allow mankind to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism ...

In the Circus

William Wootten: Low-Pressure Poetry, 3 August 2006

The Collected Poems 
by Kenneth Koch.
Knopf, 761 pp., £40, November 2005, 1 4000 4499 5
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... Kenneth Koch (pronounced ‘coke’) could do a mean impersonation of William Carlos Williams. ‘This is Just to Say’, Williams’s note asking forgiveness for eating the plums in the icebox which ‘you were probably/saving/for breakfast’ on the grounds that they were ‘so sweet/and so cold’, gets the Koch treatment in ‘Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams’: I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer ...

The Italy of Human Beings

Frances Wilson: Felicia Hemans, 16 November 2000

Felicia Hemans: ‘Records of Woman’ with Other Poems 
edited by Paula Feldman.
Kentucky, 248 pp., £15.50, September 1999, 0 8131 0964 7
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... Mrs Hemans – or Hewomans, as Byron called her, for no one was less of a he-man than Felicia – was lavishly praised in her lifetime, and second only to Byron in popularity and sales. But while Byron was disowned by the Victorians, embarrassed that this ‘huge sulky dandy’, as Thomas Carlyle called him, should have received so much adoration and respect, Felicia Hemans’s reputation grew, and her work went out of print only after the First World War ...

All the Cultural Bases

Ian Sansom, 20 March 1997

Moon Country: Further Reports from Iceland 
by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.
Faber, 160 pp., £7.99, November 1996, 0 571 17539 2
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... was published in 1937 as Letters from Iceland. It contained not only Auden’s ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, but also a number of other putative letters (to Richard Crossman and William Coldstream, for instance), MacNeice’s ‘Eclogue from Iceland’, the famously camp prose-piece ‘Hetty to Nancy’, and the ...

Allergic to Depths

Terry Eagleton: Gothic, 18 March 1999

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Fourth Estate, 438 pp., £20, December 1998, 1 85702 498 2
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... inclusion among his Goths of Alexander Pope, the Earl of Shaftesbury and the architect William Kent. The dominant culture of 18th-century England was not averse to a spot of wild irregularity, not least when it came to gardening. Or indeed to the heroic couplet, which combines symmetry with freedom, the regular tapping of the metre with the ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate, 25 April 1991

William Blake: His Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... To write well about William Blake you need to be enthusiastic, aphoristic and contrary. It also helps to be slightly mad. You need to begin your book with a paragraph like this: When Blake spoke the first word of the 19th century there was no one to hear it, and now that his message, the message of emancipation from reality through the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’, has penetrated the world, and is slowly remaking it, few are conscious of the first utterer, in modern times, of the message with which all are familiar ...

Wordsworth in Love

Jonathan Wordsworth, 15 October 1981

... the game to a literary scene, one would have no trouble at all with the later Romantics – Byron, Shelley, Keats. Among the older generation, Blake and Coleridge might be a little more difficult. Wordsworth for most would be impossible. To Shelley he seemed ‘a solemn and unsexual man’ (‘Peter Bell the Third’), and even the revelation early in ...

Tousy-Mousy

Anne Barton: Mary Shelley, 8 February 2001

Mary Shelley 
by Miranda Seymour.
Murray, 665 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7195 5711 9
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Mary Shelley in Her Times 
edited by Betty Bennett and Stuart Curran.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £33, September 2000, 0 8018 6334 1
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Mary Shelley's Fictions 
edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.
Palgrave, 250 pp., £40, August 2000, 0 333 77106 0
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... when Shelley and Edward Williams were drowned off Leghorn in July 1822. Shortly thereafter, Byron and Trelawny embarked for Greece, Mary Shelley’s troubled and troubling step-sister Claire Clairmont departed to become a governess in Russia, and in 1823 Mary and her last surviving child returned to the England she had not seen since 1818. ‘The ...

Hottentot in Jackboots

John Bayley: The Cockney School, 10 June 1999

Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School 
by Jeffrey Cox.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £37.50, January 1999, 0 521 63100 9
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... by associating them with the morals and behaviour of a class who were not quite gentlemen. Byron (not quoted by Cox) goes to the root of the matter with the forceful impartiality characteristic of a man wholly confident of his own social status. ‘The grand distinction of the Under forms of the New School of poetry is their vulgarity. By this I do not ...

Peripheries

Charles Rzepka, 21 March 1991

The Puritan-Provincial Vision: Scottish and American Literature in the 19th Century 
by Susan Manning.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £32.50, May 1990, 0 521 37237 2
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... that which predominates in works like Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Poe’s ‘William Wilson’, expresses the puritan’s sense of estrangement from the state of his own soul. This estrangement heightens the impulse to self-examination at the risk of innocence. The resulting division of the self into object and observer is projected ...

Polygons

Tony Harrison, 19 February 2015

... my heart! The site below’s also closed where each year I’ve been to run my pen finger over Byron’s graffito, his name, carved on a column I can’t now get close to. For the last thirty years I’ve witnessed it fading. Each year it gets harder to find and decipher, illegible nearly from decades of neglect since he carved it with Hobhouse in 1809 ...

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