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28 September 1989
The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family 
by William St Clair.
Faber, 572 pp., £20, June 1989, 0 571 15422 0
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... Don’t be deceived by title or subtitle. This is not the biography of a family and it is not about the Godwins and the Shelleys. Perhaps the publishers persuaded WilliamStClair against his better judgment to downgrade his hero in the title and to include the Shelleys, who are more famous. This rich, glorious book is, however, a biography of William Godwin – no more, no ...

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 a complicated commercial negotiation conducted in secret among themselves, not of a serious consideration of which British poets should be honoured by inclusion in the book. Such behaviour, as WilliamStClair 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 ...

Ink Blots, Pin Holes

Caroline Gonda: ‘Frankenstein’

28 January 2010
The Original ‘Frankenstein’ 
by Mary Shelley, with Percy Shelley, edited by Charles Robinson.
Bodleian Library, 448 pp., £14.99, October 2009, 978 1 85124 396 9
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... Strongly fancied at the start of 1833 to win the Great Doncaster St Leger, Mr Gully’s bay colt Frankenstein (by Young Phantom, out of My Lady) failed to live up to expectations. Beaten into fourth place at the York Spring Meeting by Muley Moloch, Satan and Lot, in ...


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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... on the beach, ‘something stiff and straight’ covered by a sheet, is undeniably a phallus?) There is some excellent and fresh new work in the various anthologies – the Gonda piece, for instance, WilliamStClair on ‘The Impact of Frankenstein’, Michael O’Neill on Mary Shelley as an editor, Charles Robinson on ‘Mathilda as Dramatic Actress’ (the last three in the Bennett/Curran collection ...

Pity the monsters

Richard Altick

18 December 1980
The Elephant Man 
by Bernard Pomerance.
Faber, 71 pp., £2.25, June 1980, 0 571 11569 1
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The Elephant Man: the Book of the Film 
by Joy Kuhn.
Virgin, 90 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 9780907080091
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The Elephant Man 
by Christine Sparks.
Futura, 272 pp., £1.25, August​ 1980, 0 7088 1942 7
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The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences 
by Frederick Treves.
Star, 126 pp., £95, August​ 1980, 0 352 30747 1
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The Elephant Man and Other Freaks 
by Sian Richards.
Futura, 197 pp., £1.25, October 1980, 0 7088 1927 3
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The True History of the Elephant Man 
by Michael Howell and Peter Ford.
Allison and Busby, 190 pp., £6.95, March 1980, 0 85031 353 8
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... in the even stranger story of the Elephant Man, the least of whose manifold disfigurements was a grotesquely twisted lip. A year or so before he wrote his tale of the actor-turned-mendicant, Neville StClair, Doyle would have read the Elephant Man’s brief obituary in the Times. If he was tempted to use some of the facts in the case – the man’s never appearing in public unless concealed by a ...
18 November 1993
New York Days 
by Willie Morris.
Little, Brown, 400 pp., £19.45, September 1993, 0 316 58421 5
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... to a novel she does not write with the full and worldwide backing of one of America’s largest publishing houses. We have not the time to laugh at this speculation because dinner is announced, and William Faulkner is seated next to Candy author Terry Southern. Willie Morris, of the Texas Observer and Harper’s Magazine by way of a place called Yazoo and a university named Oxford, is now listening ...

No Waverers Allowed

Clair​ Wills: Eamonn McCann

23 May 2019
War and an Irish Town 
by Eamonn McCann.
Haymarket, 288 pp., £14.99, October 2018, 978 1 60846 567 5
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... year, there is no clear end either. McCann grew up in the Bogside area of Derry, the son of a trade union organiser. Like Seamus Deane and Seamus Heaney, who were both a few years ahead of him at St Columb’s Catholic Grammar School (where John Hume and Brian Friel had also been pupils), he belonged to the first generation to have access to free secondary schooling after the war. He went to ...
9 July 1992
English Music 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 241 12501 4
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... of, Great Expectations, Conan Doyle, Robinson Crusoe and Malory (with just a dash of The Waste Land – Eliot’s fingerprints are all over this book). There is a dream of a music lesson taught by William Byrd, a history of English poetry in the manner of one of Blake’s prophetic books, and a perambulation of London in which Hogarth repeats passages of The Analysis of Beauty and marches Timothy ...
13 November 1997
... made the decision to remain behind. She moved alone to New York City and took a job at the Public Library on 42nd Street, then one as a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. A couple of years later, William Shawn hired her to write the ‘briefly noted’ reviews of historical novels and murder mysteries for the New Yorker. I asked people at the office who had known Maeve what she looked like when she ...

What makes a waif?

Joanne O’Leary

13 September 2018
The Long-Winded Lady: Tales from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 215 pp., £10.99, January 2017, 978 1 906539 59 7
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Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Angela Bourke.
Counterpoint, 360 pp., $16.95, February 2016, 978 1 61902 715 2
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The Springs of Affection: Stories 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 368 pp., £8.99, May 2016, 978 1 906539 54 2
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... family emigrated. In Washington, she took a degree in library science at the Catholic University, and became engaged to the playwright and theatre critic Walter Kerr. He broke her heart. (Years later William Shawn told a colleague that Kerr would never write for the New Yorker ‘because of Maeve’.) In 1941, Brennan moved to Manhattan and soon found work at Harper’s Bazaar, where she stayed for seven ...

‘Kek kek! kokkow! quek quek!’

Barbara Newman: Chaucer’s Voices

19 November 2019
Chaucer: A European Life 
by Marion Turner.
Princeton, 599 pp., £30, April, 978 0 691 16009 2
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... pilgrims, he is always en route but never arriving. We have more contemporary documents that mention Chaucer than any other premodern poet: 493 of them, meticulously compiled by Martin Crow and Clair Olson in Chaucer Life Records (1966). What they record is the career of a competent civil servant. A member of the king’s household and lifelong retainer of John of Gaunt, Chaucer served as a ...

The Tower

Andrew O’Hagan

7 June 2018
... It’s much more strict.’ But Rania was strict with herself and her only indulgences, apart from the children, were elaborate cakes and the latest iPhone.She was fond of a quote she’d found from William Golding. ‘I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men,’ it said. ‘They are far superior and always have been.’ Most of the women thought this was a bit untrue, but Rania was ...

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