Patrick Parrinder

  • Past Tenses: Essays on Writing, Autobiography and History by Carolyn Steedman
    Rivers Oram, 224 pp, £22.00, June 1992, ISBN 1 85489 021 2

What do a story written by primary schoolchildren, a study of 19th-century policing, a biography of Margaret McMillan and an account of a working-class childhood in South London in the Fifties have in common? They give some idea of the range of Past Tenses, a selection from Carolyn Steedman’s prolific output of books and articles during the last ten years. Steedman is an academic – she remarks wryly on the Universities Funding Council as a source of the pressure she feels to write and publish – but her research and her theoretical insights are interfused with the obsessions and narrative quirks of an imaginative writer. One could quite easily see the series of ‘life stories’ summarised in Past Tenses as the oeuvre, not of the educationalist and historian that Steedman is usually taken to be, but of a new sort of storyteller, perhaps even a new sort of novelist.

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