Claire Harman

Claire Harman’s biographies of Fanny Burney and Robert Louis Stevenson are available in paperback. She is writing a book about Jane Austen’s fame.

O Wyoming Whipporwill: George Barker

Claire Harman, 3 October 2002

Fame came early to George Barker, but not so early as to take him by surprise. He designed his own ‘crypto-Renaissance catafalque’ at the age of 13, just to be on the safe side, and a year later was writing in these sophisticated terms of his own literary strengths and weaknesses:

I am certain that my mind is made if anything for self-contained imaginative work: critical activity...

One word says to its mate: W.S. Graham

Claire Harman, 4 October 2001

In the Tate Gallery St Ives exhibition catalogue for 1995 there is a comical photograph of the painter Bryan Wynter and some friends at Zennor in themid-1950s. They are seated round a bottle-strewn table. Wynter is smiling absently, Karl Weschke is looking down at his hands or the tablecloth, a woman lies slumped in an armchair and a young man holds his head in an attitude of total weariness....

The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Claire Harman, 16 November 1995

A batch of seven letters caused this book to be written: six love-letters and one letter home from a brother in the Army. They are the only remaining personal papers of a French-woman called Célestine Chaumette, and Gillian Tindall found them in an otherwise almost empty house in the village of Chassignolles in Central France, where she and her family have had a summer home for more than twenty years. The little box containing the letters had been overlooked by whoever had cleared the house: Tindall read them, found one date – 1862 – then another, noticed the very different hands and some quirky archaisms, and began to speculate.‘Once ephemeral as butterflies, they had been cherished and kept for reasons of obscure pride, comfort or regret; messages from a life already past to Célestine, they had undergone a long hibernation.’ From this fragile remnant, she started to reconstruct the life of the village and its inhabitants at the time of Célestine’s birth a hundred and fifty years ago.’’

Tomboy Grudge

Claire Harman, 27 February 1992

Rose Macaulay loved semantics and her most precious possession was her 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary: ‘my bible, my staff, my entertainer, my help in work and my recreation in leisure,’ she wrote to Victor and Ruth Gollancz in a rare display of feeling, after they had replaced the copy destroyed with the rest of Macaulay’s flat during the Blitz. Macaulay was the author of 41 books, and an early ‘media intellectual’ whose university education and illustrious family name, BBC talks and regular appearances on the Brains Trust programmes, sealed her fate as a sort of establishment blue-stocking. Her best books have been called novels of ideas, but could perhaps be more accurately described as diversions, for the ideas in them are seldom allowed to settle: the genteel humour which guaranteed her popularity in her own day and relative obscurity in ours diverts the novels away from anything too conclusive.

Teachers, classmates, relatives would remember Mansfield as ‘completely self-centred’, ‘careless’, ‘lazy’, ‘impatient’, ‘the last child in the world they ever expected to become a writer’,...

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The Cambridge Edition of Jane Austen is a production on the most monumental scale, involving nine beautiful but heavy volumes and something like a dozen editors, with a powerful editorial board...

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In His Hot Head: Robert Louis Stevenson

Andrew O’Hagan, 17 February 2005

Standing on the deck of the sinking Lusitania, the American theatrical manager Charles Frohman spoke his last words. ‘Why fear death?’ he was heard to say. ‘It is the most...

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Malice: Fanny Burney

John Mullan, 23 August 2001

In March 1815, Madame d’Arblay, the woman we know better as Fanny Burney, was forced by the arrival of Napoleon from Elba to flee Paris and to leave behind almost all her possessions....

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Frank Kermode, 21 July 1994

Sylvia Townsend Warner died in 1978, aged 84. Her first novel, Lolly Willowes, appeared in 1926, and none of her later works quite matched its success. In her later years she was probably better...

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Purging Stephen Spender

Susannah Clapp, 26 October 1989

Before she was born, Sylvia Townsend Warner was called Andrew. When she was seven, her mother took against her for failing to be pretty and failing to be male; by the time she was 17 she was known...

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Keeping warm

Penelope Fitzgerald, 30 December 1982

Sylvia Townsend Warner courageously faced solitude, preferring ‘the sting of going to the muffle of remaining’. The crisis passed, because, STW thought, ‘I was better at loving and being loved,’...

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