Hermione Lee

Hermione Lee is the author of biographies of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. She teaches at Oxford, where she is president of Wolfson College.

Wangling: Katherine Anne Porter

Hermione Lee, 12 February 2009

It is 1912, and Miranda Gay, one of Katherine Anne Porter’s versions of her younger self, is travelling to a family reunion in South Texas, in the country between Austin and San Antonio. She has made a rash early marriage and alienated herself from her family. She talks to an elderly woman cousin on the train, who bursts out: ‘Ah, the family … the whole hideous institution...

I like you: Boston Marriage

Hermione Lee, 24 May 2007

In 1852, Elizabeth Barrett Browning met the expatriate American actress Charlotte Cushman (famous for her trouser roles) and her companion Matilda Hays, a writer and feminist. They had ‘made vows of celibacy and of eternal attachment to each other – they live together, dress alike,’ Barrett Browning wrote to her sister. ‘It is a female marriage.’ She added that...



8 March 2007

I am sorry that my ex-graduate student Deborah Friedell, now on the staff of the LRB, was distracted from Fiona Shaw’s magnificent performance as Winnie in Happy Days at the National Theatre by a Whartonian social anxiety about whether to greet me or not from the row behind (LRB, 8 March). And I’m glad that I did spot her at the end of the play and that we exchanged a friendly wave. But I would...

All Reputation: Eliza and Clara

Hermione Lee, 17 October 2002

Both these outstanding women novelists have decided, with deliberate and rewarding feminist intent, to resuscitate and make central the lives of women whose stories have been overshadowed by the men they spent their lives with. Both have placed so-called women’s subject-matter – domestic details, clothes, female bodies, sexuality and pleasure, pregnancy and childbirth – at...

Uneasy Guest: Coetzee in London

Hermione Lee, 11 July 2002

By comparison with the acclaim for Disgrace, and the respectful reception of Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Youth has been met here with some disappointed and negative reviews (‘a tortuous exercise in intellectual introspection, and not much else’; ‘as fiction it is so interior and cerebral, it fails to engage’; ‘not wholly satisfactory as either novel or...

Splashed with Stars: In Stoppardian Fashion

Susannah Clapp, 16 December 2021

Tom Stoppard has talked of putting on Englishness ‘like a coat’ when he arrived as an eight-year-old. A more sentimental biographer might have colluded in the suggestion that the coat could be shrugged...

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In the Potato Patch: Penelope Fitzgerald

Jenny Turner, 19 December 2013

Penelope Fitzgerald was 62 when she won the Booker, a widow and accustomed to making do on very little

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Edith Wharton’s ‘background’ – the word is her own – has always seemed improbable for a future novelist. Persistent rumours that she was not the daughter of George...

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In the spring of 1877 T.M. Greenhow, a retired surgeon, published an article in the British Medical Journal on the case of Harriet Martineau, who had died in her house in Ambleside the previous...

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Smashing the Teapots: Where’s Woolf?

Jacqueline Rose, 23 January 1997

Virginia Woolf once said that biographies fail because the subject of the biography always goes missing (lost under the welter of the life). In this case, it is madness that goes missing because Woolf...

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Janet Todd, 21 December 1989

‘Catherised’ was how Ernest Hemingway described the portrayal of the Great War in One of Ours by Willa Cather. Despite lifting scenes from the movie Birth of a Nation, it made Cather...

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If there ever was a writer of genius, or neargenius – time will decide – who was heart-cloven and split-minded it is Elizabeth Bowen. Romantic-realist, yearning-sceptic,...

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