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Tomboy Grudge

Claire Harman, 27 February 1992

Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life 
by Jane Emery.
Murray, 381 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 7195 4768 7
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... 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 ...

The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Claire Harman, 16 November 1995

Célestine: Voices from a French Village 
by Gillian Tindall.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 286 pp., £17.99, April 1995, 1 85619 534 1
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... 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 ...

O Wyoming Whipporwill

Claire Harman: George Barker, 3 October 2002

The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker 
by Robert Fraser.
Cape, 573 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 224 06242 5
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... 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 of any kind is alien to me, alien and dissonant ...

One word says to its mate

Claire Harman: W.S. Graham, 4 October 2001

The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters of W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Snow and Margaret Snow.
Carcanet, 401 pp., £12.95, November 1999, 1 85754 445 5
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... 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 ...

Purging Stephen Spender

Susannah Clapp, 26 October 1989

Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 358 pp., £16.95, July 1989, 0 7011 2938 7
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For Sylvia: An Honest Account 
by Valentine Ackland.
Chatto, 135 pp., £6.95, July 1989, 9780701135621
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... and relaxed into a lifelong partnership, explaining: ‘I lean more and more on her trousers.’ Claire Harman has written a bright and freshly-expressed biography, which is full of interesting data. Characteristically, she excavates the facts of Warner’s early life, but does not labour their sapphic significance. Nor did Sylvia Townsend Warner. When ...

Keeping warm

Penelope Fitzgerald, 30 December 1982

Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner 
Chatto, 311 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 7011 2603 5Show More
The Portrait of a Tortoise 
by Gilbert White and Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Virago, 63 pp., £3.50, October 1981, 0 86068 218 8
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Sylvia Townsend Warner: Collected Poems 
edited by Claire Harman.
Carcanet, 290 pp., £9.95, July 1982, 0 85635 339 6
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Scenes of Childhood and Other Stories 
by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Chatto, 177 pp., £6.50, September 1981, 0 7011 2516 0
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... is sad that she should have died such a short time before the publication of her Collected Poems. Claire Harman begins with the unpublished and uncollected work, arranged as far as possible in chronological order. STW is shown as an endless reviser, hard to satisfy. The Espalier (1925) and Time Importuned (1928), with their demurely ironic titles, are ...


Frank Kermode, 21 July 1994

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner 
edited by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 384 pp., £25, June 1994, 0 7011 3659 6
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Sylvia and David: The Townsend Warner/Garnett Letters 
Sinclair-Stevenson, 246 pp., £20, June 1994, 1 85619 341 1Show More
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... who was for years her editor at the New Yorker, published a selection of her letters in 1982, and Claire Harman, having edited the Collected Poems in 1983, published a good biography in 1989. Wendy Mulford’s lively study, This Narrow Place, gives a fuller account of the political activities of the Thirties, when Ackland and Warner joined the Communist ...

Too Good and Too Silly

Frank Kermode: Could Darcy Swim?, 30 April 2009

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Vol. IX: Later Manuscripts 
edited by Janet Todd and Linda Bree.
Cambridge, 742 pp., £65, December 2008, 978 0 521 84348 5
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Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World 
by Claire Harman.
Canongate, 342 pp., £20, April 2009, 978 1 84767 294 0
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... of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties . . . in the best-chosen language’. Claire Harman’s book is subtitled ‘How Jane Austen Conquered the World’, so it is, in a sense, an attempt to settle such questions. The publication of her book has been the occasion of a dispute concerning the extent of her debt to Kathryn ...

In His Hot Head

Andrew O’Hagan: Robert Louis Stevenson, 17 February 2005

Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
HarperCollins, 503 pp., £25, February 2005, 0 00 711321 8
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... into being an adventurer by the weakness of his constitution, but one of the efficiencies of Claire Harman’s biography lies in the ease with which she shows his propensity for valedictory thinking. He was truly homeless, and in Fanny Osbourne he married another homeless person. Together they were a showcase of aches and pains, and their ...

I behave like a fiend

Deborah Friedell: Katherine Mansfield’s Lies, 4 January 2024

All Sorts of Lives: Katherine Mansfield and the Art of Risking Everything 
by Claire Harman.
Vintage, 295 pp., £10.99, January, 978 1 5299 1834 2
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... quotations from Mansfield’s letters and diaries tend to be all over the place too. The title of Claire Harman’s biography, All Sorts of Lives, points to the volatility of her subject and the difficulty of her task. But at least some facts are incontrovertible. The Beauchamps had five children who survived infancy; Kathleen was in the middle. Her ...


John Mullan: Fanny Burney, 23 August 2001

Fanny Burney: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
Flamingo, 464 pp., £8.99, October 2001, 0 00 655036 3
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Fanny Burney: Her Life 
by Kate Chisholm.
Vintage, 347 pp., £7.99, June 1999, 0 09 959021 2
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Faithful Handmaid: Fanny Burney at the Court of King George III 
by Hester Davenport.
Sutton, 224 pp., £25, June 2000, 0 7509 1881 0
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... Charlotte. They join several other biographies on the library shelf. It is worth asking – as Harman and Chisholm, for all their virtues, do not – what Burney was doing composing, storing (and later editing) these supposedly confidential documents. They have almost none of the compacted obscurity of, say, Jane Austen’s letters, which had no thought of ...

If It Weren’t for Charlotte

Alice Spawls: The Brontës, 16 November 2017

... of everything else).The most significant book published to mark Charlotte’s 200th birthday was Claire Harman’s Life, the first serious new biography since Lyndall Gordon’s Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life in 1994 and Juliet Barker’s The Brontës from the same year (biographies seem to come in generational bursts). All writers on the Brontës ...


Andrew O’Hagan: The Bournemouth Set, 21 May 2020

... approval he required. ‘He often classified [Fanny] as “other”,’ Stevenson’s biographer Claire Harman writes, ‘indeed, that was the essence of her attraction for him – addressing her jokily in letters (“Dear weird woman”, “My dear fellow”, “Dear Dutchwoman”) and describing her as “the foreign specimen” in Sargent’s ...

The Ultimate Socket

David Trotter: On Sylvia Townsend Warner, 23 June 2022

Lolly Willowes 
by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Penguin, 161 pp., £9.99, October 2020, 978 0 241 45488 6
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Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life 
by Frances Bingham.
Handheld Press, 344 pp., £15.99, May 2021, 978 1 912766 40 6
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... spindly echelon. It was during a visit to the Essex marshland that she became, as her biographer Claire Harman puts it, ‘properly her own person’. For the first time in her life, she was later to recall, she felt ‘socketed into the universe and passionately quiescent’. As far as I’m aware, nobody ever had the temerity to describe Warner as ...

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