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Tang of Blood

Christian Lorentzen: Something to Do with Capitalism, 5 June 2014

... place, the state of the family and any complications. In Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury, £25), Rachel Holmes tries for something more vivid; ‘was born’ won’t do. She uses the present tense, and an active verb: ‘Eleanor Marx tumbles prematurely into the world in London at the moment before dawn on Tuesday 16 January 1855.’ Where is her ...

Worth the Upbringing

Susan Pedersen: Thirsting for the Vote, 4 March 2021

Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel 
by Rachel Holmes.
Bloomsbury, 976 pp., £35, September 2020, 978 1 4088 8041 8
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... granddaughter Helen Pankhurst put it, ‘what we would now call an intersectional feminist’. Rachel Holmes’s new biography of Pankhurst rightly gives equal weight to the three great causes – feminism, left internationalism and anti-imperialism – to which Pankhurst devoted her life. Almost a thousand pages long, and weighing in at three and a ...

The Runaways

Tessa Hadley: Michael Ondaatje, 8 November 2018

by Michael Ondaatje.
Cape, 299 pp., £16.99, June 2018, 978 1 78733 071 9
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... that made him an uneasy, unsettled man. His mother, as he recalls it, left him and his sister, Rachel, at boarding school and went to join their father in Singapore, where he worked for Unilever. When his narrative begins, Nathaniel is 14 and Rachel is 16: they hate their schools, and run away from them almost at ...

Why do I have to know what McDonald’s is?

Patricia Lockwood: Rachel Cusk takes off, 10 May 2018

by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 249 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34676 9
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by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 260 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34674 5
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by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 232 pp., £16.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34664 6
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... The observation​ that some people do not like Rachel Cusk is so omnipresent in criticism of her work that it’s surprising no one’s ever led off a review with ‘I, too, dislike her.’ These observations are generally accompanied by photos or illustrations of her in which she looks at you both directly and flinchingly, almost always with a strand of hair in the centre of her forehead, with a smile somewhat like Edna O’Brien’s – another writer who seemed to rouse hatred for her disarranged hair as much as for her books, another writer who went to convent school ...

Much of a Scramble

Francesca Wade: Ray Strachey, 23 January 2020

A Working Woman: The Remarkable Life of Ray Strachey 
by Jennifer Holmes.
Troubador, 392 pp., £20, February 2019, 978 1 78901 654 3
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... Strachey’s preoccupations, and their roots in her life, which are carefully unpicked in Jennifer Holmes’s meticulous biography. In many ways, The Cause is Strachey’s tribute to preceding generations, a compendium of women whose lives guided her in steering a course away from her own mother’s demands. Strachey’s mother, Mary Whitall Smith, lived for ...

Then came the Hoover

Hugh Pennington: The Allergy Epidemic, 22 June 2006

Allergy: The History of a Modern Malady 
by Mark Jackson.
Reaktion, 288 pp., £25, May 2006, 1 86189 271 3
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... new nor rare. As an English word ‘asthma’ goes back to the 16th century. And when Sherlock Holmes in the ‘Adventure of the Norwood Builder’ (1903) greets John Hector McFarlane, who has just burst unceremoniously into 221b Baker Street, with the words ‘you mentioned your name, as if I should recognise it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious ...

Bantu in the Bathroom

Jacqueline Rose, 19 November 2015

... is at once screaming out for our attention and cannot be known. When I suggested to the writer Rachel Holmes, for decades my main informant on South Africa, that this was a case where knowing and not-knowing collide – we know he knew it was Steenkamp in the toilet, only of course we don’t, we can think we know but our knowing has its limits; our ...

The butler didn’t do it

Bee Wilson: The First Detectives, 19 June 2008

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 334 pp., £14.99, April 2008, 978 0 7475 8215 1
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... the daughter of the house are misplaced. Collins transforms the sullen Constance into the lovely Rachel Verinder, a girl so heroic she is prepared to look suspicious for the sake of one she loves. In his preface, Collins wrote that the book is ‘built’ on ‘the conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl’. It was easier to believe in the ...

Trees are complicated

Maureen N. McLane: H.D. casts a spell, 2 February 2023

by H.D..
New Directions, 281 pp., £14.99, November 2022, 978 0 8112 2209 9
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Winged Words: The Life and Work of the Poet H.D. 
by Donna Krolik Hollenberg.
Michigan, 360 pp., £68, June 2022, 978 0 472 13301 7
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... kind of often homophobic and misogynistic contempt that writers such as Guest and Hollenberg (and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Stanford Friedman and Susan Gubar) did much to dispel. Yet one does want to know just how things were paid for: did H.D. have any money of her own? It turns out she had an allowance from her parents, and that a brother managed some of ...

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