Claire Tomalin is the author of many biographies, among them Jane Austen: A Life and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. Her new book, Charles Dickens: A Life, will be published in October. (September 2011)

The Outline of H.G. Wells

‘The Old and the Young Self: Mr. H.G. Wells’; drawing by Max Beerbohm, 1924
A Man of Parts is David Lodge’s second venture into fictionalized biography, which allows him to concentrate on comedy and character. His first was Author, Author, in which he took Henry James as his subject. Lodge is a literary critic as well as a novelist, and James is a writer …

At the Heart of the Onion

Most of the stories Roald Dahl wrote for adults are built on tricks and surprise twists, usually nasty ones. A scientific genius who has bullied his wife finds a way of keeping his own brain and one eye alive after the rest of him has died: at the end of …

Frankenstein’s Mother

Mary Shelley was depressed for most of her fifty-three years of life: an orphan, a widow, always lamenting. Muriel Spark suggests wittily that “if there had been more wine in Mary’s life there would have been fewer tears,” alleging that she was never drunk, on wine, literature, or love. It’s …

Mr. Wrong

Can we take any more of John Middleton Murry? Whether we can or not, here is a new volume of his correspondence. There are plenty of buffoons among men of letters, but he is distinguished by being better documented than most. When his life was published, two years after he …

Katherine Mansfield’s Secrets

Nearly sixty years after her death, the name Katherine Mansfield still projects a sharp, strong presence. Not that Mansfield was her true name; it was one of several she made up. Her image too can be turned about; it changes, now vulnerable and wounded, now imperious and exacting, now the …

Frontstage Wife

Letters can have their sinister side; Virginia Woolf knew that. This is what she wrote in Jacob’s Room: Let us consider letters—how they come at breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their green stamps, immortalized by the postmark—for to see one’s own envelope on another’s table is …