The Discreet Charms of Mrs. G.

Allan Massie, himself a notable British novelist, very much of this century, recently asked, “How many nineteenth-century British novelists are still read? You would be stretching things to put the figure as high as twenty.” By my own count, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810–1865) could probably scrape into the magic score …

In Trollopeshire

A good many Victorian writers forbade biographies of themselves, or else their executors did all they could to make them impossible to write. Billows of smoke, for instance, merge with our picture of Hardy, redolent from the bonfires of his papers at Max Gate, leaving behind only a faked biography, …

The Haunting of Thomas De Quincey

Since the beginning of the Gulf War many Westerners must have asked themselves how much their attitudes toward Arab nations were based on actual events, how much on personal experience that we mistakenly treat as generic, how much on those institutionalized feelings about the alien and exotic that make up …

The Tragi-Comedy of S. T. Coleridge

Nature sometimes throws up aberrant artists like Samuel Taylor Coleridge who become the walking wounded of the intellectual world, possessed of apparently limitless talent and intelligence, yet who seem almost genetically unable ever to make the most of their natural endowments. No matter how great their eventual achievement, it seems …

Romance Incarnate

The durable legend of the Shelley circle has proved so endearingly dotty, so engagingly pretentious, that those eight chiaroscuro years between 1814 and 1822 are something of a roadblock for a serious literary biographer. The case of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is particularly difficult, since most of her works have not …

Passion and Humdrum

Tennyson was in some ways the most professional poet in English. Even as a small boy he knew what he intended to make of his life, and aside from an awkward step or two when his family tried to divert him into the Church, he never wandered off the path …

Talking Pictures

Richard Altick’s books have been original and unpredictable, but never self-indulgent. Among other subjects, he has written about Victorian murderers, about literary biography, the public shows of nineteenth-century London, the sixteenth-century Roman murder trial that prompted Browning to write The Ring and the Book, and the Victorian origins of modern …

The Face Behind the Lines

Once everyone knew what a real poet ought to look like. Half a century ago the beautiful, doomed profile of Rupert Brooke seemed to define all that was heartbreaking in a generation of lyricism extinguished by what Sir David Piper calls “a fate that knew what it was up to.” …

Idylls for Idlers

Even Thomas Carlyle could find little good to say about the aristocracy in the 1830s. “What do the idle rich do?” he asked, and gave a blunt answer to his own question: “Shoot partridges.” He still thought there was a faint chivalric whiff of “heroic Daring” in their heraldry and …