She Trumped Them All

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The unsung hero of this life of Princess Alice of Greece is her son Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Born at Mon Repos, the quaintly named royal palace on Corfu, he was exiled with his parents by the Greek revolutionary Government of 1922 when little more than a year old. The family were carried to […]

A Good Way to Die

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This book is a magnificent achievement. By examining the lives of four women caught up in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9, Professor Preston casts a fresh light on the bitter struggle between the Nationalist rebels and the defenders of the legal, democratic Republic, and also on the domestic faction fights that bedevilled each side. […]

Grantham Beauty had no Time for other Women

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Not another book on Margaret Thatcher. The heart sinks. Apart from a dozen biographies, ranging from Hugo Young’s magisterial One of Us to the frankly awful Margaret, daughter of Beatrice by Leo Abse, plus shrewd glimpses from her daughter Carol in Below the Parapet, the lady is in print herself. Her career statements, running to […]

She Preferred to Drink with the Fellahs

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Mo Mowlam will go down in history for two things. She was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the Good Friday Agreement, that benighted province’s best chance for peace, was signed, and probably had much to do with persuading the Republicans to engage in serious negotiation. That did not endear her to the Unionist […]

Hardly New

Posted on by David Gelber

When I was asked to review this book I accosted three young women at a wedding and buttonholed them about their sexual fantasies. Two declined to be drawn. The third, a hairdresser, looked at me aghast, rose from her chair and walked away. Rachel Silver has had a good deal more success. She has a […]

Will Appeal Even to Anti-Wimmin Readers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Long preceding the expression ‘politically correct’, the etymologically incorrect herstory became the extremist feminist substitute for history. More howler than neologism, the objectionable word never caught on, but it did neatly express the fact that most so-called history was in fact the story of men’s lives. Adjusting that imbalance has been a growth industry during […]

American Womanhood at the Gateway to Death

Posted on by David Gelber

George sand had it in bed. Antonia Fraser was forty-nine when it happened. Gail Sheehy, a feature writer for Vanity Fair, was sitting in an armchair one evening when menopause hit her like time’s winged chariot. Instead of lunging for a cold compress, Miss Sheehy reached for the archetypal American comforter, the word processor. The […]

Another Victim

Posted on by David Gelber

Warren Farrell has set out to write a very brave book, one which feminists have been waiting for for many years. It would be the sort of land mark text The Female Eunuch or The Feminine Mystique was for the Sixties and early Seventies, a work of imagination and intelligence which would analyse and understand […]

Who’s Heard Of Her

Posted on by David Gelber

Had Dorothy Hodgkin been a man, she would have been the subject of a spate of full-length hagiographies by now: Tariq Ali would have weighed in with ‘Pugwash Warrior: Fighter for Peace’; Professor Steve Jones might have contributed ‘Biological Magic: The Story of the Quest for Proteins’; Roy Jenkins’s pen portrait would have been entitled […]

Edna Strikes a Blow

Posted on by David Gelber

The flat at 11 Downing Street is notoriously detested by chancellors’ wives – those five bathrooms with no one else to clean them, civil servants blandly opening the front door and using the lavatory just inside. (‘And I have to go to Sainsbury’s to buy their lavatory paper and Harpic’ was a running irritation for […]

What Life Held for a Clergyman’s Daughter

Posted on by David Gelber

As the ever-ascending nineteenth-century bourgeois acquired cash and clout, the first status symbol he purchased was some unfortunate vicar’s daughter, to give his own girls a certain gloss. Now the stage was set for a battle between the flat-vowelled mistress and the shabby-genteel governess, between the lady of leisure who knew no French, and the […]

A True Heroine of Her Time

Posted on by David Gelber

Fanny Burney who was born in 1852, is one of those figures of whom most people have heard, but about whom rather little is generally known. Her first two novels, Evelina and Cecilia, astute and risqué comedies of manners, were immediately popular, though when she told her father she was writing a book ‘he could […]

Not a Book but a Commodity

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is a book so much not there that, like the dog that didn’t bark in the night, it’s remarkable. It is hard to imagine how human hand could have produced it. I have always believed, as a reviewer, that absolutely every book must hold some sort of interest for the truly attentive reader. After […]

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Dry, Witty and Direct

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Period Piece subtitled A Cambridge Childhood, Charles Darwin’s granddaughter portrayed her family and early years with irresistible wit and her own enchanting drawings. It has been one of my favourite books ever since I first read it as an undergraduate. Almost every day I walked or biked past the home Gwen Raverat described so […]

A Rodin of One’s Own

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘A room one’s own and £500 a year’ were Virginia Woolf’s requirements for female independence. Throughout her adult life, the artist Gwen John lived in a series of rooms, self-contained units in other people’s houses, where she ate and slept and read. Most of all she worked, and her rooms frequently feature as backgrounds to […]

Love in Bateau Lavoir

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Fernande Olivier – ‘La Belle Fernande’ – was Picasso’s first live-in lover and a hugely important figure in his early Paris period. She lived with him at the Bateau Lavoir from 1905, when he was twenty-three, until 1911. And she kept a diary! This volume, well edited by the Picasso scholar Marilyn McCully, is a […]

Ahead of Her Time

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the extensive catalogue of royal foolishness, the entry for Marie Antoinette has always bulged disproportionately large. Consort of the portly and ill-fated Louis XVI, she has been portrayed as the personification of the ancien régime’s self-destructive indulgence and triviality, the pampered fantasist who played at being a ‘shepherdess’ in her Versailles mock village as […]

The Black Underwear was a Practical Choice

Posted on by David Gelber

‘We are all lonely wanderers in a very barren land,’ Ottoline Morrell wrote in her private journal in the autumn of 1919. She was feeling miserable after packing up the furniture of the ‘darling old house’ in Bedford Square, which was being put up for sale. Her comment derived, however, from a dinner she had […]

Rather Like Margaret

Posted on by David Gelber

It seems to me that of all the persons elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc must be one of the least worthy, unless you count among the saintly virtues courage, charisma, chutzpah, patriotic fervour and tactical military intuition. It is true that she was a lifelong virgin, a step towards […]

Importunate Biographers Well Kept at Bay

Posted on by David Gelber

Some years ago, in a non-fiction study (titled Deadlier than the Male), I attempted to find out why respectable English women novelists were and still are so good at writing about crime. I concluded that those who choose the genre have several shared characteristics, including an extreme reluctance to make any public exposure of their […]

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