Claire Harman

Margins of Terror

I was in the Bodleian last week reading a book about a Brontë that someone else, far more engaged with the content than I, had found increasingly irritating. The marginalia started up slowly: just a lone exclamation mark here and there, a terse cross against possible factual errors, all very neatly inscribed in pencil. But then in the last chapter, with hope fading perhaps, the affronted reader could hold back no more and unleashed a torrent of correction and contradiction, crescendoing in ‘feminist twaddle!’ and ‘utter gobbledegook!!!!’ next to the penultimate paragraph. In a different hand, the words ‘Nutty dyke’ appeared by the author’s name on the title page. I wondered which of these trenchant commentators had been the first to let fly, and to what extent they might have egged each other on.

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