RaveThe Washington Post... brilliant, heart-stopping ... reads like a thriller, a memoir and a provocative piece of literary fiction all at the same time ... For those of us who were taught to revere Robert Browning as a writer of \'serious\' literature, and to regard his wife, as just that — only his wife — this comes as something of a shock ... Sampson tackles our misunderstanding of Barrett Browning by showing us the challenges she faced. Writing in the present tense, Sampson places \'Ba,\' as her family and friends called her, before the reader in her full humanity, so that we puzzle over her problems, we are infuriated by the doctors who tell her not to write to preserve her health and we egg her on when it is clear that her father will not let her marry Browning. Sampson also guides us through what she has discovered and points out, with caustic humor, the irony of certain situations ... These authorial asides are always helpful, often provocative and sometimes outright funny. Most importantly, they help Barrett Browning seem more alive, as the two poets’ voices often intertwine on the page ... a vividly drawn exchange between a living poet and a dead one. Sampson asks questions that Barrett Browning sometimes answers. Sometimes, of course, she doesn’t, but Sampson’s questions keep the reader turning the page, as we want to know what the answers might be. Throughout this magical and compelling book, Sampson shows us that we, too, can speak to the dead, or, at the very least, we can listen to their words.
RaveThe Washington Post...there are some memoirs that reach right out and capture us ... [an] extraordinary debut ... Smyth’s fascination with Woolf enriches her own writing ... The result is a memoir enlarged and illuminated by Woolf’s insights, but mediated by Smyth’s trenchant observations and wit ... This is a transcendent book, not a simple meditation on one woman’s loss, but a reflection on all of our losses, on loss itself, on how to remember and commemorate our dead.
Anne Boyd Rioux
PositiveThe Washington PostYou can be a wife and a mother and have a career. You don’t have to be a wife to be a mother. You can have your own wife! These are all reflections of what, in the 19th century, used to be called \'the woman question\' ... No matter how we answer that question, one thing is clear, thanks to Anne Boyd Rioux’s highly entertaining and eminently sane Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. Our answers have been informed by Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women ... [Rioux] paints a compelling portrait of Alcott, giving us fascinating insights into the creation of Little Women.
Nell Irvin Painter
RaveThe Washington Post...an inspiring, irreverent and fascinating look at her journey to become a \'real\' artist ... The most rewarding parts of the book are Painter’s images and her descriptions of how and why she created them. In the chapter where she reminisces about Irma, she also provides a series of profoundly moving self-portraits. These paintings are so compelling that they make her teacher’s callous critiques all the more ludicrous. Painter also captivatingly dissects the intricacies she confronts as a black female artist ... a heartening coming-of-age story for the retired set.
RaveThe Washington PostThe historical Mary Shelley is still here (1797-1851), along with all the remarkable incidents and associations, including her relationship with Percy Shelley, her friendship with Lord Byron and her creation of that most famous gothic tale 200 years ago. But the ground on which she stands, the very apartments in which she lived, are freshly illuminated, newly imagined, helping us draw closer to this fascinating but elusive writer ... this is not simply a biography; it is, as the title tells us, a record of Sampson’s search for Shelley—a point she reminds us of by using questions like bread crumbs, steering us along the path of discovery ... if there is a lesson here, it is that the biographer must rely on both. It is not enough to supply us with a historical figure’s street address, the biographer must re-create the street, the house and the rooms of that house so that we can encounter a living being.