PositiveThe Times (UK)It requires an author of guts to take on the thorny subject of Cassandra’s fiery expurgation, and to make sense of it all. Jealousy of a more brilliant younger sister, fear of exposing dirty family linen, anger at being left alone? Gill Hornby in her novel Miss Austen voices the (hitherto) shadowy figure of Cassandra, the villainess of the piece, and makes her flesh and blood. Vital and real ... Hornby is at her best describing the complex bonds between the \'excellent women\' of her story ... At the heart of the tale is a new romantic twist, which ought to be equally satisfying to those readers who know their Austen family history and those who don’t.
Anne De Courcy
PositiveThe Times (UK)Anne de Courcy claims that her book Chanel’s Riviera is neither a biography of Coco Chanel nor a history of the Riviera, but it certainly reads like a biography of this glamorous part of the world that continues to capture the imagination ... De Courcy’s sparkling, anecdote-rich narrative takes a darker turn with the onset of war ... Drawing on fresh evidence, De Courcy, whose previous books include a biography of Diana Mosley, reveals testimony from Jews hidden from the Germans, sometimes at great personal cost. Chanel’s murky dealings with the Germans is deftly handled.
D. J. Taylor
MixedThe Times (UK)... an odd opening to a book that continues to puzzle and mystify. Taylor emphatically says from the outset that this is not a book about Cyril Connolly, which it patently is ... Taylor suggests that Connolly’s attraction lay in his \'superabundant charm\', yet gives little evidence to support this claim. The girls were all prepared to put up with his awful behaviour just to be in his orbit and to \'luxuriate in the dazzle of his personality\', but the trouble with the book is that we see so little of this dazzle ... With the exception of Skelton, the Lost Girls come across as upper-class groupies, badly educated, unintellectual and short on female solidarity. It would have been interesting to have learnt more about their relationship with one another.
PositiveThe Times (UK)...The Canterbury set the music-hall standard. However, as Lee Jackson argues in his lively and superbly researched history Palaces of Pleasure, it is erroneous to take a London-centric view of music-hall history ... Jackson’s dense and ambitious book roundly dispels the myth of Queen Victoria’s puritanical, oft-quoted phrase: \'We are not amused.\' She probably never said it. On the contrary, he argues, and despite the formal photographs of the era, which depict grim, hatchet-faced people in dark funereal colours, the Victorians were very much amused.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Miller explores the seedy underbelly of the era with panache: it was a society in transition from the reckless Regency to the increasingly moralizing, sentimental age of Victoria ... Miller vividly describes William Jerdan’s grooming of Letitia—we first see him ogling her in the garden as she played, a hoop in one hand and a book of poetry in the other ... Miller’s definitive biography restores to life a poet who influenced writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Brontë. It cannot be said that the samples of her poetry included here will make one rush to find the complete works, but that is a matter of changing taste.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Gives a fascinating account of the rise during the previous decade of the \'Newgate novels\', sensational crime books aimed at the newly literate working class.
Anne de Courcy
PositiveThe Times UKThey had the cash, but needed more class ... Those excluded from New York’s smart set took their revenge by buying a title, reasoning that if you were barred from American society then you would jolly well up sticks and marry into the impoverished but landed English aristocracy ... The transaction was simple. American heiresses traded money for social position. However, de Courcy argues with conviction that it wasn’t simply about money. Englishmen found the dollar princesses irresistible and were drawn to their vitality, social ease and lack of stuffiness.
PositiveThe TimesSampson has written a fascinating book. She gives a sound explanation of the publishing history and reception of Frankenstein and reminds us that Mary was the author of several novels, alongside her children’s stories and travel writing. However, none of her later works matches up to Frankenstein, so the biography inevitably becomes less interesting in its later pages. One cavil is that more could have been said about why and how Frankenstein is so extraordinary ... That the author was a teenage girl upstaging Byron and Shelley with the force of her imagination never ceases to amaze. Mary Shelley changed the face of fiction.