The Book Trail: From Correspondence to the Jazz Age

I have decided to begin this particular Book Trail with a marvellous book filled with correspondence.  As soon as I began What There Is To Say We Have Said back in September, I knew that I would absolutely love it.  It leads us through a wonderful selection of biographies, all of which I am itching to get my hands on.

97805477503231. What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of William Maxwell and Eudora Welty, edited by Suzanne Marrs
What There Is to Say We Have Said bears witness to Welty and Maxwell’s more than fifty years of friendship and their lives as writers and readers. It serves as a chronicle of their literary world, their talk of Katherine Anne Porter, Salinger, Dinesen, Updike, Percy, Cheever, and more. Through more than three hundred letters, Marrs brings us the story of a true, deep friendship and an homage to the forgotten art of letter writing.’

 

2. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler
In this masterful portrait of the poet who dazzled an era and prefigured the modern age of celebrity, noted biographer Benita Eisler offers a fuller and more complex vision than we have yet been afforded of George Gordon, Lord Byron.  Eisler reexamines his poetic achievement in the context of his extraordinary life: the shameful and traumatic childhood; the swashbuckling adventures in the East; the instant stardom achieved with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; his passionate and destructive love affairs, including an incestuous liaison with his half-sister; and finally his tragic death in the cause of Greek independence. This magnificent record of a towering figure is sure to become the new standard biography of Byron.

 

3. Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay
9781408809723
Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances—as did their chaotic family arrangements, which often left the young women, despite their talents, facing the consequences of the men’s philosophies.  In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay follows the group’s exploits, from its inception in Hunt’s prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley’s premature death in 1822. It is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship, all of which were played out against a background of political turbulence and intense literary creativity.

 

4. Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle
Desperate Romantics, a tie-in with a new BBC series, focuses on the scandals, rather than on the group’s ideas, social experiments or artistic development: Ruskin’s loveless marriage and critical championing of Millais, who then went off with Effie Ruskin, Rossetti’s various loves, above all, Lizzie Siddal, his long affair with Jane Morris, and Burne-Jones’s obsession with Mary Zambaco.

 

97818570289115. George Eliot: The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes
Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot (1819-1880) achieved lasting renown with the novels Silas Marner, Middlemarch, and Adam Bede. Her masterworks were written after years of living an unconventional life, including a scandalous voyage to Europe with the married writer and editor George Henry Lewes. The scandal intensified when she moved in with Lewes after he separated from his wife. Eliot re-entered London’s social life years later, when her literary success made it impossible for respectable society to dismiss her (even Queen Victoria enjoyed her books). She counted among her friends and supporters Dickens, Trollope, and several other Victorian literati. In this intimate biography, author Hughes provides insight into Eliot’s life and work, weighing Eliot’s motivations for her controversial actions, and examining the paradoxical Victorian society which she documented to perfection in her novels.

 

6. The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller
‘Following the Brontë sisters through their many reincarnations at the hands of biographers, Lucasta Miller reveals as much about the impossible art of biography as she does about the Brontës themselves. Their first biographer, Mrs Gaskell, transformed their story of literary ambition into one of the great legends of the 19th century, a dramatic tale of three lonely sisters playing out their tragic destiny on top of a windswept moor. Lucasta Miller reveals where this image came from and how it took such a hold on the popular imagination.  Each generation has rewritten the Brontës to reflect changing attitudes – towards the role of the woman writer, towards sexuality, towards the very concept of personality. The Brontë Myth gives vigorous new life to our understanding of the novelists and their culture. It is a witty, erudite and refreshingly unsentimental unravelling of what Henry James described as “the most complete intellectual muddle ever achieved on a literary question by our wonderful public.”‘

 

7. The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz 9780393240085
In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, Lutz immerses readers in a nuanced re-creation of the sisters’ daily lives while moving us chronologically forward through the major biographical events: the death of their mother and two sisters, the imaginary kingdoms of their childhood writing, their time as governesses, and their determined efforts to make a mark on the literary world.  From the miniature books they made as children to the blackthorn walking sticks they carried on solitary hikes on the moors, each personal possession opens a window onto the sisters’ world, their beloved fiction, and the Victorian era. A description of the brass collar worn by Emily’s bull mastiff, Keeper, leads to a series of entertaining anecdotes about the influence of the family’s dogs on their writing and about the relationship of Victorians to their pets in general. The sisters’ portable writing desks prove to have played a crucial role in their writing lives: it was Charlotte’s snooping in Emily’s desk that led to the sisters’ first publication in print, followed later by the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

 

8. Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily Bingham
Raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South, Henrietta Bingham was offered the helm of a publishing empire. Instead, she ripped through the Jazz Age like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character: intoxicating and intoxicated, selfish and shameless, seductive and brilliant, endearing and often terribly troubled. In New York, Louisville, and London, she drove both men and women wild with desire, and her youth blazed with sex. But her love affairs with women made her the subject of derision and caused a doctor to try to cure her queerness. After the speed and pleasure of her early days, the toxicity of judgment from others coupled with her own anxieties resulted in years of addiction and breakdowns. And perhaps most painfully, she became a source of embarrassment for her family-she was labeled “a three-dollar bill.” But forebears can become fairy-tale figures, especially when they defy tradition and are spoken of only in whispers. For the biographer and historian Emily Bingham, the secret of who her great-aunt was, and just why her story was concealed for so long, led to Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham.  Henrietta rode the cultural cusp as a muse to the Bloomsbury Group, the daughter of the ambassador to the United Kingdom during the rise of Nazism, the seductress of royalty and athletic champions, and a pre-Stonewall figure who never buckled to convention. Henrietta’s audacious physicality made her unforgettable in her own time, and her ecstatic and harrowing life serves as an astonishing reminder of the stories lying buried in our own families.’

 

Have you read any of these books?

Purchase from The Book Depository

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