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Showing posts from August, 2010

Speculating Other Lives

I’ve been reading two biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft: Janet Todd’s Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life , and Lyndall Gordon’s Mary Wollstonecraft: A New Genus (which I have only recently started). I do love a good biography and both books are enjoyable, painting very different pictures of Wollstonecraft (Todd’s unsympathetic portrayal of a moaning, nagging, inconsistent woman; Gordon’s “pioneer of character” scarred by her background of domestic violence). I’m intrigued, though, by the way biography so very quickly moves into speculation, often on the slenderest grounds. Take Gordon’s theorising about Miss Mason, one of the teachers at the Wollstonecraft sisters’ school at Newington Green. Mary Wollstonecraft, Gordon writes, often referred to her as “‘poor Mason’, as though some misfortune were common knowledge”. Gordon informs us that “in most such cases the parents had lost their fortune, so that instead of fulfilling her destiny as a marriageable ‘lady’ the daughter


I am sorry to say it, people seem to go to the theatre principally for their entertainment! So complains Sneer in Sheridan’s The Critic , and if that’s what people want that’s what they’ll get if they hurry down to the Chichester Festival Theatre and catch the double bill of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and Sheridan’s The Critic . Since the National put the plays together in 1985, they’ve been widely recognised as a couple, and have even been taught as a pairing in schools. In some ways that’s a shame as it’s too easy to fall into the “compare and contrast” approach to literature (the characters of Richard vs Bolingbroke, images of war in the poetry of Brooke and Owen, etc, etc). They do make for an entertaining three hours, however. I didn’t know the Stoppard play and I was surprised at how funny it was; the parody of the country house murder is wonderfully done. The comedy is spiked by a disturbing edge when the barrier between performance and spectator, here the criti

In St James’s Square

What makes the perfect library? Is it one that still spends money on books, not just computers and DVDs? One that nevertheless uses modern technology to its fullest extent to make the best research tools available to its readers? One that never throws out books? One that has reading rooms that are genuinely quiet enough to work in? One that lets you borrow books for as long as you need them? One that offers you access to on-line catalogues and research databases from your own home? One with membership open to all? They’re certainly the things I look for in a library. Not one that periodically throws out books and journals. Not one where you’re trying to work against a background of chatter, the rustling of food packets, the blare of mobile phones. Not one that culls its reference sections and moves the much reduced collections into tiny corners of its premises. Not one that thinks the bulk of its budget is best spent on computers. Not one that has bought into some Gradgrindian ideal