Claudia FitzHerbert

No one could match Tess, to Thomas Hardy’s dismay

In her disillusioned later years Thomas Hardy’s first wife, Emma, bitterly reflected: ‘He understands only the women he invents – the others not at all.’ In Hardy Women, Paula Byrne sets out to recover the stories of the women in his life ‘who did not have a voice and who were often deliberately omitted from

What can we learn of George Eliot through her heroines?

‘I have… found someone to take care of me in the world,’ Marian Evans wrote to her brother in 1857, three years after setting up house with George Henry Lewes. Professing herself ‘well acquainted with his mind and character’, she requested that the modest income from her father’s legacy should in future be paid into

The mother’s tale

‘I’m sick of this story of yours, this idea that it’s about drugs. If you want that to be the story then go away and write one of your f***ing novels about it, OK?’ says the angry son towards the end of The Lost Child, which goes nowhere slowly, despite the rollercoaster ride of publicity

Plucky young rebel

Pippi Longstocking is a nine-year-old girl who lives alone with a monkey and horse in a cottage called Villa Villekulla at the edge of a village close to the sea in an unnamed part of Sweden. She is a tender-hearted braggart, brilliant but unlettered, with a punning, pulling-the-rug wit. She lives as she likes —

The magic of bookshops

It is not uncommon for writers to be obsessed by bookshops. Some even find their writing feet through loving a particular bookshop and developing a habit, which helps to form the writers they become. And often they end up in a rage with the common run of bookshops. Why would they not? It is, or

Middlemarch: the novel that reads you

The genesis of The Road to Middlemarch was a fine article in the New Yorker about  Rebecca Mead’s unsuccessful search for the origin of the remark, sometimes attributed to George Eliot, that ‘it’s never too late to become the person you might have been’. To Mead this seemed at variance with the concentration in Middlemarch

Why did Penelope Fitzgerald start writing so late? 

‘Experiences aren’t given us to be “got over”, otherwise they would hardly be experiences.’ The opening sentence of the first draft of The Bookshop, published in 1978 when Penelope Fitzgerald was 62, didn’t survive in the finished version, but its author had found her voice, and, in a way, her subject. She had learnt how

A guide to the media circus

Caitlin Moran’s  bestselling How to be a Woman careered with reckless frivolity from the personal (eldest of eight, home-schooled in a council house in Wolverhampton) to the political (better pornography, larger pants, more body hair). Her latest effort, Moranthology (Ebury Press, £18.99) casts a retrospective glow of gravity over its predecessor. That was a manifesto

Cuckoo in the nest

Caradoc King, the well-known literary agent, was adopted in 1948 as a baby into a family of three girls, shortly joined by a fourth, presided over by a difficult, unhappy mother and her feebly adoring husband. He grew up unaware of the adoption and has never discovered its motive. His adoptive mother, Jill, the moving

Triumph and disaster

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of a power-crazed infant. In fact our narrator’s world has already been darkened by the time she is presented by her beloved elder brother with the

Spoilt for choice | 27 February 2010

It is more than ten years since Natasha Walter published The New Feminism, a can-do look at the ‘uniquely happy story’ of the women’s movement. It is more than ten years since Natasha Walter published The New Feminism, a can-do look at the ‘uniquely happy story’ of the women’s movement. Then she urged the sisterhood

More mayoral election fever

Once Upon a Time in the North is not to be confused with The Book of Dust, the big book which Philip Pullman has been promising for some time in interviews about His Dark Materials trilogy and what happens next. It is, instead, a short, elegant, simple story about what happened between two of his

Doing something about your mind

Peter Conradi is a retired academic best known for his critical work on Iris Murdoch and, more recently, as her authorised biographer. The biography, though painstaking and full of interesting material, exemplified the difficulty of constricting a linear portrait of a thinker who not only wrote obsessively about mages and the electric currents — for

Selling sex up the river

Anne Enright is an Irish writer with a startling gift for domesticating the outlandish. In her last novel, about twins separated at birth, she explored the sadness at the heart of tales of freakish sameness. In her latest, based on the true story of a 19th-century Irish concubine, deranged appetites are passed off as endearing