Emma Tennant

Emma Tennant new novel. Alice Fell, will be published in November.

A Visit to My Uncle

Emma Tennant, 31 July 1997

Pamela, my grandmother, is in her garden. The photograph shows a woman in the cloche hat and low, belted dress of the early Twenties; the face is smooth, and the jaw more pronounced than in the dreamy pictures of the years before the war. The sun is shining: whoever holds the camera is a favourite, neither a stranger nor a threat.

Story: ‘The German in the Wood’

Emma Tennant, 6 December 1984

I don’t think my father ever saw Bella. She was small, so small that her eyes and surprisingly large beaky nose came only just over the top of the kitchen table. Her chin – and a very slack mouth that muttered and dribbled in a kind of singsong language I could sometimes understand – were lost to view, below the rim of the thick, much-scoured, gargantuan table. Her hands, snapping at spinach, rolling a wooden pin in dough, fluttered about the sides of her head as she worked, like dancing ears.’

paces alone in her garden. An aging favourite, she knows the ritual of cleaning-time, the kiss of key in gate and cub led off, moon-eyed, to the far compound. By the pool, the patch of mud that never dries, she puts on speed. July-dark trees close round keepers walking in formation.

It’s airless. The sun’s swaddled in white, as if a snow-god, the God who made Siberia, found on...


Emma Tennant, 20 August 1981

Lenare was founded in 1924 by Leonard Green, whose portrait baptises this collection of society photographs. Facing him is an Unknown Woman, captured at the War’s end in an inverted pigeon’s nest and furs: she was presumably the first and certainly the last unknown woman to confront his lens. Lenare wanted fame and wealth to pose for him, and they did. Pearls glowed on old necks smoothed to youth. Girls with lacrosse-stick arms were, mysteriously, sylphides. And to show that this was no parlour for women, duchesses and children only, a posse of field marshals and lords, Smuts and Slim and Brocket, an admiral (Bowes-Lyon) and a braid of Excellencies stood and sat before the undemanding tripod. For Lenare wanted wealth and fame to feel there was safety in these attributes, and none of the perils exposed by a starker, colder camera (the tycoon’s incipient five o’clock shadow presaging a wild, unshaven face, the face of a kidnapped man): in Lenare’s calming view, diamonds and fine silks on the ladies are demonstrably there for ever, and are not the casual property of a lessee, a girl with her eye on the Main Chance, an obvious future divorcee, doomed to mope in C&A while her successor drawls in Hardy Amies. In the absolute stillness of the portraits, group photographs and weddings lay the secret of Lenare’s powers of reassurance. These quiet, well-mannered frescoes could know no Pompeii – but it is surprising to find Frankie Howerd here, and if one takes him at first for a duchess in drag, it becomes suddenly easy to see him, with one lift of the eyebrow, bring the whole marzipan edifice tumbling down.

Smart Girls

Emma Tennant, 17 July 1980

‘Clever Gretchen’ and Other Forgotten Tales sets out to right a balance heavily weighted during the age of the great Victorian collectors of fairy-tales, ballads and lore. In that age, of the vapours and Mrs Beeton’s steam puddings, it was considered unlikely that a young woman, hearing of an attractive young man in some distant part of the world, would go off immediately in search of him – or that a judge’s wife would turn from the suet to the lawsuit and make a better job of it than her husband. Each tale shows a simple truth. This is that girls are as clever and energetic as anyone else, and that this has been the case in places like Russia and Germany and Norway and Aberdeen for as long as can be remembered. It is a truth which has been absent in later times from the stories we have chosen to tell to children.

In the 15 years her memoir covers Emma Tennant transformed herself. The poised, if slightly stolid-looking debutante of 1955 was, by the end of the Sixties, a three-times-married, chronically...

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Lucky Brrm

John Sutherland, 12 March 1992

Recently in this journal C.K. Stead explained the dilemma of being a popular Australasian performer in England: ‘He can only be fully understood at home: but there he’s likely to...

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That which is spoken

Marina Warner, 8 November 1990

The poor man’s wife flourishes, the Sultana gets thinner and scrappier by the minute. So the Sultan sends for the poor man and demands the secret of his wife’s happiness. ‘Very...

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Down and Out in London and Amis

Zachary Leader, 22 June 1989

Robert McLiam Wilson was born in 1964, which means that Ripley Bogle, his first novel, was written in his early twenties. The novel’s qualities are those of immodest youth: it is ambitious,...

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Women’s Fiction

Margaret Walters, 13 October 1988

Penelope Fitzgerald has always seemed a quintessentially English novelist, low-key, exquisitely perceptive, and with a notable feeling for place – the seedy houseboats on the Thames in

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World’s End

John Sutherland, 1 October 1987

After the autobiographical candour of Empire of the Sun, J.G. Ballard returns to his familiar austere impersonality with The Day of Creation. Superficially, this latest terminal vision recalls...

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Edgar and Emma

John Sutherland, 20 February 1986

I take the following details from Current Biography, July 1976. Edgar L. Doctorow was born in New York City on 6 January 1931 to David R. and Rose Doctorow, whom he has described as...

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Costa del Pym

Nicholas Spice, 4 July 1985

In a letter to Robert Liddell dated 12 January 1940, Barbara Pym speaks well of her progress on a new novel, Crampton Hodnet, which she finished later that year, but which has only now surfaced...

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Auld Lang Syne

Graham Hough, 1 December 1983

It is not the easiest thing to discuss a novel that is the fourth of a series of five. Sebastian is not properly intelligible without an acquaintance with its predecessors, Monsieur (1974), Livia...

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Mythic Elements

Stephen Bann, 30 December 1982

In order to envisage the curious achievement of Emma Tennant’s Queen of Stones, you must first imagine that Virginia Woolf has rewritten Lord of the Flies. Interior monologues and painfully...

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Masters of Art

John Sutherland, 18 December 1980

The jacket informs us that Loon Lake is ‘a novel by E.L. Doctorow Author of RAGTIME’. Ragtime must have been a hard act to follow. In its day (1975), it was the most highly paid-for...

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Bananas Book

Eric Korn, 22 November 1979

Emma Tennant, former editor of the magazine Bananas, has produced a shiny package in the manner of an inter-war weekend book, but in a contemporary idiom to which no one can be indifferent.Am I...

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Patricia Beer, 8 November 1979

It is a powerful act of make-believe to put all your foes together in a building and set fire to them; it has also happened in history. At many points throughout The Intruder fantasy and reality...

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