Norma Clarke

Norma Clarke’s latest book is a family memoir, Not Speaking.

I ham sorry: Poor Lore

Norma Clarke, 1 August 2019

Frances Soundy​ lived in Battersea. She had several children and a husband who periodically disappeared. Off and on, throughout the 1820s, she wrote to the church wardens and overseers of the parish of Pangbourne in Berkshire asking for money. One son needed shoes, another clothes; the rent was due; debts had mounted. Mrs Soundy was apologetic: ‘Honerable Gentilmen I ham sorry to have...

A Skeleton My Cat: ‘Poor Goldsmith’

Norma Clarke, 21 February 2019

Is​ there an 18th-century writer to rival Oliver Goldsmith? Who else achieved lasting popular and critical success in all three major genres? The Vicar of Wakefield has never been out of print; The Deserted Village was a schoolroom favourite well into the 20th century; and She Stoops to Conquer is still performed. Despite these works, and the other poems, plays, histories, biographies and...

The first edition of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More sold out within three weeks; a second and third followed rapidly. ‘Holy Hannah’, as Horace Walpole called her (William Cobbett called her ‘the Old Bishop in petticoats’), was already a celebrity. William Roberts, the family friend entrusted with the task of producing the book, made her into a saint. He...

There is a moment in Jane Barker’s 1723 novel, A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies, which prefigures Jane Eyre, and makes one wonder how much or how little 19th-century women like Charlotte Brontë were acquainted with their sister writers (as Barker might have put it) of this earlier period.

Barker’s heroine, Galesia, is supporting herself by practising medicine in London...


The Last London

29 March 2017

I would shift the beginnings of what Iain Sinclair calls the compulsion to imagine a final city from Richard Jefferies in 1885 to Anna Barbauld in 1812. Barbauld’s long poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven imagines the collapse of civilisation in the ruin of London, heart of the British Empire. The poem is a prophecy:Night, Gothic night, again may shade the plainsWhere Power is seated and where Science...

Gentlemanly Pastime

3 January 2013

Thomas Keymer writes about Eliza Haywood, who was arrested in 1749 and questioned about her pamphlet attacking George II but supposedly written by a Gentleman of the Bedchamber serving the Young Pretender (LRB, 3 January). Three years earlier, another bookseller, Ralph Griffiths, had been hauled in to explain his novel, Ascanius, which featured Charles Edward Stuart as the protagonist. Griffiths represented...

Woolf wasn’t right

21 September 2006

‘We think back through our mothers if we are women,’ Virginia Woolf wrote, but there is no evidence that 18th-century women poets did anything of the sort. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is fine as polemic, but it makes dubious history, especially on poetry (the subject of the original lectures was ‘Women and Fiction’). Helen Deutsch’s review of Paula Backscheider’s...

‘If ever a woman wanted a champion,’ Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘it is obviously Laetitia Pilkington.’ Norma Clarke intends to vindicate both the author and her Memoirs (she...

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