As always, Ellis impresses with his knowledge of his subjects and their times, and I liked his emphasis on John and Abigail's personal relationship, iAs always, Ellis impresses with his knowledge of his subjects and their times, and I liked his emphasis on John and Abigail's personal relationship, interwoven with their enormous influence (and not just John's) on the birth of the United States as a nation. With that said, I thought he was a little unbalanced on John's side (he seems to blame Abigail more than John for the signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts), and I would have liked to have seen more about their children, especially Charles and Thomas. Still, it's a worthy addition to Ellis's impressive repertoire....more
This is a well-written, well-researched dual biography. Sisman places them in the context of the eventful political and social times and traces the coThis is a well-written, well-researched dual biography. Sisman places them in the context of the eventful political and social times and traces the course of their unusually close friendship, showing the poets' relationship not only to each other but also to their other friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Neither poet was wholly admirable (though I ended up liking Coleridge much more than Wordsworth), especially in their relationships with women (good bio of Dorothy, anyone?), but Sisman does a good job presenting a balanced account of their ups and downs, from the height of their closeness to the eventual break-up. ...more
Aristocrats is a brilliant group biography of a family of noble sisters during the Hanoverian period in England. The Lennox sisters were great-granddaAristocrats is a brilliant group biography of a family of noble sisters during the Hanoverian period in England. The Lennox sisters were great-granddaughters of Charles II (through his mistress Louise de Keroualle), daughters of the Duke of Richmond, and wives and mothers to politicians and peers, but also fascinating people in their own rights.
All their lives they wrote letters voluminously, to each other and to other family members, and it's these letters that Tillyard uses in her reconstruction of their lives and their world, quoting liberally so that we hear the sisters in their own words as often as possible. Tillyard's portrayal of Hanoverian England is wonderfully rich and engaging, from politics and society to the details of daily life, and her portraits of the sisters and their relationship are acutely realized.
Aristocrats is that rare and wonderful thing: a non-fiction book so engrossing that it's hard to put down. ...more
The Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and DeboraThe Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and Deborah, the less famous sisters, and although they're necessarily less in the spotlight than Nancy, Diana, Unity, and Jessica, I still felt as though I'd learned far more about them than I'd gathered from any other source.
Lovell states up front in the introduction that she was trying "to explore the richness of the personalities, not to judge them"; in this she has succeeded, presenting a balanced picture and allowing the reader to form her own opinions. Occasionally Lovell stumbles in weaving the threads of the six lives together to form a logical and coherent progression, but that would be difficult with any group biography and particularly with one of such widely varying people as this. Well-written and thoroughly researched, this is a valuable addition to the Mitford canon. ...more
This is a wonderful study of four Victorian women, the bonds between them, and their lives as women and as writers. Mrs. Hemans was the best-loved femThis is a wonderful study of four Victorian women, the bonds between them, and their lives as women and as writers. Mrs. Hemans was the best-loved female poet of her time, and her friendship with writer Maria Jewsbury provides an interesting counterpoint to the relationship between Jewsbury's sister Geraldine (a novelist and reviewer) and Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the famous Thomas Carlyle and an excellent writer (though of letters rather than of novels or histories) in her own right. Clarke examines their lives and writings and the bonds between them to produce a fascinating look at Victorian womanhood. ...more
Humphrey Carpenter seems to have a penchant for group biographies. I recently read his excellent book on Evelyn Waugh and his friends, The BridesheadHumphrey Carpenter seems to have a penchant for group biographies. I recently read his excellent book on Evelyn Waugh and his friends, The Brideshead Generation, and now I've finally managed to track down a copy of The Inklings. As with The Brideshead Generation, Carpenter does focus more on one member of the group, C.S. Lewis, than on the others, for, as he argues, "the Inklings owed their existence as a group almost entirely to him." He gives some details about the life of Tolkien (of whom he has written a separate biography) and more about Charles Williams, but it's in the depiction of the Inklings as a group that Carpenter really shines.
The pivotal chapters of the book present Carpenter's description of an imaginary meeting of the Inklings and his analysis of what drew the group together. I usually don't approve of too much dialogue in a nonfiction book, as it tends to sound made-up and inauthentic, but Carpenter does an excellent job. It helps knowing that the dialogue is taken from the Inklings' actual writings (in fact, I recognized a lot of what Tolkien had to say from his letters). These chapters are compelling and convincing reading; the heady atmosphere of debate and discussion is brilliantly portrayed, making this essential reading for anyone interested in Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings. (I came out of it wanting to read more by and about Williams, myself.) ...more
Carpenter provides a good portrait of a talented group, including Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Graham Greene, John Betjeman, and Harold Acton, beginnCarpenter provides a good portrait of a talented group, including Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Graham Greene, John Betjeman, and Harold Acton, beginning with their lives at public school (usually Eton) and at Oxford. It's a little more a biography of Waugh than of the whole group, but Carpenter does keep up with the others, following them and Waugh through their careers and personal lives. It's a thoughtful and balanced portrait which made me want to read more about several of them, particularly Acton and Betjeman. ...more
This is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of iThis is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of it is devoted to the life of Elizabeth Ponsonby, whom Taylor puts forth as a typical "Bright Young Person", but there isn't quite enough of her life for me to really feel that it was a well-rounded account of it. Simultaneously, there's enough of it that not enough time is devoted to other Bright Young People, and the whole book feels rather shallow as a result. It's entertaining, don't get me wrong, and I'll probably keep it as a general reference and jumping-off point for further reading, but it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be.
(Also, I don't think Taylor gets Nancy Mitford terribly well, and I object to his referring to her as "Nancy", when he refers to male writers like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell by their surnames. And someone should have gone through the book and deleted every use of the word "alternatively", a verbal tic which irritated me enormously by the end.)...more
The Pythons Autobiography is a funny and fascinating history of Monty Python, by the Pythons themselves: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, EThe Pythons Autobiography is a funny and fascinating history of Monty Python, by the Pythons themselves: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. (Graham Chapman died in 1989; he's represented by excerpts from earlier books and articles, as well as by his longtime companion David Sherlock and his brother and sister-in-law John and Pam Chapman.) Switching back and forth from one member to another, it covers their individual beginnings, their coming together as a group, and their work together and apart, up to the present day. The multiple viewpoints give an occasionally contradictory but always honest and interesting account of the group's ground-breaking comedy work; I particularly liked the sections on The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. The book is fairly long (though my paperback edition isn't as long as the hardcover, which had many, many more photographs and images), but it's an absorbing read -- definitely an essential for any Python fan. ...more
I'd been waiting for this for what seems like forever and then had to keep myself from devouring it once I got it. It's a fat hardback and generally bI'd been waiting for this for what seems like forever and then had to keep myself from devouring it once I got it. It's a fat hardback and generally blissful, and fascinating to see how each sister interacted with each other sister, the various closenesses and rivalries and alliances and infighting.
Of course I've read many of Nancy's and Decca's letters, but I really loved reading Deborah's (the youngest sister and eventual keeper of the family archives). I find I still do not get on with Diana, in spite of her intelligence and wit, because her political views and devotion to the loathsome Mosley are really indefensible, but I rather expected this reaction from myself after reading her autobiography several months ago....more