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The links above will guide you to specific books and topics, but for a smorgasbord of news and recent posts, take a look below.

First look at the Emily Hale letters

Note: At Berkshire Bookworld, you'll find my interview with Sara Fitzgerald recorded 10 days after the opening of the collection. Click here to get the podcast. I first heard about the Emily Hale letters from Valerie Eliot herself, in 1986 or 1987. Valerie led me to believe that Hale had been a hanger-on whom T. S. Eliot had had to push away, who had exaggerated her relationship with him and placed the letters Eliot had written to her at Princeton against his wishes. I believed what she said, and in any case I was expecting much because he [...]

Telling Our Stories, Writing Our Lives

Originally published on the Berkshire Publishing blog in November 2016, and republished here in January 2020 because it is relevant to the opening of the Eliot letters to Emily Hale. My friend Emma once complimented me on an anecdote I’d told, saying, “I can dine out on that for years.” And there are a few stories about Emma and my days as housemates in London I still tell, especially the one about how we acted out the Lucan murder, on the stairs where it had taken place just a few years earlier. We would pull in a male dinner guest [...]

Homesick for London

Every morning in Massachusetts, I make a pot of tea. Black and white china decorated with the names of English foods (“Fresh Milk & Jersey Cream” says my milk jug), tea cosy covered in a flowery print, tray I bought at John Lewis. And strong Assam to drink. Some days, I make myself a slice of crisp toast spread with Marmite. I left London over 25 years ago, with two preschool children, to find a better life in a small town, in the country where I was born. But on my trips back in England, that foreign land, I often [...]

Why Villette is Better than Jane Eyre (“Old Book” pick for December 2019)

Probably all of us have read Jane Eyre, about one of what biographer Lyndall Gordon calls Charlotte Bronte’s “searching spirit” heroines. But more passionate, more personal and autobiographical, and more searching is Bronte’s Villette. The three Bronte sisters had many fictional characters who suffered terribly, who were orphaned, impoverished, sick and lonely. But they loved. Oh, how they loved! I think of passages in Villette that are a torrent of desire. Not sexual desire (though we can certainly, and reasonably, read some of that kind of passion into the stories), but other desires and aspirations that seem to have been [...]

Deirdre Bair on Simone de Beauvoir, Sheila Weller on Carrie Fisher: celebrating women writing women’s lives

A year ago I was accepted into a group called “Women Writing Women’s Lives” (WWWL) in New York. I thus became part of a community of biographers and memoirists who write about women, and, for the first time in my life, a member of a women’s group. (That is, if you don’t count Girl Scouts, which I dropped out of after only a week - twice.) November 12th happened to be the official publication date for new books written by two of my friends, both greeted with much acclaim. Parisian Lives, a “bio-memoir” by Deirdre Bair, whom I met at [...]

“Thanks for Typing” in LOGOS, Journal of the World Publishing Community

This is the full text of my article, published in November 2019 in LOGOS, Journal of the World Publishing Community: Abstract In this paper, I review the Thanks for Typing Conference held at Oxford University in March of 2019, which explored the experiences of women who worked as literary helpmeets for famous men. I also give some details from the paper I presented there. In “‘Jumped-up Typists’: Two Secretaries Who Became Guardians of the Flame,” I discussed how two literary wives, Sophia Mumford (1899–1997), wife of the American historian and philosopher Lewis Mumford, and Valerie Eliot (1926–2012), second wife of [...]