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Om författaren

Claire Harman teaches at Columbia University's School of the Arts.

Verk av Claire Harman

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (2009) 433 exemplar, 21 recensioner
Charlotte Bronte: A Life (2015) 348 exemplar, 17 recensioner
Fanny Burney: A Biography (2000) 124 exemplar, 3 recensioner

Associerade verk

The Corner That Held Them (1948) — Inledning, vissa utgåvor596 exemplar, 18 recensioner
Summer Will Show (1936) — Inledning, vissa utgåvor502 exemplar, 10 recensioner
The Body Snatcher and Other Stories (1882) — Inledning, vissa utgåvor259 exemplar, 5 recensioner
The Body Snatcher (1884) — Inledning, vissa utgåvor167 exemplar, 9 recensioner
The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1994) — Redaktör — 89 exemplar


Allmänna fakta



I came across All Sorts of Lives, Katherine Mansfield and the Art of Risking Everything, via Brona's review of Claire Tomlin's biography — both books published to coincide with the anniversary of the death of New Zealand's best-known author Katherine Mansfield in 1923.

I had already read a Kathleen Jones' wonderful biography rel="nofollow" target="_top">Katherine Mansfield The Storyteller (2010), not to mention C.K. Stead's novelisation Mansfield, (2004), but I do like a literary analysis of an author's writing, as long as it's not so scholarly that I feel out of my depth. Or that I have to Make An Effort instead of just enjoying myself.

Well, I did have to Make a Bit of An Effort with Harman's book, because although I've read Mansfield's collections and her novella...

... I hadn't read all the short stories that Harman explores and so I had to engage in the pleasurable task of finding them online and reading them.

Chapter One starts with How Pearl Button was Kidnapped (1912), and here it is — online at the Katherine Mansfield Society's site — if you want to read it too. It was first published under a nom-de-plume in the avant-garde monthly Rhythm which was edited by her husband-to-be John Middleton Murry but soon became a joint venture between them. Apparently, as well as editing, KM wrote quite a bit for this journal: poems, fiction and book reviews but these were not always under her name because they didn't want Rhythm to have 'too much' of her work in it.

Harman says that Pearl Button wasn't identified as one of KM's until it was included in a posthumous collection. (Unless I missed it, Harman doesn't say which one. It's in my 2007 Penguin Classics Collected Stories, which was first published by Constable in 1945, maybe that one?) It's not long — only about 1000 words —and it's a story which would seem less disquieting without that word 'kidnapped' in its title. Pearl, playing in her front garden, is beguiled into joining a couple of women who take her for a long walk, and then a ride in a cart down to the sea which she has never seen before. She has a lovely time. She is cuddled, and carried, and fed treats. Nobody gets cross when she spills food on her clothes, and she is made a fuss of because her new 'dark' friends are enchanted by her blonde curls. She is never frightened at all, and it is not until a crowd of little blue men arrive to take her back where she belongs, that the reader is made aware that there's been a hue-and-cry over her disappearance and that the little blue men knew exactly where to find her. As Harman says, the story relies heavily on withholding all sorts of information...
The location is exotic but not specified; the protagonist is guileless yet unreliable; the plot develops but isn't in any ordinary sense resolved. We are told the story entirely from the point of view of Pearl, a child of about three years old, who has been left to look after herself while her mother is busy working. (p.18)

Harman notes that this is an early work, of an unsubtle kind of simplicity and has the air of an experiment, or fragment of something bigger.
But the cleverness of the story, and the thing that Mansfield learned to exploit more effectively later, is in the manipulation of the point of view. In 'Pearl Button' she is using what is (now) called 'free indirect discourse' or a 'close third person' voice, that is, writing as if the narrator is passing on a character's experiences and thoughts, but not judging them. Or not appearing to judge them, for of course there's always space between the author and the narrator in which to plant doubts and ironies; that's what the space is for. (p.19)

The reader's doubt about Pearl's delightful day arises because of that word in the title.

From there, Harman goes on to explore the biographical origins of the themes of Otherness, belonging and an awakening sensuality that permeate Mansfield's fiction.

To read the rest of my review please visit

PS: Alas, I didn’t get to finish this absorbing book because there are eight reserves on it at the library and they won’t let me renew it. When the enthusiasm dies down, I’ll borrow it again.… (mer)
anzlitlovers | Jun 14, 2023 |
This life of Robert Louis Stevenson tries, somewhat successfully, to understand the complicated nature of the unsettled and problematic life he led.
jwhenderson | Sep 20, 2022 |
Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.
fernandie | 6 andra recensioner | Sep 15, 2022 |
I picked this up while cruising through my new subscriptions with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Orange County Library Systems, wallowing in their audiobook choices, and trying to find something to listen to while waiting for Kill The Farm Boy to come my way.

I knew nothing about the book, save what I read in the summary. In a nutshell, it's something like a forensic examination of the Courvoisier trial in 1840, for the murder of Lord William Russel. Courvoisier was Russel's valet, and was accused of cutting his Lord's throat while he slept, a crime that was disturbingly close to the one committed in the newest prose sensation tearing through London, William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard. A book the accused cited as a contributing factor when he confessed.

First of all, the narrator, Andy Secombe, was excellent; his accent was so very British, and though I have a Yank's tin ear for regional dialects, his variations of the many, many voices quoted in the book, accurate or not, made it easy to follow along and not get too bogged down or confused. There were a few times I wondered if he was having just a bit of fun with some of the 'characters'; it was subtle and arguable, and it might just be I've watched too many old BBC comedies, but it did not in any way hurt the tone of the narrative.

To call the book fascinating would be stretching the point, I think, but it was an interesting read, and a very topical reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our culture's current debate over 'do violent video games/music lyrics/movies corrupt our youth?' is merely the modern spin of the 1870's version of the same debate: 'do violent, sensationalist crime novels/theatre corrupt society?' I also couldn't help but think of the parallels between the phenomenon that was Jack Sheppard and the mad rush to get it on stage, and the 50 Shades insanity just a few years back. Neither book was lauded for its literary merit, merely it's scandalous and shocking content; both translated equally disastrously, though with the same raging popularity, to the stage/screen.

The author ends the book by pointing out the myriad of questions surrounding Courvoisier's guilt, in spite of the multitude of official confessions the man made. Those multiple confessions are part of the reason questions remain - no two confessions tell the same tale - and the forensic information gleaned from the reports and accounts do not fit with any of Courvoisier's versions of the events. In an age when the UK had public hangings and no appeal process, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no man would have confessed had he not been guilty; there were easier ways to commit suicide. Sometimes even shoddy investigations end up finding the culprit.

The single disappointment I had with the book also came at the end, when Harman is outlining possible motives; she hints at the possibility of a homosexual relationship between the Lord and his valet. I found this in and of itself to be sensationalist for a couple of reasons: Harman readily admits that Lord William Russel was by all accounts a happily married man before his wife died and that he continued to remember her fondly; Courvoisier was known in the past to have had one or two female relationships, though he was unattached at the time of the murder; and Courvoisier had only been under Lord William Russel's employ a very short period before the murder - 6 weeks if I'm remembering correctly. Given the prejudice and the laws of the time, a secret relationship was not impossible, but it was certainly improbable given the known facts. Maybe the author felt like any objective consideration of the case would be incomplete without raising the possibility, but to me it just came across as hearing hoofbeats and screaming Zebras.

To be fair, Harman probably devoted fewer words to the possibility than I just did, or at least not many more, so it's a tiny blip in an otherwise interesting peek into the past.

I started reading this before I really knew what squares I had on my card, and I don't have the Truly Terrifying square for which this would be a perfect fit, but I'll use it for my Free Space square.
… (mer)
murderbydeath | 6 andra recensioner | Jan 25, 2022 |



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