Janet Beer, Clare Debenham, Rupa Huq, Carla Jardim and Peter J. Smith...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 27, 2014

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, is reading Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (W. W. Norton, 2013). “A 25-year history of the familial, cultural, emotional and intellectual context of a landmark novel – in the genre and in the writing life of Henry James, nothing would ever be the same again. Gorra brilliantly elucidates how, between its first publication and the New York Edition, The Portrait of a Lady, ‘like a person, had grown up whilst remaining in essence the same’.”

Review: Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson

Clare Debenham, tutor in the department of politics, University of Manchester, is returning to Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (Everyman’s Library, Vol.1-4, 1962). “This 1748 novel is not pure fiction. Recent biographic research reveals how aristocratic Georgian women were tricked into marriage, raped and had their children forcibly removed. In one of the longest and most harrowing of English novels, Richardson describes how Clarissa becomes the victim of Robert Lovelace, who imprisons, drugs and finally rapes her. But his heroines are never passive victims. Worth reading for its thought-provoking treatment of sexual politics.”

Review: Autobiography, by Morrissey

Rupa Huq, senior lecturer in sociology, Kingston University, is reading Morrissey’s Autobiography (Penguin, 2013). “What with the allegations of racism that have dogged him and his disdain for musical experimentation, enjoying Morrissey is something of a guilty pleasure. Nonetheless, his wordsmithery shines in this vivid self-portrait spanning an austere Anglo-Irish Manchester childhood, pre-fame dead-end jobs and pop fandom up to battles with the record industry at the height of Smithdom and beyond. Warmly recommended.”

Review: The Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber

Carla Jardim, policy and representation coordinator, University of Southampton Students’ Union, is reading Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (Canongate, 2002). “A peek under the skirts of every three-volume Victorian novel I’ve ever read. As Sugar struggles to maintain her precarious position as prostitute, lover and eventually mistress to perfumer William Rackham, she remains opaque. Along with carefully drawn characters, Faber provides mundane and sometimes beautiful details that leave you with the scent of London in your nostrils. Visceral and exquisite.”

Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, has just finished Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Paladin, 1972). “A crazy road trip to America’s most superficial city fuelled by booze and a plethora of hard drugs, this account of the violent self-interest of contemporary America has its roots in the poetic despondency of The Great Gatsby. While Fitzgerald’s description of the Jazz Age is delicately crafted and Thompson’s brutal satire is deliberately loutish, both novels ponder the evasive illusion of the American Dream.”

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