Fourth Estate

March by Geraldine Brooks

April 2005, no. 270

Spacious and solidly constructed, the classic nineteenth-century novel invites revisiting. Later writers reconfigure its well-known spaces, change the lighting, summon marginal figures to the centre. Most memorable, perhaps, is Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), in which the first Mrs Rochester ...

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You have to sympathise with Nikki Gemmell. When she described her sense of liberation on deciding to publish The Bride Stripped Bare anonymously, she seemed to have in mind only a desire not to offend people close to her. She would also have liberated herself from the literary celebrity machine. But, once the game was up, she got even more of it than she would otherwise have done. It doesn’t seem to have bothered her too much. The profile in The Age and the appearance on Andrew Denton’s television show didn’t suggest that she was determined to salvage what she could from her original plan to stay invisible. Some of my more cynical friends have suggested that that was what she had in mind all along. But the book is written with a candour that confirms her avowals.

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Peter Singer occupies a distinguished position at the Centre for Human Values at Princeton University and is frequently described as the most influential of living philosophers. The front cover of this new selection of his writings couples him with Bertrand Russell and, in some respects, the comparison is sensible. Both philosophers have written clearly and simply on issues that are of interest not only to specialists. They have attracted a wide reading public and achieved the kind of celebrity and notoriety rarely associated with philosophers. Both have been activists – Russell mainly in the cause of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, Singer in the cause of animal liberation and the preservation of the environment – and both have stood for parliament.

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