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Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson is an award-winning biographer and the author of six books, including The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (2008), Guilty Thing: A life of Thomas De Quincey (2016), and most recently, Burning Man: The ascent of D.H. Lawrence (2021).

Frances Wilson reviews ‘A Memoir of My Former Self: A life in writing’ by Hilary Mantel and edited by Nicholas Pearson

April 2024, no. 463 25 March 2024
In the title piece of this posthumous selection of reviews, criticism, essays, and journalism, Hilary Mantel describes how she once visited an irritating psychic she nicknamed ‘Twerp’ in order to guide her back to her former self: ‘I didn’t necessarily think I had a past life, but I wanted to know how it would feel if I did.’ Her former self turns out to have been a ‘miserable illegiti ... (read more)

Frances Wilson review ‘The Visionaries: Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the salvation of philosophy’ by Wolfram Eilenberger, translated by Shaun Whiteside

March 2024, no. 462 22 February 2024
Wolfram Eilenberger’s previous book, the bestselling Time of the Magicians (2020), explored the four Germans – Ernst Cassirer, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, and Ludwig Wittgenstein – who ‘invented modern thought’. The Visionaries keeps to the formula, this time with women in the lead roles. It is described as a group biography, but Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Ayn Rand, and Si ... (read more)

Frances Wilson reviews 'Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life' by Brigitta Olubas

March 2023, no. 451 23 February 2023
Shirley Hazzard challenged Auden’s line that poetry makes nothing happen. In her case, she said, poetry made everything happen. It was because she learned Italian as a teenager in order to read Leopardi in the original that she was sent, aged twenty-six, by the United Nations, to Italy, where she wrote ‘Harold’, the story about the awkward young poet that was published in the New Yorker in 1 ... (read more)

Frances Wilson reviews 'Essays Two: On Proust, translation, foreign languages, and the City of Arles' by Lydia Davis

July 2022, no. 444 25 June 2022
Lydia Davis writes long essays and short stories; some of them, like this one of six words, very short indeed: ‘INDEX ENTRY: Christian, I’m not a’. Influenced by Kafka and Beckett, she is drawn to Anglo-Saxon words, complex sentences, and literary forms which are hard to define. In the United States she has been awarded Guggenheim and MacArthur Genius Grants; in France she is a Chevalier of ... (read more)

Frances Wilson reviews ‘Dream-Child: A life of Charles Lamb’ by Eric G. Wilson

March 2022, no. 440 14 February 2022
The life of Charles Lamb reads like a tale by Charles Dickens. In 1775, a sweet-natured boy is born in the Inns of Court, the ancient legal district in the City of London. The boy’s father, John Lamb, works as clerk, scribe, and all-round dogsbody for an imbecilic barrister called Samuel Salt – the names themselves are Dickensian – who does nothing without first consulting his servant. Charl ... (read more)