This is a fascinating and beautifully written account of the lives of eleven British and American authors whose addiction to alcohol may have been a necessary adjunct to their writing but ruined their lives. Palmer’s succinct biographies contain fine descriptions of the writers, their work and the times they lived in; and there are convincing insights into what led so many authors to take to drink.
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning has come down to us as a romantic heroine. But behind the melodrama lies a thoroughly modern figure, whose extraordinary life is a study in self-invention. Born into an age when women could neither vote nor own property once married, Barrett Browning seized control of her private income, overcame long term illness and disability, eloped to revolutionary Italy with Robert Browning – and achieved lasting fame as a poet. Feminist icon, political activist and international literary superstar, she inspired writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf. This book holds up a mirror to the woman, her art, and the art of biography itself.
Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasising about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though, of course, it was never meant to be.