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BOOK REVIEWS Lucas Malet Biography Patricia Lorimer Lundberg. "An Inward Necessity": The Writer's Life of Lucas Malet. New York: Peter Lang, 2003. xiv + 522 pp. $87.95 THERE ARE, I believe, currently four people who work on Lucas Malet, and two of them are the author and reviewer of this book. Aside from me and Patricia Lorimer Lundberg, then, it would not seem like this book has a wide audience—and I have already read it in manuscript . But I want to argue that it should find readers. "An Inward Necessity ": The Writer's Life of Lucas Malet deserves attention from anyone who might be interested in the ways women wrote fiction during an especially tumultuous period of literary history. An Inward Necessity not only introduces readers to the remarkable work of Lucas Malet, but it also does something else: it traces the arc of a career in a way that illuminates the economic and critical pressures affecting women writers at the turn of the century, demonstrating both how late-Victorian conditions fostered an oeuvre as ambitious as Malet's and how the advent of modernism damaged her reputation profoundly. In other words, Lundberg's biography is valuable both for what it says about Malet in particular and for what it reveals about the culture that allowed a career like Malet's to exist. Who was Lucas Malet? Her real name was Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison, and during her lifetime (1852-1931) she was widely regarded as one of the premier writers of fiction in the English-speaking world. Malet was the daughter of Charles Kingsley but her celebrated novels of the fin de siècle departed quite far from muscular Christianity. Compared favorably to Thomas Hardy and Henry James, with sales rivalling Rudyard Kipling's, Malet's novels won both critical plaudits and popular readers. In her most important works, The Wages of Sin (1890) and The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901), Malet wrote detailed, sensitive investigations of the psychology of masochism, perverse desires, unconventional gender roles, art, and the body, all in a vividly aesthetic style. At the turn of the century critics acclaimed Calmady as "the best novel since Middlemarch written by a woman," in the words of one reviewer , but thirty years later Malet died in penury, forgotten by the literary establishment she had once led. Her reputation declined partly because her sexual and gender politics confounded readers, partly because she refused to allow a biography, and partly because, as Lundberg argues, "her evolving modernist style met with sloppy reviews that endeavored to push her back into Victorianism." But in An Inward Neces347 ELT 47 : 3 2004 sity, Lundberg argues forcefully that "the time seems finally right to canonize Malet. Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison, or Lucas Malet, deserves a place in the literary pantheon alongside her peers George Meredith, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, and Virginia Woolf—just behind and to the left of her mentor George Eliot. She deserves a place as one of those women who with 'passionate minds' 'rewrote the world.'" While An Inward Necessity works hard to justify Malet's canonization , potential readers need to be aware of two factors. One minor but nagging point: the publisher, Peter Lang, needs to improve its quality control. The volume has been distractingly badly produced; it is rife with typos and its illustrations are distorted by moiré patterns. It is a shame to have such unnecessary problems constantly disturbing the reader. The major point I want to make about Lundberg's biography, however, is that because of the uniquely challenging nature of its subject, it demands a particular kind of reading. After all, how does one write a biography of an almost completely unknown author, of whom almost no records survive? It took rather extraordinary tenacity, ingenuity, and dedication for Lundberg to compile five hundred pages of information about Malet. Among the materials Lundberg has discovered are personal letters found only in the family's own records, obscure reviews from now-defunct magazines, photographs, interviews, legal documents , publishers' records, tax files, manuscripts, and newspaper profiles of extended family members. Nothing substantive was previously known about Malet's life; there was not even...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 347-349
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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