Publication Date: 24/02/2022 ISBN: 9781788162081 Category:

Two-Way Mirror

Fiona Sampson

Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publication Date: 24/02/2022 ISBN: 9781788162081 Category:
Paperback / Softback




A Washington Post 2021 Non-Fiction Book of the Year
New York Times Review of Books Editors’ Choice Non-Fiction Title
Longlisted for the 2022 PEN / Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

‘Brilliant, heart-stopping … reads like a thriller, a memoir and a provocative piece of literary fiction all at the same time … magical and compelling’ Washington Post

‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously wrote, shortly before defying her family by running away to Italy with Robert Browning. But behind the romance of her extraordinary life stands a thoroughly modern figure, who remains an electrifying study in self-invention.

Elizabeth was born in 1806, a time when women could neither attend university nor vote, and yet she achieved lasting literary fame. She remains Britain’s greatest woman poet, whose work has inspired writers from Emily Dickinson to George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

This vividly written biography, the first full study for over thirty years, incorporates recent archival discoveries to reveal the woman herself: a literary giant and a high-profile activist for the abolition of slavery who believed herself to be of mixed heritage; and a writer who defied chronic illness and long-term disability to change the course of cultural history. It holds up a mirror to the woman, her art – and the art of biography itself.

Publisher Review

Beautifully told. It is high time Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh were once again household names. -- Frances Wilson * Mail on Sunday * Sampson explores Elizabeth's long illness ... with compassion and scepticism ... Sampson is an astute, thoughtful and wide-ranging guide * The Times * A fine contribution to a growing number of biographies that try to pick off the barnacles of rumour and legend that have attached themselves to the lives of writers, and instead reveal them as they really were. -- Robert Douglas Fairhurst * Spectator * This new biography [shows that she was ... determined, ambitious and engaged in the public debates of her day. It] restores her to her proper place as one of the leading voices of the Victorian era ... This book is an empathetic - and much-needed - reassessment which tells a fascinating story. The decision to use the present tense [may not be to every reader's taste, but it] underlines the sense that the biographer is bringing her subject back to life. Most importantly, Sampson makes one want to read Barrett Browning -- Lucasta Miller * Telegraph * The first biography of Barrett Browning in more than 30 years is a nuanced and insightful account, dismantling previous studies [that viewed the poet only in relation to her domineering father or husband]. Fiona Sampson, a poet herself as well as a biographer of Mary Shelley, argues that central to Barrett Browning's story is the construction of identity - both in her life and the myth-making that surrounds it. Such a construction is itself a two-way creation, argues Sampson. "That the life of the body both enables and limits the life of the mind is the paradox of the thinking self." * New Statesman * "[It is [the] publicly engaged Elizabeth that Fiona Sampson sets before us in] this fine biography, the first since Margaret Forster's more than 30 years ago. For her frame and point of reference Sampson uses Aurora Leigh... [which tells the story of a young female writer's early career, specifically an artist's development. At first glance this might seem to mark a retreat to the personal and the biographic, but] Sampson's point is that Aurora Leigh provides us with a model for understanding how Barrett Browning forged a new relationship between female subjectivity and public utterance. ... The content... is spot-on. Sampson is particularly interested in Barrett Browning's personal and political entanglement with empire and race. ... Sampson is not too fastidious to deprive herself - or us - of the schlockier pleasures of biographical speculation. ... Sampson is ... judicious... but she understands enough about the pleasures of transgression to leave ... possibility in play. -- Kathryn Hughes * Guardian * The award-winning poet Fiona Sampson ... in her intriguing biography of and meditation on EBB, making the convincing claim that she was the first female lyric poet ... Sampson's book is timely [in its examination of EBB's political awakening] ... as a poet she puts the work before the life, and that surely is the right way round. -- Daisy Goodwin * Sunday Times * Brilliant, heart-stopping ... reads like a thriller, a memoir and a provocative piece of literary fiction all at the same time ... magical and compelling -- Charlotte Gordon * Washington Post * Two-Way Mirror pushes back against the neglect, bordering on amnesia, that has descended on a poet once widely celebrated ... battling polite silence more than the mistakes or omissions of earlier critics and biographers, Sampson wants readers to see Barrett Browning afresh -- John Plotz * The New York Times * Sampson's central argument is that the real drama and interest of EBB's life are to be found in her work ... Sampson has written an often absorbing study of EBB's risk-taking and originality as a poet, covering ground missing from Margaret Forster's biography, published in 1988 -- Claudia Fitzherbert * Literary Review * Fiona Sampson [is] a sympathetic biographer -- Constance Craig Smith * Daily Mail * Fiona Sampson's passionate and exacting biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a surprisingly compact volume, a bristling lyric sandwich of philosophy and action. It is also a page-turner. ... Sampson addresses her subject as "Elizabeth" rather than "Barrett Browning", rendering her intense sustained gaze extraordinarily intimate. Her deep sense of identification and unerring detail reels the reader in. ... Two-Way Mirror is a long overdue remaking of Barrett Browning's extraordinary appropriated life ... Each chapter is prefaced by a short philosophical lyrical essay or "frame", each a meditation on portraiture and reflection which doubles as an act of self-examination for Sampson ... It feels as if the stakes couldn't be higher for Sampson, and this gives an enormous charge to a vividly personal account... -- Martina Evans * Irish Times * Sampson treats the couple's marriage and elopement with tenderness and realism ... Sampson evokes a privileged world that occasionally smacks of Bridgerton ... yet which was starting to fulfil Blake's dark satanic vision ... and one of Sampson's key arguments is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's role in shaping and defining the poetic tastes of the time. ... Two-Way Mirror successfully sent me back to my selection of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems ... -- Harry Cochrane * Tablet * It takes a biographer of Fiona Sampson's lateral brilliance to re-argue EBB's importance [and to put her verse novel Aurora Leigh ... back where it belongs among the great works of the period]. She does by very carefully framing not just the life, which is far more vivid and complex than usually supposed. .. Sampson is superb on how much EBB's work is ... "written on the body". ... Armed with Sampson's complex portrait, with its multiple frames and mirror effects, it's possible ... to read Elizabeth Barrett Browning again ... She has come suddenly up to date -- Brian Morton * Herald *

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