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Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World

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Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World

Kathy Chamberlain

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ISBN 13: 978-1-4683-1420-5
Trim Size: 6" x 9"
Overlook Press

Product Description

The untold story of Jane Welsh Carlyle, the wife of the renowned Thomas Carlyle with literary aspirations of her own

Hailed by Virginia Woolf as one of the all-time great letter writers, Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of Victorian literary celebrity Thomas Carlyle, has been much overlooked. In this compelling new biography, Kathy Chamberlain brings Jane out of her husband’s shadow, focusing on Carlyle as a remarkable woman and writer in her own right.

Caught between her own literary aspirations and Victorian society’s oppression of women, Jane Welsh Carlyle hoped to move beyond domestic life and become a respected published writer. As she and her husband moved in exclusive London literary circles, mingling with noted authors, poets, and European revolutionaries, Carlyle created and reported to her correspondents on her rich, rewarding life in her Chelsea home―until her husband’s infatuation with a wealthy, imposing aristocratic society hostess threw her life into chaos.

Through dedicated research and unparalleled access to Jane Welsh Carlyle’s private correspondence, Kathy Chamberlain presents an elegant portrait of an extraordinary woman writer.

“This compelling portrait of Jane Carlyle, the wife of the essayist Thomas Carlyle, illuminates the outwardly decorous but often inwardly tempestuous lives of Victorian women.”
—The New Yorker

“Chamberlain, Jane's latest and incomparably best biographer . . . gives us, at last, a Jane Carlyle who seems thrillingly alive.”
—Christian Science Monitor

“A delightful book about the early stirrings of feminism in Victorian England and a celebration of the lost art of letter writing.”

“Hugely satisfying . . . such a happy read . . . You have to buy the book, which you’ll then read aloud, pass around, and quote from. Jane Carlyle is back with a vengeance.”
—The Spectator

“Adjectives have long abounded to slot Jane Welsh Carlyle firmly into the role of worthy adjunct (and occasional adversary) of her husband, Thomas. We are fortunate that now we can meet this witty, highly intelligent, sprightly, and politically aware woman―everything that Jane was―in Kathy Chamberlain’s engagingly written biography. I had great pleasure reading it.”
—Deirdre Bair, National Book Award-winning biographer of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Carl Jung, and Saul Steinberg

“A really wonderful piece of work – Compelling, readable, and utterly distinct in its approach, this biographical narrative of Jane Carlyle sparkles with the wit and intelligence of the subject herself. Chamberlain has made a brilliant choice in choosing to focus on only a few years of Jane Carlyle’s life, displaying the woman in depth through her friendships, domestic arrangements, and most importantly, through the vitality of the letters she wrote.
If you think, as I originally did, that you have no particular interest in the life of Jane Carlyle, read this – You will be captivated by the life of a woman who is given a new chance through Chamberlain’s work, to express herself passionately and sagely, to engage us in her world, where we will recognize our own.”
—Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge

“Uncommonly insightful and luxuriantly atmospheric, Kathy Chamberlain’s portrait of Jane Welsh Carlyle―one of the most under-appreciated women of the Victorian era―brings a lost world back within the lucky reader’s grasp.”
—John Matteson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

“A rich and absorbing study . . . [Chamberlain is] persuasively sympathetic to her subject’s difficulties and so infectiously alert to her talents . . . Everything connects in Chamberlain’s ingenious curation of people and themes.”
—Daily Telegraph

“Kathy Chamberlain has written an intelligent, witty, thoroughly engaging biography of Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of Thomas Carlyle, one of the most significant men of letters in 19th-century England. While frequently considered an adjunct to ― or a victim of ― her literary giant of a husband, Jane emerges in these pages as a fascinating person in her own right . . . Chamberlain’s sensitivity, wit and deep knowledge of the period are beautifully suited to her subject, making this the most fascinating biography I have read in years.”
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“I’ve read with pleasure and assent Kathy Chamberlain’s rescue of Jane Welsh Carlyle―such a terrific woman―from the marriage frame. Chamberlain conveys what she justly calls Jane Carlyle’s art of spontaneity: the Carlyle idea of letter-writing as “a splash of the mind” or “the transcript of the mind in the moment.” My favourite is her emphasis on the inner life, attending to things hinted at, mentioned fleetingly, or even carefully avoided – all those signs we biographers must indeed read if we are to reach the live person.”
—Lyndall Gordon, author of literary biographies of Charlotte Bronte, Mary Wollstonecraft, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and T.S. Eliot

—Sunday Telegraph

“[A] fascinating, meticulously researched study of Jane Welsh Carlyle . . . More than a biography, Jane Welsh Carlyle is an absorbing depiction of Victorian society in transition.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Kathy Chamberlain’s portrait of the celebrated letter writer and Victorian wife Jane Welsh Carlyle reveals a delightful and vibrant woman who is deeply engaged in her times despite the severe and sometimes comical restraints which that notorious era imposed on middle class women. A valuable rescue operation, full of charm and irony.”
—Alix Kate Shulman, author of To the Barricades: The Anarchist Life of Emma Goldman

“Chamberlain plunges us into the world of Jane and Thomas with dizzying effect. We meet extraordinary characters along the way . . . A judicious and thoughtful biography.”
—The Times

“Reading Kathy Chamberlain’s fascinating Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World is like savoring a Jane Austen novel. In her fresh and graceful prose, Chamberlain, like Austen, vividly describes the view from a window or an exchange at a Christmas party and illuminates the mysteries of a class and an era. Sex (and lack thereof), jealousy, madness, even revolutions: the book is packed with drama, but also arresting domestic details and insights into women and writing. Chamberlain is a master at creating characters. As well as Jane and Thomas Carlyle, dozens of other Victorians, familiar and unknown, leap off the page. This is simply the finest and most original biography I have read in years.”
—Diane Jacobs, author of Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Remarkable Sisters

“[A] richly descriptive . . . introduction to a fascinating literary figure and her world.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Recommended for readers with an interest in the Carlyles and Victorian life, and literature in general.”
—Library Journal

“There could not be a more enthusiastic or sympathetic champion of this not always easy woman, no whiff of hagiography spoils the venture . . . [Chamberlain] presents Jane Carlyle as if there is no barrier between her and us, allowing her to walk straight into our presence. . . . By its end, Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World has evoked its subject with something close to brilliance.”
—Rosemary Goring, Scottish Review of Books

“[An] unflaggingly vivid biography [and] a deeply textured evocation of mid-nineteenth century life . . . Jane lacked her own Boswell, but Kathy Chamberlain has made up for it.”
—Juliette Atkinson, Times Literary Supplement

“A pleasantly idiosyncratic traversal of both the century’s and Jane’s forties [1843-1848] . . . Chamberlain eschews the flattened portrait of a 'self-sacrificing Jane Welsh who suffered from a tyrannical Thomas Carlyle'―a portrait we have inherited, ironically, from Thomas himself . . . Chamberlain’s book provides the seeds for a corrective.”
—The New Criterion

Kathy Chamberlain taught English for over thirty years at the City University of New York. She has given lectures on Jane Welsh Carlyle at the CUNY Graduate Center and at conferences in the US and UK, and has published numerous essays about Virginia Woolf and Jane Welsh Carlyle.

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