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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

LITERARY SKIRMISHES IAN HAMILTON, Against Oblivion: Some Lives of the Twentieth-Century Poets (Viking) £20

Although many have attempted to cross the frontiers between them, scholars and literary journalists have not always been on the best of terms. Scholars accuse journalists of sloppiness; journalists retort that scholars are addicted to endlessly proliferating minutiae - for the historians among them - or grand but inapplicable abstractions - for the theorists and philosophers.

Already, a skirmish has occurred over the material in this book. In an article discussing a radio talk that included material from some of the pieces here ('Poetry's Maw', PNR 134), Val Warner highlighted a chronological mistake in Hamilton's account of Charlotte Mew's life: her first collection was published in 1916, not 1921. This mistake has not been corrected, although Hamilton makes less of the date than he did in the talk, where it led him to describe Mew as a post-First World War poet. Warner also discussed something more debatable, that is, whether Mew's lesbianism was 'undeclared'. This is the kind of point that biographers love to discuss. But while they argue, what is to become of Mew's poetry? Is it in danger of being consigned to oblivion, and have Hamilton's efforts helped to prevent its disappearance?

Hamilton ends his piece on Mew with the comment, 'All in all, in her case, I think we ought to make the most of what we have.' His mention of her, accurate or otherwise, is aimed at bringing her to the attention of a wider readership. Important here is the fact ...


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