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This review is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

ALL AND WARTS Rosemary Sullivan, By Heart: Elizabeth Snzart, A Life (Lime Tree) £17.99
Diane Wood Middlebrook, Anne Sexton (Virago) £20.00

Who deserves a biography? I suppose that in the eyes of God either everybody does or nobody. But in this imperfect world there is hot and eccentric debate as to who or who does not qualify. There are no objective criteria, it seems. The zeitgeist and not the Holy Ghost is the arbiter here on earth, and in the last few years one of its favourite subjects has been minor women writers who have quite recently died and on whom other women writers have become fixated.

Rosemary Sullivan's By Heart gives an account of the life and work of Elizabeth Smart. The life story, which in this case has to mean love story, is essentially trite, though the biographer does everything she can to keep us on the edge of our seats. Her book starts at the 'historic moment' in 1937 when a rich and pretty Canadian girl walked into Better Books in Charing Cross Road and, reasonably enough, picked up a book, after which, again rather sensibly, she began to read it.

The poem may have been 'Daedalus': 'The moist palm of my hand like handled fear …' The words seared. On the spot she would have memorized them by heart, for she did not read books; she engrammed them. Who was this George Barker, so passionate, with such a roar of authority?


Typically, Sullivan does not think it matters whether the poem was 'Daedalus' or not; she could easily have found ...


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