Books by Fiona MacCarthy

GROPIUS by Fiona MacCarthy
Released: April 15, 2019

"Engrossing, impressively researched, and keenly perceptive."
A fresh biography of the influential modernist architect who shaped aesthetics from the 1920s to our own time. Read full book review >
BYRON by Fiona MacCarthy
Released: Nov. 26, 2002

"Still, MacCarthy's exhaustive catalogue of Byron's every waking hour will be useful as source material for a future biographer seeking to craft a more interpretive—and shorter, and more interesting—study."
A densely detailed, lackluster life of the eminent poet, adventurer, and enfant terrible. Read full book review >
WILLIAM MORRIS by Fiona MacCarthy
Released: Sept. 15, 1995

Morris's life of Pre-Raphaelite/Nordic poetry, medievalist arts and crafts, and socialist politics always makes for a readably overstuffed biography, and MacCarthy (Eric Gill, 1989, etc.) addresses each area knowledgeably and stays sympathetic to her hero. As a paragon of both taste and the Left, Morris inspired much hero-worship that carried over into biographies embarrassed by their paradoxical subject: an uncategorizable craftsman innovating through traditionalism, a Socialist and a businessman, a cuckold by his friend and fellow poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. MacCarthy clearheadedly avoids both the hero worship and the embarrassment, keeping up with both his gradual political transformation from neo-Gothic bohemian to committed if idiosyncratic socialist, and his wide-ranging work in architecture, stained-glass, furniture, textiles, printing, et al. MacCarthy's biography takes its personal cue from Morris as a young Oxford student, desperate for camaraderie to direct his energies (even at the price of being ``Topsy,'' his nicknamed buffoonish persona). Topsy's midlife conversion to socialism surprised his Oxford friends, but MacCarthy makes this maturation understandable and keeps his aesthetic and social ideals unblurred. She also paints a deep emotional portrait of Morris's family relations, especially with his daughters, the worshipful May and the invalid Jenny. Unfortunately, she leaves his wife, Janey, at the fastidious distance she cultivated and villainizes Rossetti, who despite his philandering had a complex relationship with Morris. MacCarthy delicately probes other sensitive aspects of his life but partially neglects Morris's personal depths. The volume is illustrated with his best-known creations and rarer ones, as well as everything from cartoons by Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones to socialist handbills and Kelmscott lettering. A well-crafted labor of love, MacCarthy's biography chronicles the epic works of a man who inspired both Shaw and Yeats and continues to inspire today. Read full book review >

To previous biographers like Robert Speight (Life of Eric Gill, 1966), Gill was an artist/craftsman whose conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1913 ignited a blaze of religious fervor that was near-saintly. Gill himself, in his posthumous Autobiography, downplayed any human failings. Now, MacCarthy (British Design Since 1880) takes a hard, halo-bashing look at Gill's diaries and comes up with some startling revelations about the Britisher's anything-but-monastic sex life. Born into a Nonconformist Methodist sect—his father was a curate who later went over to the Church of England, taking the family with him—Gill was raised in an atmosphere that stressed divine retribution and Victorian idealism. These qualities were never to leave him, though the sexual repression of his childhood upbringing was quickly overcome. During his 58 years, Gill not only married and carried on a series of affairs with various women, but indulged in incestuous relations with his sisters and his daughters, produced a large body of erotic drawings, and seems to have experimented with bestiality. At the same time, he was espousing the Rule of St. Dominic in his private life, wore a "girdle of chastity" beneath his hand-loomed smock, and established a series of communes that attracted many of the religious-minded. He preached a kind of Christian socialism and was viewed by his followers as a major critic of modern life comparable to Bernard Shaw. MacCarthy's findings are convincing and often shocking, but she fails to integrate them into an overall evaluation of Gill's life. Was Gill a Blakean figure intent on free sexual expression as an aspect of divine fecundity—or a dirty old man and religious hypocrite? And what do his sexual peccadilloes have to do with his very real stature as an innovative sculptor and typographer? MacCarthy doesn't tell us, and her book, though providing an intriguing look at Catholic bohemia during the first half of this century, is thus ultimately frustrating and unresolved. Read full book review >