Books by Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour is a novelist and biographer who also writes reviews and articles for a number of leading newspapers and literary journals, including The Economist, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement, Spectator, the Listener, Books & Bookmen and The

Released: Nov. 6, 2018

"A top-notch biography."
The tale of one of the most disastrous marriages in English literary history—and how it reverberated through generations to come. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2008

"Creatively and entertainingly written family memoir."
Seymour (The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a Motor-Racing Legend, 2004, etc.) recalls her idiosyncratic father and the unbreakable bond he formed with his country estate. Read full book review >
BUGATTI QUEEN by Miranda Seymour
Released: Dec. 14, 2004

"A stunning portrait, intriguing with unanswerable questions. (Photos throughout)"
The colorful, engrossing story of Helle Nice—exotic dancer, race-car driver, accused Nazi collaborator—told with considerable élan by biographer Seymour (Mary Shelley, 2001, etc.). Read full book review >
MARY SHELLEY by Miranda Seymour
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

"An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life. "
A new biography of the author of Frankenstein that aims to comprehend her character rather than assess or advance her literary standing. Read full book review >
THE SUMMER OF '39 by Miranda Seymour
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

Biographer (Robert Graves, 1995; Ottoline Morrell, 1993) Seymour offers the tale of one Nancy Brewster, whose unstable life is blown out of the water (and into an asylum) by the unscrupulous Isabel March, a character based on the poet Laura Riding. The central event that we wait (and wait) for here is the 1939 stealing of Nancy Brewster's putatively brilliant literary husband Chance by the putatively brilliant Isabel March/Laura Riding. Isabel has come to the Brewsters as a long-term houseguest, bringing her English non-husband Charles Neville, based on the poet Robert Graves, who in real life did live with Laura Riding but who could be eliminated here (he does in fact just go away) without loss. The sources of Nancy Brewster's vulnerability are in no doubt as Seymour invents for her a deeply repressed childhood in Boston, a family who adored her brother but neglected her, a frigid mother, and a father who smothered Nancy with a pillow in order to molest her. Strange it can hardly be that Nancy at 18, when she's moved to New York and marries the penurious but brainy Princeton grad Chance Brewster in 1925, is still afraid of the dark and has problems with sex. History repeats itself, too, when, like her own mother, Nancy dislikes the daughter born as her first child but adores the second, a son. When a beloved uncle dies and the Brewsters move to his big old house—Nancy's one childhood Eden—on the sea near Salem, Mass., things seem bucolic on the outside, but when the imperious Isabel arrives and begins to steal Chance away, Nancy breaks down amid the symbols of war, witch-hunts, black magic, and danger gathered about her. Appealing glimpses of the day's East Coast literary life (watch Edmund Wilson take a whipping), but credibility is strained as the psychology of characters is simplified to fit the tale that needs to be told. Read full book review >
ROBERT GRAVES by Miranda Seymour
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A competent but unimaginative life of the bardic English classicist, novelist, and poet. ``I could fall in love with my big toe if I wanted to,'' declared the contradictory Graves (18951985), notorious puritan and inveterate womanizer who held court for years at his home on the Spanish island of Majorca and is best known for his meditations on woman as muse in The White Goddess (1948), et al. Seymour, a novelist and biographer (Ottoline Morrell, 1993, etc.), chronicles the long-lived writer's conquests and his literary achievements with scruple and without sensationalism. The most fascinating of the tales in her account is his long extramarital involvement, during a protracted lull in his first marriage to Nancy Nicholson, with the American poet Laura Riding. Though Seymour conscientiously refrains from overplaying Riding's significance, the woman takes over the book by sheer force of her oddity, ambition, and passion. (The bizarre story of Riding's suicide attempt and recovery are sufficient to inspire a stranger-than-usual Hal Hartley movie.) Graves himself could have benefited, though, from further inspection. His literary and social iconoclasm (he deplored the accomplishments of nearly all his poet peers; his socks, rarely worn, never matched) seem ultimately too charming here. And Seymour's psychologizing is more conventional than convincing. (Yes, Graves suffered under the excesses of a tyrannically virtuous Victorian mother, but didn't most of his generation? Why was his fate singular?) Additional detail about his WW I experiences would have been helpful since their influence was decisive, destructive, and long-lasting. But Seymour dutifully sorts through reams of gossip for their ounce of fact and soundly assesses Graves's work along with his romantic indiscretions. At a time when the biographical form is inspiring much-needed experimentation, Seymour's straightforward approach seems old- fashioned, although sturdy. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1993

Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938), benefactor to and social catalyst of the Bloomsbury Group, has found in Seymour (Ring of Conspirators, 1989, etc.) a sharp eye and fine sense of irony to tell, for the first time, her side of the story (her memoirs, which appeared shortly after her death, were edited by her husband)—and it's an amazing one, including nearly every artist and writer in early 20th-century England. With a title, a small inheritance, but little education, talent, or even good health, Ottoline married Philip Morrell, who became an MP. Through a devoted but asexual marriage that survived their many infidelities, the two created the most famous salon in modern England, first in London and then on the great country estate of Garsington, outside of Oxford. There, between the wars, among exotic birds and flowers, Bertrand Russell, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Katherine Mansfield, Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Walter de la Mare, Oxford undergraduates, and a clutch of painters and dilletantes enjoyed their freedom, Morrell's hospitality and admiration, and the ``spirit of active benevolence'' in which she sheltered, fed, amused, comforted, and loved this unruly crowd—who repaid her with scurrilous letters, betraying her even as they used her. Over six feet tall with red hair and a taste for wearing bizarre costumes, Morrell was an easy mark for parody, but as Lawrence—who in Women in Love offered the most painful one—said, she ``moved men's imaginations.'' And her range was encompassing: She could enjoy a Henry James or Joseph Conrad, a Wittgenstein or the young stonemason with whom, late in life, she had her first successful sexual experience after a lifelong romance with Bertrand Russell. Social history at its best. Ottoline confided that ``life on a grand scale'' was ``damnably difficult''—and Seymour has captured that life splendidly. (Photographs) Read full book review >