AN IMMODEST VIOLET: The Life of Violet Hunt by Joan Hardwick

AN IMMODEST VIOLET: The Life of Violet Hunt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Published in Great Britain in 1990, this biography of novelist Violet Hunt by rookie book-author Hardwick, a former schoolteacher, lacks the substance and vivid detail of Barbara Belford's Violet of the same year. Born in 1862, growing up among the Pre-Raphaelites, flirting with Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin, Hunt began her series of scandalous affairs at age 20 and the first of her 17 forgotten novels (like White Rose of Weary Leaf) at age 32. Her friends included Henry James; her lovers, Somerset Maugham and, moat notoriously, Ford Madaox Ford, who wrote about their relationship in his fiction. Calling Hunt ""one of those women who led the way out of Victorian times into a new age,"" Hardwick admires the writer's ""determination not to accept a predetermined role,"" her attempts to expose the ""hypocrisies and confusion of her society,"" and the way she honestly portrays herself in fiction and in diaries. Unfortunately, leaden and imprecise writing (Hardwick apparently lacked access to certain papers) seem to keep the author from offering more than a fleshless biographical outline and hollow reassessments of Hunt's work. Relying too much on strings of quotes from Hunt's contemporaries, Hardwick rarely digs into her subject's psyche or into the lively literary milieu of the Edwardian London in which she lived. Too often, the reader is left wondering about the specifics. At one point, Hardwick says that Hunt ""was one of the few women who did not succeed in becoming [H.G.] Wells's mistress."" Later, the author refers to Wells as one of Hunt's lovers. Belford, by comparison, clarified the facts--stating that in ""1906, while still seeing Maugham, James, and Bennett socially, Violet began a year long affair with H.G. Wells."" Again and again, the reader looks to Belford's lively and extensively researched book to find out what exactly happened to the Hunt that contemporaries described as a ""brilliant,"" ""viperish-looking beauty."" A thwarted attempt to rescue a vital Violet Hunt from the sidelines of literary history. Read the Belford instead.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 1991
Page count: 205pp
Publisher: Andre Deutsch--dist. by Trafalgar