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QMCECS Seminar: Norma Clarke, 28 Feb 2017

February 21, 2017

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Goldsmith and his Biographers: ‘a really English worthy’ or ‘Irish if you will’

Norma Clarke

Professor of English Literature, Kingston University

No full-length biography of Oliver Goldsmith appeared until 60 years after his death in 1774. James Prior’s heavily-researched, two volume Life of 1837 sought to put Goldsmith in an Irish context. When John Forster issued his popular Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith in 1848 (building on Prior’s research), Goldsmith had become ‘a really English worthy’. Prior’s book, dismissed as dull and pedantic, was never re-printed; it was Forster, along with Washington Irving who also wrote a very popular life, who gave the Victorians their version of Goldsmith which was bequeathed to the twentieth century and beyond. Between 1759 and 1774 Goldsmith was producing the best work in England in poetry, drama and the novel, but despite what John Montague called his ‘clear predominance in so many fields’, it has always been hard to place him. This paper tells the story of Goldsmith’s nineteenth-century biographies as part of the larger picture of the reception history of Goldsmith’s major works: The Vicar of Wakefield, The Deserted Village and She Stoops to Conquer.

Some notices for Norma Clarke’s Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street (Harvard University Press, 2016)

‘Brothers of the Quill elegantly topples conventional accounts of Goldsmith’s career,’ Aileen Douglas, The Irish Times

‘Clarke joins several contemporary English writers whose works brilliantly mix group biography, history and literary criticism … [Jenny Uglow, Richard Holmes, Michael Holroyd] … Brothers of the Quill may be somewhat more academic overall, but it displays a comparable sprightliness.’ Michael Dirda, Washington Post.

‘A colourful, canny, immensely readable book … her style is assured, relaxed and sometimes gently comic.’ Min Wild, TLS.

‘Entertaining and scholarly’ Catherine Peters, Literary Review.

‘Clarke has made the literary life of the 18th century available and entertaining to the general reader … Her book buzzes with anecdotes … [and] … is strong on the importance of Goldsmith’s Irishness … gives a vivid picture’ John Mullan, The Guardian.

Chair: Markman Ellis
All welcome

Time: 5.00-7.00pm.

Venue: Seminar Room, Lock-Keeper’s Cottage Graduate Centre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End, London, E1 4NS.

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