Literary Musings

Envy & Inspiration: The Friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield

Literary mythology has often portrayed Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield as bitter rivals, but they were close friends and, for the most part, mutually supportive writing colleagues.

The rivalry between the two brilliant writers served as inspiration to both, a spur to do better. Virginia said of Katherine, “I was jealous of her writing. The only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

In October 1917, Virginia Woolf recorded in her diary her first, decidedly mixed impressions of fellow writer Katherine Mansfield. Katherine “stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking,” she wrote. “In truth, I’m a little shocked by her commonness at first sight; lines so hard & cheap. However, when this diminishes, she is so intelligent & inscrutable that she repays friendship.” Read More→


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10 Classic Women Authors and Their Cats

In this site’s overview of classic women authors and their dogs and cats, it seems like dogs have the clear edge as writers’ preferred furry friends. But digging deeper, I’m no longer so sure of that! As it turns out, women authors and their cats are just as companionable, which this roundup will amply demonstrate.

I got to thinking about this when I heard that my friend and colleague Bob Eckstein had produced The Complete Book of Cat Names (That Your Cat Won’t Answer to, Anyway). Bob is a New Yorker cartoonist and a wonderful watercolorist. You may also enjoy this excerpt from his book, Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores. Read More→


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How Mary Ann Evans Became George Eliot

In September 1856, the 36-year-old woman heretofore known as Mary Ann Evans (alternatively Marian) wrote in her journal that she had “made a new era” in her life, “for it was then I began to write fiction.”

It was a new era in another way, as well, because it was soon after this that Mary Ann Evans began to transform herself into the author we know as the eminent British novelist and essayist, George Eliot (1819 – 1880).

Mary Ann Evans was in the process of reinventing herself in several ways. A few months after she began writing fiction, she sent a letter to her beloved brother Isaac in which she announced, “You will be surprised to learn … that I have changed my name and have someone to take care of me in the world.” Read More→


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Reading (and Watching) Pride and Prejudice in India

Like most teenagers in India who enjoyed the English classics, Pride and Prejudice came into my life. It prompted me to borrow the Complete Works of Jane Austen from the library and to read all her novels. But if you were to ask me to recall the plots today, Pride and Prejudice is the one that has etched itself most clearly in my mind. 

This could also be because I had to study this novel as part of my English Honors program in college. I recall the name of the teacher who took up this book but can’t remember many insights that she left me with.

What comes to mind is that she spoke of it as a “drawing room novel,” as a lot of the action indeed takes place in these various home settings, starting with that of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice. Read More→


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Jane Austen’s Final Days — Her Illness, Courage, and Death

Jane Austen by Sarah Fanny Malden (1889) is a valuable resource on the life and work of the beloved British author from the perspective of the late 19th century. The following excerpt describes Jane Austen’s final days —her illness, the courage she displayed, and her death.

Persuasion, the last novel Austen worked on prior to her death, and Northanger Abbey, her first completed novel, were both published six months after her death in 1817.

Mrs. Malden said of her sources, “The writer wishes to express her obligations to Lord Brabourne and Mr. C. Austen Leigh for their kind permission to make use of the Memoir and Letters of their gifted relative, which has been her principal authorities for this work.” Read More→


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