Beckman, Linda Hunt

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BECKMAN, Linda Hunt

PERSONAL: Female. Education: Hunter College, City University of New York, B.A. (English); University of California at Berkeley, M.A. (English), Ph.D. (English).

ADDRESSES: Office—333 Ellis Hall, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Author and educator. Ohio University, Athens, associate professor of English.

WRITINGS:

A Woman's Portion: Ideology, Culture, and the Female Novel Tradition, Garland (New York, NY), 1988.

Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2000.

Contributor of numerous articles to various periodicals, including Victorian Literature and Culture, Studies in the Novel, and The Feminist Teacher.

SIDELIGHTS: American scholar Linda Hunt Beckman published a biography of Amy Levy, a British author who wrote during the late nineteenth century. A number of literary critics lauded Beckman's book, titled Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters, because it sheds light on many elements of Levy's tragic life, which came to an end when she committed suicide in 1889. Critic R. T. Van Arsdel, for example, in a Choice review, called Beckman's book a "well-researched and insightful biography."

Beckman is an associate professor at Ohio University, where she primarily teaches nineteenth-century literature. She published her first book, A Woman's Portion: Ideology, Culture, and the Female Novel Tradition, in 1988, and she published articles and essays in numerous publications. For Levy's biography, Beckman relied heavily on archival material, including Levy's letters, which were recently collected and made available by the Jewish Museum of London. Indeed, Beckman's book marks the first publication of a large number of Levy's letters, more than thirty-five of which are printed in the book's appendix. "My book examines Levy's life, work, and times," Beckman writes in her introductory prologue. "I examine Levy's writings as works of art, and scrutinize them, along with letters (her own and those of people who knew her), scrapbooks, sketches, and other personal artifacts, and cultural documents of various kinds, for insight into her intense emotional and intellectual life."

Levy, who was born in 1861, made her mark in London literary circles during the 1880s. She was just the second Jewish woman to be admitted to prestigious Cambridge University, and she was a close friend of a number of British luminaries, including Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Karl Pearson, and Vernon Lee. Levy published her first book of poetry before the age of twenty and went on to publish three short novels, numerous essays, and two more volumes of poetry. However, as Beckman explains, Levy was haunted by several internal demons, including her homosexuality and her ambivalence regarding her Jewishness, which alienated her from many of her contemporaries. Her emotional struggle ultimately led Levy to take her own life at the age of twenty-seven, just eight years after publishing her first work.

According to Beckman's introduction, one of her motivations in writing the book was to correct misinformation that has appeared about Levy over the years in various articles and reference books, especially about her background, education, physical appearance, and politics. In particular, Beckman refutes the idea that Levy was a "radical, a socialist, or social reformer." Instead, Beckman describes Levy as a "witty, troubled, gifted, ironic, and singular young woman negotiating the troubled waters of her time." In an interview for Ohio University's Perspectives, Beckman explained to Andrea Gibson that she hoped her book would create new interest in Levy's life and work: "I hope she gets the niche in the literary canon that she deserves."

Beckman's book was well received by critics, including a contributor for Nineteenth-Century Literature, who called the work a "lucid study" and an "impressive volume." Similarly, Diane Gardner Premo, reviewing the book for Library Journal, felt that it is an "important biography." In addition, Talia Schaffer, a critic for the Women's Review of Books, felt that Beckman has "gone to remarkable lengths to flesh out her subject's brief life," and that she has "restored Levy's 'life' and voice to our consciousness, and has given us a new appreciation of this 'woman of letters.'" However, Schaffer did criticize a number of "small errors and misjudgments about the Victorian era" on Beckman's part, which she believed tend to "undermine the reader's confidence." Critic Ruth Bernard Yeazell, however, wrote in the London Review of Books, "Despite some inclination to special pleading, Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters is a valuable guide to its subject. The thinness of the record necessarily makes it a more speculative biography than most, but Beckman is always careful to make clear on what grounds she has constructed her hypotheses. She is especially good at sorting out the different voices in which Levy speaks."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Choice, January, 2001, R. T. Van Arsdel, review of Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters, p. 900.

Library Journal, May 15, 2000, Diane Gardner Premo, review of Amy Levy, p. 93.

London Review of Books, November 16, 2000, Ruth Bernard Yeazell, "Is Everybody's Life like This?," p. 14.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, March, 2001, review of Amy Levy, p. 561.

Women's Review of Books, May, 2001, Talia Schaffer, "Brief Life," p. 20.

OTHER

Perspectives: Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity at Ohio University,http://www.ohiou.edu/perspectives (February 21, 2002), Andrea Gibson, "A Woman's Words," spring-summer, 2000.*

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