Feinstein, Elaine 1930-

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FEINSTEIN, Elaine 1930-

PERSONAL: Born October 24, 1930, in Bootle, Lancashire, England; daughter of Isidore and Fay (Compton) Cooklin; married Arnold Feinstein (an immunologist), July 22, 1957; children: Adam, Martin, Joel. Education: Cambridge University, B.A., 1952, M.A., 1955.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Gill Coleridge, Rogers, Coleridge & White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11, England; (plays and film) Lemon Unna & Durbridge, 24-32 Pottery Lane, London W11 4LZ, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Cambridge University Press, London, England, editorial staff member, 1960-62; Bishop's Stortford Training College, Hertfordshire, England, lecturer in English, 1963-66; University of Essex, Wivenhoe, England, assistant lecturer in literature, 1967-70; freelance writer, 1971—. Writer-in-residence, British Council in Singapore, 1993, and for the British Council in Tromsoe. Has also worked as a journalist.

MEMBER: Poetry Society, Eastern Arts Association, Royal Society of Literature (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council grants, 1970, 1979, 1981; Daisy Miller Prize, 1971, for fiction; Kelus poetry prize, 1978; Cholmondeley Poets Award, 1990; D.Litt., Leicester University, England, 1990.



In a Green Eye, Goliard Press (London, England), 1966.

The Magic Apple Tree, Hutchinson (London, England), 1971.

At the Edge, Sceptre Press (Northamptonshire, England), 1972.

The Celebrants and Other Poems, Hutchinson (London, England), 1973.

Some Unease and Angels: Selected Poems, Green River Press (University Center, MI), 1977, second edition, Hutchinson (London, England), 1982.

The Feast of Euridice, Faber (London, England), 1981.

Badlands, Hutchinson (London, England), 1986.

City Music, Hutchinson (London, England), 1990.

Selected Poems, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1994.

Daylight, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1997.

Gold, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2000.


The Circle, Hutchinson (London, England), 1970.

The Amberstone Exit, Hutchinson (London, England), 1972.

The Glass Alembic, Hutchinson (London, England), 1973, published as The Crystal Garden, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.

The Children of the Rose, Hutchinson (London, England), 1974.

The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner, Hutchinson (London, England), 1976.

The Shadow Master, Hutchinson (London, England), 1977, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.

The Survivors, Hutchinson (London, England), 1982.

The Border, Hutchinson (London, England), 1984.

Mother's Girl, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

All You Need, Hutchinson (London, England), 1989.

Loving Brecht, Hutchinson (London, England), 1992.

Dreamers, Macmillan (London, England), 1994.

Lady Chatterley's Confession, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1995.

Dark Inheritance, Women's Press (london, England), 2001.


Breath (teleplay), British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), 1975.

Echoes (radio play), 1980.

A Late Spring (radio play), 1982.

Lunch (teleplay), 1982.

A Captive Lion (radio play), 1984.

The Diary of a Country Gentlewoman (twelve-part television series, based on the novel by Edith Holden), ITV, 1984, also known as Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Maria Tsvetayeva: A Life (radio play), 1985.

A Brave Face (teleplay), 1985.

A Day Off (radio play; based on the novel by Storm Jameson), 1986.

If I Ever Get on My Feet Again (radio play), 1987.

Lear's Daughters, first produced in London, England, 1987.

The Chase (teleplay), 1988.

A Passionate Woman (teleplay; series), 1989.

The Man in Her Life (radio play), 1990.

Foreign Girls (radio play), 1993.

Winter Meeting (radio play), 1994.

Also author of radio play Women in Love (based on the novel by D. H. Lawrence); and a radio adaptation of her own novel Lady Chatterly's Confession.


(Editor) Selected Poems of John Clare, University Tutorial Press (London, England), 1968.

(Translator) The Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Oxford University Press (London, England), 1971, second revised edition, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Matters of Chance (short stories), Covent Garden Press (London, England), 1972.

(Translator) Three Russian Poets: Margarita Aliger, Yunna Moritz, and Bella Akhmadulina, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1979.

(Editor, with Fay Weldon) New Stories Four, Arts Council of Great Britain (London, England), 1979.

The Silent Areas (short stories), Hutchinson (London, England), 1980.

Bessie Smith (biography), Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.

(Translator, with Antonina W. Bouis) Nika Turbina, First Draft: Poems, M. Boyars (London, England), 1988.

(Editor) PEN New Poetry, Quartet (London, England), 1988.

Lawrence and the Women: The Intimate Life of D. H. Lawrence, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993, published as Lawrence's Women: The Intimate Life of D. H. Lawrence, HarperCollins (London, England), 1993.

Pushkin, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1998, published as Pushkin: A Biography, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1999.

(Editor) After Pushkin (poetry), Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1999.

Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement.

SIDELIGHTS: Elaine Feinstein is an English poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, biographer, and translator of several well-known Russian poets. Such diversity of interest and talent is relatively rare, but, according to Michael Schmidt in the Times Literary Supplement, all of Feinstein's disparate writings speak with "very much one voice." The granddaughter of Jews who fled persecution in Tsarist Russia, Feinstein retains a strong preoccupation with her background and upbringing; this fascination with her Eastern European origins informs both her poetry and the majority of her novels. As Jennifer Birkett noted in Contemporary Women Poets, "landscapes of exile, suffering, and loss" characterize Feinstein's verse.

Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Peter Conradi called Feinstein "a writer who has made fragmentation and deracination her special topics," adding that she "has developed a language of formidable efficiency for evoking each, and for searching for authentication in the teeth of each. If her earliest books defamiliarized the ordinary world and the domestic self, her later books appropriately domesticated the exotic." New Yorker essayist George Steiner likewise noted that a "pulse of narrative and of dramatic voice is vivid in [Feinstein's] verse"; and in the New Statesman Peter Buckman called the author "a discovery, a writer of limitless simplicity and mistress of a musical prose that can apparently find rhythm anywhere."

Feinstein was born in Bootle, Lancashire, and brought up in the industrial town of Leicester in the English Midlands. Her father owned a factory, and his success with it fluctuated dramatically. Although her family was never destitute, Feinstein experienced some genteel poverty in her childhood. An only child, she was raised to respect religion, but it was only after World War II that she came to realize what being Jewish meant for her. Feinstein noted in her essay in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (CAAS) that her childhood sense of security "was exploded, once and for all, at the war's end, when I read what exactly had been done to so many children, as young as I was, in the hell of Hitler's camps. You could say that in that year I became Jewish for the first time. That is not something I regret. But no doubt the knowledge of human cruelty damaged me. For a very long time afterwards, I could feel no ordinary human emotion without testing it against that imagined experience, and either suspecting it or dismissing it." Conradi put it another way. After the war, he wrote, Feinstein came "to an understanding of the degree to which being Jewish could mean to suffer and live in danger."

Feinstein was educated with a grant provided by the Butler Education Act of 1944, receiving both her bachelor and master's degrees from Cambridge University. In 1957, two years after leaving Cambridge, she married Arnold Feinstein, an immunologist. For several years she devoted herself to rearing the couple's three sons, but she was also able to work as an editor for Cambridge University Press and as a part-time English lecturer at several colleges. Her first volume of poetry, In a Green Eye, was published in 1966. According to Deborah Mitchell in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the book "already shows an unassuming sureness of diction and imagery. . . . The poems are simple and generously affectionate—she is always anxious to do justice to whomever she is 'portraying' as well as to express her own relationship with the individual. There is also an unsentimental recognition that, in human relationships, people are tied to one another, pushing and pulling toward and away from one another in mutual dependency."

For a time in the late 1960s Feinstein joined a poetry group in an effort to clarify her approach and better understand her own poetic voice. The group helped her to do this in an oblique way: she came to disagree with its insistence on "Englishness" as a motivating characteristic. Conradi suggested that members of the group "wished to de-Europeanize themselves, to make a cult of and to explore the history of their particular Englishness. This helped [Feinstein] define herself against any such cult, as a person who had never definitely 'settled' in England, and whose roots, if she had them and was not nomadic, were certainly not to be discovered in a nationalist version of 'Little England.'" Thereafter Feinstein's work began to explore her ancestry and heritage as well as the horrors inflicted on modern Jews. Her poetry was especially influenced by the verse of Marina Tsvetayeva, a Russian author of the early twentieth century.

Feinstein once told CA: "I began to write poetry in the '60s very consciously influenced by American poets; at a time when the use of line, and spacing, to indicate the movement of poetry, was much less fashionable than it is now among young British poets. It was my translations from the Russian of Marina Tsvetayeva, however, that gave me my true voice, or at least made me attend to a strength and forward push, against and within a formal structure, that I could have only learnt from Tsvetayeva herself. In the wholeness of her self-exposure, she opened a whole world of experience. Without her, I should never have written novels, still less plays."

Feinstein's early novels "came out of domestic and personal experience whose woes and wonders they to some degree make lyrical," to quote Conradi. A favorite early theme of Feinstein's is a woman's search for identity within and outside of familial relationships. In the Times Literary Supplement, D. M. Thomas observed that Feinstein wants to show "that women's dreams are common and commonplace, because of their depressed lives." Both The Circle and The Amberstone Exit feature young women so mired in domestic or family responsibilities that they cannot fully explore themselves. Mitchell contended that Feinstein's early work, with its feminist slant, "concerned [as it is] with the world of personal emotion and relationships and with the domestic environment, is remarkable for its economy, its stringent emotional honesty, and tough ironic humor, as well as [for] an intensity and richness of metaphor unusual with this sort of subject matter."

Many critics agree that the death of Feinstein's parents in 1973 marks the beginning of Feinstein's movement into new thematic territory. Conradi stated, "It was about this time that she began to enquire into Jewish history more systematically and enlarge her reading. A wish to make her characters more securely substantial also entered into this investigation; the result was not merely more substantial characterization, but also more satisfying mythmaking." To quote Times Literary Supplement correspondent Susannah Clapp, Feinstein's characters began to be "not just incidentally irritated or pleased by their dreams and memories, but changed and controlled by them. . . . Some of [her] most persuasive writing . . . describes people in the grip of flashback or nightmare."

"In a complex process," Mitchell wrote, "Feinstein has combined traditional myths with myths she has created out of themes that arose originally from direct reactions to her personal experience and that have been gradually clarified and set into a broader historical perspective." In works such as The Shadow Master, The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner, and The Border, Feinstein leaves not only the boundaries of England but the constraints of realism; characters confront the drama of Jewish history, and one way or another it begins to control their lives. Lorna Sage described Feinstein's intentions in the Times Literary Supplement: "Elaine Feinstein has long been obsessed with the persistence of the past in her characters' lives. . . . The last war, the holocaust, the webs of violence, fanaticism, exile and betrayal that make up recent history (especially Jewish history) reach out to reclaim her cosmopolitan, clever, 'free' people again and again." Conradi observed that in many of Feinstein's novels "someone falls dangerously ill, sick beyond the reach even of modern pharmacy, and it is often the past which can be said figuratively to have sickened them, and which has returned to get them." In the New Statesman, Clapp contended that this obsession with the past is represented by ghostly visitations. "Now the spectres have been unleashed," Clapp concluded, "and, though it's not easy to give whole-hearted assent to their original necessity, the open acknowledgment of their presence brings remarkable release."

One of Feinstein's best-known novels is The Survivors, a multi-generational story of two Jewish families who flee Odessa for turn-of-the-century Liverpool. In the Times Literary Supplement, Peter Lewis described the families: "The Gordons are extremely well-to-do and middle-class, and have been assimilated to a considerable extent into English social life. The Katz family is working class, belongs to the Liverpool equivalent of a ghetto (within a slum area), and is orthodox in religion." The tale revolves around a marriage between the Gordon and Katz families, and the subsequent offspring of that union. Lewis noted a good probability that Feinstein "has transmuted her family and personal history into fiction in The Survivors, which is full of insights into the changing patterns of Jewish life during this century." Listener contributor John Mellors found more to praise than just the novel's story, however. "It is the poet's precision and verbal fastidiousness which make The Survivors far more than just another family chronicle," Mellors wrote. Neil Philip offered a similar opinion in British Book News. The Survivors, concluded Philip, "is an exceptional novel: intimate, engrossing, economical, yet covering sixty years, two world wars and immense social change. It is Elaine Feinstein's remarkably sure grip on her material which enables her to treat such large themes, to encompass three generations, to manage such a large cast, without losing sight of the personal, the individual, the sense of the minute as well as the year.... Fiction as rich and rewarding as this is rare."

In her 1989 novel, All You Need, Feinstein chose a very contemporary setting—London in the late 1980s—and a highly cosmopolitan cast of characters—successful businessmen, television producers, literary stars—and produced a work in which the focus is less on the past than it is on the present and near future. The main character is a suburban housewife named Nell who moves to London with her teenage daughter after her husband is arrested and sent to jail for somewhat mysterious reasons. Like her previous novels, All You Need focuses on the self-discovery and reawakening of the female protagonist. Unlike Feinstein's previous work, however, this one employs the reawakened protagonist as an observer of the contemporary British cultural scene, rather than as a psychological and spiritual conduit to the past. For this reason, most critics were somewhat disappointed by All You Need. Observer contributor Jan Dalley called the book "good-natured but rather bland," and Nicci Gerrard, writing in the New Statesman and Society—while generally liking the novel—missed "the elegiac notes that make Elaine Feinstein's earlier works so haunting."

From the contemporaneity of All You Need Feinstein then examined—in Dreamers—Vienna in the Habsburg period of the mid-nineteenth century. This novel presents an intellectual and thematic portrait of the time and place, focusing on how Jews lived and contributed to the society and culture of central Europe at a time when anti-Semitism was becoming institutionalized. As Ruth Padel summarized the novel's themes in the New Statesman and Society, Feinstein examines questions such as: "How should Jews live in a liberalising Christian empire, with anti-Semitism rising as Jews contribute to everything the city values? Disguise themselves, or keep marks of difference? Converting, as Heine did, is useless. Assimilation is never enough. Hitler's dream backlights everything." The novel depicts various responses to these questions, following a wide range of characters during a fifteen-year period. Padel noted that in Dreamers "you get Vienna through its ideas, soldiers, prostitutes, poets, bankers, singers, cooks, social injustices and changes—until the closing paragraph. There, the two themes—political change in nineteenth-century Europe and the impasse of its Jews—merge in a last shot." She concluded that the "novel is beautifully plotted, but moments of relationship, and of meditation on them, are where [Feinstein's] lyric perception always soars."

In 1993 Feinstein wrote a biography of D. H. Lawrence titled Lawrence and the Women: The Intimate Life of D. H. Lawrence. This study focuses on the women in his life and his troubled relationships with them. Two years later she wrote a sequel to one of Lawrence's most famous novels, Lady Chatterley's Lover, called Lady Chatterley's Confession. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Miranda Seymour concluded that "Feinstein, with sturdy pragmatism, recognizes that sex would never have kept this relationship [between the eponymous heroine and Mellors, her upper-class paramour] alive for long and that, without it, Lady Chatterley is a lost woman. It is not a romantic conclusion to the story but it is a perfectly convincing one." Craig Brown argued in the Spectator that Feinstein did not appear to grasp some of the comedy of Lawrence's original. He concluded, "Lawrence, who always had more of an eye for Mellors' manhood than Lady C's womanhood, would not, I think, approve of Feinstein's novel. On the other hand, it is far more plausible as a sequel than anything he would have written."

Feinstein's novels and short stories have eclipsed the attention given to her early verse, but she has drawn praise and respect in British literary circles for her poetry. In the Spectator Emma Tennant called the author "a powerful poet, whose power lies in the disarming combination of openness and sibylline cunning, a fearless and honest eye on the modern world, the smallest domestic detail, the nerve-bare feelings of people lashed together in marriage, parental and filial relationships—and then, suddenly, like a buried sketch emerging from under an accepted picture and proving to be of a totally different subject, terrifying, uneasy, evoking the old spells that push us this way and that in our lives of resisted superstitions." Tennant added that the works "have lives of their own, they are very delicately observed. And, in poems which can seem at first spare and slight, there is a powerful undertow of sane love." Mitchell expressed a similar opinion. "The poems come from a familiar world but there is nothing cozy or reassuringly safe about Feinstein's domesticity," Mitchell wrote, adding that Feinstein's "poems are faithful to the actual experience described . . . but she is less interested, finally, in realism for its own sake than in the 'making strange' of familiar experience to enable the reader to recognize its importance once more." Schmidt discussed Feinstein's style, noting that her language "evokes a memory, thought or perception in just the way it came to consciousness—brokenly, or in a pondered fashion, or suddenly in a flash. This is not language miming experience, but miming rather the process by which experience is registered and understood. Thus the freshness of her writing, the occasional obscurities, and the sense that despite the apparent self-consciousness of style, she is paradoxically the least artificial, the least literary of writers. The poems are composed . . . not to be poems but to witness accurately to how she experiences."

Feinstein's interest in the poet Maria Tsvetayeva, whom she called "my teacher of courage," has continued for more than twenty years. Feinstein has not only translated Tsvetayeva's poetry, she also wrote a biography titled A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva. In a Spectator review, Peter Levi contended that the work "as it now stands is like the ultimate Tsvetayeva poem, a painful extension of the painful life, with its final focus on a nail used for tethering horses from which she hung herself. It is not the kind of truth one enjoys hearing." Most critics praised Feinstein's English translations from the Russian—a difficult undertaking given the disparities between the two languages. Levi observed that some of the resultant works "are magnificent poems that do not look like translations at all, they are so good." Spectator correspondent Emma Fisher wrote: "The thought, the feeling, even the wit, [Feinstein] transfers into plain but intense English, sometimes using rhyme, assonance and regular metres, but often preferring to let the words make their own awkward, blatant shapes on the page." According to Ellendea Proffer in the New York Times Book Review, readers "can only be grateful for her work in bringing this difficult poet [Tsvetayeva] into English, and certainly it can be said that these are the best translations available."

Feinstein's 1999 book Pushkin focuses her attention on Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who is sometimes referred to as the Russian Shakespeare. Feinstein obtained new information from recently discovered Russian documents about his life in this up-to-date biography. Harry V. Williams, writing for Library Journal, found that Feinstein used these materials and, along with liberal quotes form Pushkin's own work, wrote "a very readable volume." The biography is "utterly professional, and seeking to open the window on to Pushkin's genius for those who are not readers of Russian," wrote Hugh Barnes in the New Statesman. A reviewer for Russian Life praised Feinstein's work, calling it "an easy-reading, objective . . . and yet loving biography."

Feinstein tackled the life of Ted Hughes, husband of Sylvia Plath and poet in his own right, in the 2001 book Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet. Feinstein knew Hughes (they were contemporaries at Cambridge) and did not place judgment on him for any responsibility he may have had in Plath's suicide or in the murder-suicide of his mistress and their child. Instead, as a reviewer for the Economist wrote, she "manages to avoid being sucked into the vortex of blame and sensationalism." Sympathetic to Hughes and the relationships surrounding him, Feinstein chose to remain "detached." New York Times contributor Brooke Allen also stated that the book is an "engaging . . . and convincing narrative that manages to blend honesty with sympathy." Critical of Feinstein's detachedness from the subject because she did not delve too deeply into the mixed up love affair, New Criterion writer Jeffery Meyers called Ted Hughes "brief, superficial and deeply disappointing." Allen, however, felt that Ted Hughes is "the measured, gentle biography that needed to be written [about Plath and Hughes's relationship]," concluding that Feinstein's portrayal of Hughes was "sensitive and discreet."

Noting Feinstein's background, Robert Hanks said in the Daily Telegraph that she "has the CV for the job" to help make sense of the myths and the truths in Ted Hughes's life. Although Hanks felt that Feinstein's insight on Hughes's poetry is new, he did call her "a sound critic" and asserted that the book is "not gratuitous." Guardian critic Blake Morrison summed up Feinstein's work as "pleasingly brief, even-tempered and unsensationalist."

Despite her work as a biographer, it is still Feinstein's fiction and verse that has drawn so much attention. Discussing this, Conradi felt that Feinstein's "impressive progress as a novelist can be seen . . . as an emancipation of prose from a provincial sense of its limits," a discovery the author gleaned from her work on Tsvetayeva. Feinstein "wants to write novels which move her readers, as the great novels of the past have done," added the critic, "and to involve them in the fate of her characters so that they will care about what happens to them." Addressing herself to Feinstein's poetic contributions, Mitchell wrote, "The mature achievement of her verse has been recognized by a small number of diverse critics, [although] . . . the very individuality which is so refreshing in her work, as well as its diversity, has puzzled a sometimes parochial English reading public." Nevertheless, concluded Mitchell, Feinstein is "something of a rarity among writers—equally at home in verse and fiction, being too well aware of the distinct qualities of each form to make one an adjunct of the other. The cross-fertilization between narrative and lyric means that she is continually developing new and enriching approaches to writing poetry." Schmidt declared that in her more mature work, Feinstein has become the creator of "a richly moral art" that "eschews facile effect, focuses on its subject, not its audience." In Peter Lewis's opinion, Feinstein "is well on the way to being a writer of infinite variety."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 36, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

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Daily Telegraph (London, England), February 19, 2000, Gillian Pachter, "Sunlight Lends Dust the Lustre of Sequins: Gillian Patcher Marvels at the Work of Poetic Alchemy," p. 3; November 3, 2001, Robert Hanks, "We Were Just Kids."

Economist, March 29, 1997, pp. 92-93; November 14, 1998, review of Pushkin, p. 13; November 20, 1999, review of After Pushkin, p. 101; November 17, 2001, review of Ted Hughes.

Encounter, September-October, 1984.

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Times Literary Supplement, August 28, 1970; August 11, 1972; June 29, 1973; December 7, 1973; April 25, 1975; June 4, 1976; February 3, 1978; October 6, 1978; January 18, 1980; February 22, 1980; February 26, 1982; June 8, 1984; July 17, 1987; July 31, 1987; January 22, 1988; November 16, 1990; January 15, 1993; July 15, 1994; October 13, 1995; January 29, 1999, Donald Rayfield, review of Pushkin, p. 29; March 10, 2000, Andrew Kahn, review of After Pushkin, p. 24; April 21, 2000, Conor O'Callaghan, review of Gold, p. 26; March 9, 2001, Natasha Cooper, review of Dark Inheritance, p. 24.

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Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 2002, review of Ted Hughes, p. 66.

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