Hadley, Tessa 1956- (Tessa Jane Hadley)
Hadley, Tessa 1956- (Tessa Jane Hadley)
Born February 28, 1956, in Bristol, England; daughter of Geoff (a teacher, shopkeeper, and jazz trumpeter) and Mary Nichols; married Eric Hadley (a university lecturer), January, 1982. Education: Clare College, B.A., 1978; Bath Spa University College, M.A., 1994, Ph.D., 1998. Politics: "Complex!"
Home—Cardiff, Wales. Office—School of English and Creative Studies, Bath Spa University, Newton Park Campus, Newton St. Loe, Bath BA2 9BN, England. Agent—Caroline Dawnay, Russell St., London, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Bath Spa University College, Bath, England, senior lecturer in English, 1997—. New Welsh Review, chair of editorial board.
O. Henry Prize, 2005, for "The Card Trick."
(With husband, Eric Hadley) Legends of the Sun and Moon, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Eric Hadley) Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.
Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Accidents in the Home (novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Everything Will Be All Right (novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
The Master Bedroom: A Novel, Henry Holt and Co. (New York, NY), 2007.
Sunstroke and Other Stories, Picador (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals and journals, including the New Yorker, Granta, Guardian, Cambridge Quarterly, and the Henry James Review.
Tessa Hadley's publishing history includes children's literature and treatises on mythology, folklore, legend, and literary figures such as Henry James and Thomas Mann. With Accidents in the Home, the university lecturer entered the realm of popular fiction.
Accidents in the Home is the story of Clare, a self-proclaimed frumpy mother of three who feigns contentment in a hollow marriage. One day, her longtime friend Helly appears with a new boyfriend, David. Glamorous Helly is a fashion model whose lifestyle is the opposite of Clare's: fast-moving, exciting, and spontaneous, or so Clare thinks. David turns out to be someone the teenaged Clare once shared a wild night with at a party, and she is now shocked when he shows her an earring of hers he has kept as a secret memento of the occasion. The sudden reappearance of David in her life gives Clare pause. She yearns for the excitement she perceives David and Helly having, and in an effort to find that, she becomes involved with her Ph.D. supervisor. Meanwhile, Clare's husband Bram initiates an affair with Helly, and the lives of these characters are forever changed.
Although adultery is central to Accidents in the Home, Hadley weaves a tapestry more involved than what may appear on the surface. Julie Meyerson, reviewing the novel for the Guardian, wrote: "It took me about four pages of this fantastically subtle, absorbing and insightful novel to realize that although the familiar ingredient is there, something much more interesting is going on." For example, Hadley provides a family tree that illustrates how Clare's marital troubles stem from her father's views on love and marriage. Having grown up in a home with a stepmother and stepsiblings—and the tumultuous emotions that often accompany that domestic situation—Clare's obsession with the ideals of family life and relationships becomes more easily understood.
As a contemporary look at domestic life, Hadley's novel does not shy away from reality, however mundane it may be. Although no one in the book is truly happy, neither are they unhappy. Hadley offers various perspectives on the same situation, and the reader is afforded fresh analyses as characters reach their individual levels of self-awareness. As people tend to do, Clare compares her life to that of her friend, and though she admits to jealousy, she eventually comes to the conclusion that she'd rather have "the abrasiveness of the real."
"Any book with as many interwoven stories and characters as this one has to be rooted in the particular if it is to succeed: Hadley's particulars are meticulously glimpsed," wrote Sheena Joughin in a review for the Times Literary Supplement. "Details of family life are horribly convincing, as are nuances of mutual ambivalence…. Accidents in the Home is a book which succeeds in trying not to please." Other critics made similar comments. Meyerson wrote: "This is prose to die for. Without resorting to obvious lyricism or stylistic tricks, Hadley writes readable, approachable phrases that suck you in with the power of their psychological insight."
Hadley takes a similar approach in Everything Will Be All Right, this time pursuing her theme through multiple generations of women. She writes of women similar to Clare from Accidents in the Home—women with feelings of inferiority, all grappling with similar concerns. William Skidelsky, writing in New Statesman, observed that the novel, sprawling as it does over nearly fifty years, is hard to follow, but the reader who perseveres will hear the author's "distinctive voice. It is difficult to imagine a Hadley character appearing in a work by any other writer," Skidelsky commented, "just as it is hard to imagine a Hadley sentence being written by anyone else." Though Skidelsky found the plot confusing, a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the "unruly domestic tangle of family members, lovers and friends" is an accurate representation of "the texture of daily existence."
Skidelsky compared elements of Hadley's work to that of Henry James, and Hadley has published her own assessment of the renowned author in Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure. Hadley's focus is on the way that James's approach to writing (and thinking) about sexuality changed over the course of his literary career. In early fiction, Hadley explains, James treated the subject with a rather straight-laced restraint that was at the time typically English. When James encountered overt representations of sexuality in continental (especially French) literature, he was at first uncomfortable, then curious, and later fascinated by it. He began to incorporate elements of sexuality into his own writings, at first subtly and later with more honesty and openness, though never with abandon. Lisa Honaker observed in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 that Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure "gives us a James constantly approaching rather than retreating from the world to enrich his art." In Studies in American Fiction Christopher Stuart noted "the full complexity of Hadley's argument [and] the very sensitive, and frequently brilliant, textual analysis to be found in every chapter." He concluded: "Her sharp, accessible, witty prose is itself a very real pleasure."
Hadley next wrote The Master Bedroom: A Novel, described by Booklist contributor Carol Haggas as being "melancholy and starkly emotive." Kate Flynn has left her teaching position in London to return to Firenze, the ancestral home in Cardiff, Wales, to care for her senile mother. She meets David, whose first wife committed suicide and who is now married to Suzie, mother of their two young children and with whom he is not having sex. Suzie, who is haunted by a vision of David's first wife, Francesca, smokes dope, as does seventeen-year-old Jamie, son of Francesca and David. David and Kate are attracted to each other, but David takes no action and Kate instead becomes involved with Jamie.
New York Times Book Review contributor Liesl Schillinger called Hadley "a lovely, subtly teasing writer, studiedly evasive in her treatment of emotions and eerily precise in her sketches of everyday people in upper-middle-class British settings. Who her characters are, and what they want, is so deeply concealed (even from themselves) that they could be nude and lose none of their mystery."
Sunstroke and Other Stories is a collection of previously published stories set over several decades about women in various stages of life and love. Married women flirt with adultery, a mature woman finds herself drawn to a teen boy, a woman offers support as her sister miscarries, and an adult man tries to rekindle the spark with a girl who flirted with him twenty-five years earlier.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the stories "elegant," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a collection of strikingly original narratives."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Accidents in the Home, p. 1090; May 15, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of The Master Bedroom: A Novel, p. 21.
English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, fall, 2003, Lisa Honaker, review of Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, p. 455.
Guardian (London, England), April 20, 2002, Julie Myerson, review of Accidents in the Home.
Independent, August, 10, 2007, Amanda Craig, review of The Master Bedroom.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, review of Accidents in the Home, p. 209; June 15, 2007, review of Sunstroke and Other Stories.
Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Bette-Lee Fox, review of The Master Bedroom, p. 56; July 1, 2007, David Doerrer, review of Sunstroke and Other Stories, p. 87.
New Statesman, January 26, 2004, William Skidelsky, review of Everything Will Be All Right, p. 54.
New York Times Book Review, August 5, 2007, Liesl Schillinger, review of The Master Bedroom and Sunstroke and Other Stories.
Publishers Weekly, September 29, 2003, review of Everything Will Be All Right, p. 44; April 9, 2007, review of The Master Bedroom, p. 28; April 30, 2007, review of Sunstroke and Other Stories, p. 134.
Studies in American Fiction, spring, 2003, Christopher Stuart, review of Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, p. 125.
Times Literary Supplement, April 12, 2002, Sheena Joughin, review of Accidents in the Home, p. 12; January 5, 2007, Stephanie Cross, review of Sunstroke and Other Stories, p. 19; August 3, 2007, Caroline McGinn, review of The Master Bedroom, p. 19.
Bath Spa University Web site,http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/ (November 3, 2007), profile of author.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (November 3, 2007), Rheta Van Winkle, review of The Master Bedroom.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (November 3, 2007), Midge Bork, review of The Master Bedroom.