Roe, Sue 1956-

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Roe, Sue 1956-


Born 1956, in Leicester, England. Education: University of Kent, undergraduate degree (with first-class honors), D.Phil.; University of Sussex, M.A.


Home—Brighton, England. Office—Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sussex, The Sussex Institute, Essex House EH232, Falmer, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9QQ, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, editor, reviewer, biographer, poet, novelist, critic, and educator. University of Sussex, Centre for Continuing Education, Brighton, England, associate tutor and ecturer in creative studies. Former lecturer in creative writing at University of East Anglia. Conducts workshops and seminars in creative writing.


Estella, Her Expectations (novel), Harvester (Brighton, Sussex, England), 1982.

Writing and Gender: Virginia Woolf's Writing Practice, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor and author of introduction and notes) Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1992.

(With others) The Semi-Transparent Envelope: Women and Fiction, M. Boyars (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) Women Reading Women's Writing, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Spitfire Factory (poems), Dale House Press (Lewes, England), 1998.

(Editor, with Susan Sellers) The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Gwen John: A Life, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2001, published as Gwen John: A Painter's Life, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of exhibition catalogues. Contributor to books, including Flesh and the Mirror: The Art of Angela Carter, edited by Lorna Sage, Virago, 1994.

Contributor of poetry to anthologies, including PEN New Poetry 1, edited by Robert Nye, Quartet, 1986; and New Poetries III, edited by Michael Schmidt, Carcanet, 2002.

Contributor to periodicals and journals, including Agenda, Expo, New Critical Quarterly, Printers Devil, Virginia Woolf Bulletin, Bowen Newsletter, Times Literary Supplement, Art Quarterly, Women: A Cultural Review, and Pandora's Books.


Sue Roe is the author of several works focusing on women's issues and gender in fiction. She has also written critical and biographical works on female creators, including writer Virginia Woolf and painter Gwen John. Roe has published a volume of poetry, The Spitfire Factory, and has contributed numerous poems to anthologies and literary journals. She has also published short fiction. For many years, she worked as a commissioning editor, and remains active in advising publishers on related subjects. Roe also works as a freelance copywriter, noted a biographer on the University of Sussex Centre of Continuing Education Web site. Roe is the director and an instructor in the M.A. program in creative writing and authorship at the University of Sussex, as well as an instructor in the B.A. program in Creative Studies. Her teaching and research interests include creative writing, the process and procedure of composition, and the areas in which writing and the visual arts connect, the biographer stated.

Among Roe's earliest works is the novel Estella, Her Expectations. "This impressionistic first novel emanates from the self-conscious awareness of a young girl, Estella," a young art student and writer who goes to live for a time with retired ballet dancer in a large house in the city, wrote Roger Manwell in British Book News. An "extraordinary first work," noted D.J. Taylor in the Spectator, Estella, Her Expectations "could best be described as a reverie in which Estella images herself in various female roles; a French maman, a gypsy's doxy, a writer. These are her ‘Expectations.’"

Throughout the book there are parallels with nineteenth-century British writer Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations, including similarities with characters such as Mrs. Haversham and Pip. "Estella is a sort of ‘Great Expectations Through the Looking Glass,’ and on the other side of the glass it is very much a woman's world, though not a feminist's," wrote John Mellors in the Listener. "At its center are the problems of female identity," wrote Rosemary Jackson in the Times Literary Supplement, "the difficulty of coinciding with the ideal image in the mirror."

"The parallels with Great Expectations grow faint as the book progresses, chiefly because there is very little plot," Mellors observed. "However, Estella, Her Expectations is fascinating for the way Sue Roe uses words as if they were paint, lighting up the pages with color and inviting the reader (or viewer) to finger the impasto." Jackson remarked: "Parallel to her attempt to create images of the ‘pre-image,’ Sue Roe tries to find words for the pre-verbal, close to the sensations of sight. Visual art is upheld as the ideal to which the novel should approximate—‘I'd want to write a still life,’ says Estella—and in many ways, this novel is an Impressionistic painting become literature (hence the very minimal narrative)."

Written in the first person throughout, Estella, Her Expectations bears the characteristics of an experimental novel. "The book's faults are those of every experimental work since Joyce," Taylor commented. "It is solipsistic, static up until the final page; readers who prefer what Martin Amis called ‘the staid satisfactions’ of plot, pace, and humor will find none of them here." Still, "It is all very skillfully done," Manwell remarked, the present-tense narrative "making Estella's physical observations alive and immediate," even though the consistent use of the present tense "becomes somewhat mannered," Manwell noted. Estella, Her Expectations "is both extraordinary and original," Taylor concluded.

The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, edited by Roe, "contains an impressive array of essays—by well-known Woolf scholars and editors from Canada, the United States, and the UK—that explore Woolf's intellectual, social, and cultural milieu, and her oeuvre," wrote Kathryn Harvey in the Dalhousie Review. Among the topics covered are the intellectual climate in which Woolf lived and wrote; the social and political aspects of Woolf's work; and Woolf's connections with modernism. Other essays specifically focus on Woolf's novels, including Jacob's Room, The Voyage Out, Night and Day, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and Orlando. Two essays "explore what until recently have been undervalued or neglected aspects of Woolf's writing—her essays, diaries, and letters," Harvey remarked. Roe herself contributed an essay on Woolf and postimpressionism, which Harvey called "slightly over-dramatic at times," but which "presents an insightful analysis of the convergence of Bloomsbury's discussion of ethics and art and their influence on Woolf's experimentation with the synaesthetic possibilities of language."

J.J. Patton, writing in Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, called The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf "a first-rate collection of original essays." Although J.H. Stape, writing in English Literature in Transition 1880-1900, noted some flaws, including a number of biases, omissions from some of the essays, and "a decidedly cliquish flavor," the book still "offers some very fine work, some scattered insights into the pleasures of reading Virginia Woolf's writings, and testifies to the lively interest in various aspects of her life." Despite the absence of any essay on the subject of Woolf and lesbianism, Harvey concluded: "The editors and authors are to be congratulated for weaving a complex and impressive tapestry of influences and associations that were so clearly important in Woolf's life and to her writing."

Roe further addresses issues of women and literature in Women Reading Women's Writing. The book, edited by Roe, "embodies a ‘discreet dissatisfaction with the whole notion of feminist theory,’" wrote Elizabeth Boyd Thompson in Modern Fiction Studies. Thompson quotes Roe as saying that "there is an important distinction to be made, always, between a literary text as expressive of social, historical, or political issues, and any other kind of documentation" of those or similar issues. "The individual essays in this volume vary widely in style, tone, and approach," Thompson remarked, "but all argue powerfully for the importance of Roe's distinction. None attempts to force preconceived notions of political purity on unwilling texts." The volume includes essays on writers as diverse as Virginia Woolf, Christina Rossetti, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, and George Eliot. To Thompson, the strongest essay in the book is Isobel Armstrong's work on Christina Rossetti, in which Armstrong suggests that "feminist criticism should avoid ‘naive expression and psychological theories’ and ‘a simplified conception of the text and consciousness’ and instead ‘put pressure on inflexible and petrifying assumptions’ and ‘test out the conventions of criticism itself.’ The essays in Women Reading Women's Writing are a convincing demonstration of how good feminist criticism which does that can be," Thompson concluded.

In Gwen John: A Painter's Life, Roe "pens a well-tempered, bracing biography of the painter too often trivialized as Augustus John's sister or Auguste Rodin's lover," wrote a reviewer in Kirkus Reviews. The book began as a study of John's paintings, which is "evident from the detailed analysis of individual pictures, only a few of which are illustrated, its scrupulous discussions of technique and attentiveness to the painters developing theories about composition," wrote Belinda Thomson in the Times Literary Supplement. After deciding instead to undertake a biography, Roe "was given full access by the artist's family to documents still in private keeping," Thomson noted. "She has also made extensive use of the important cache of letters sold in 1984 to the National Library of Wales." Roe's biography "is the most fully documented and complete account of Gwen John's life to date," Thomson remarked.

Using additional sources from the Musée Rodin and the Tate Archives, "Roe balances biography with a critical analysis of John's work," wrote Rebecca Tolley-Stokes in Library Journal, analyzing John's own standing as an artist outside her perhaps more well-known roles as Augustus John's sister, Rodin's mistress and model, and Whistler's student. "Roe's blend of insight and eloquent narrative merges into a thoughtful, enduring masterpiece," Tolley-Stokes commented. "Roe's identification with and deep respect for her venturesome subject, as well as the narrative's novelistic energy, add zest and conviction to her meticulous yet fluent account of an intense and demanding life," observed Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist.

Thomson noted that "a number of factual errors mar the text," such as misidentified geographical locations where events took place. However, Thomson also stated that "Roe's biography gives us much valuable detail and food for thought." A critic writing in the Contemporary Review called the book a "sensitive biography" and "the best life we have yet had of this all too easily forgotten artist." In her biography of John, "Roe is sure of her judgments, and her technique is deliberate," wrote Ruth Scurr in the New Statesman. "This is an example of a perfect match between biographer and subject: very rare and a genuine triumph for the genre."

Roe turns to a biographical examination of the artists who comprise a larger movement of painters in The Private Lives of the Impressionists. Roe focuses on the lives and work of nine important Impressionist artists: Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt, considering them individually and as a group. In a roughly chronological account, Roe begins with the first meetings of the Impressionists in 1860 and covers the years until the introduction of their work in New York in 1886. She describes the turmoil of the artists' lives, their perpetual struggle against poverty, the difficulties they faced in trying to maintain their dedication to art, and the widespread scorn and derision they faced when their works were brought to the attention of critics and the public. Throughout, she looks at the points where the artists' "personal experiences" intersect, sometimes fortunately and other times with less desirable results, with the "themes and development of their art," noted a reviewer in Reference & Research Book News.

In a "fine synthesis of a remarkable movement and its principals," Roe has "plucked from her subjects' lives many engaging and poignant stories," observed a writer in Kirkus Reviews. She describes the artists' various connections through love, family, and friendship. "Her book is widely researched but has a neat, light touch. It is neither specialist art history nor detailed art criticism, but an anecdotal narrative of the movement from the arrival of Monet and Cezanne as art students in Paris to an epilogue dealing with the final years of the principal artists," remarked Tom Rosenthal in the London Independent. Roe also assesses the tumultuous political and social environment in which the Impressionists lived, overshadowed by the looming presence of World War I. The artists' fate varied; Monet and Pissarro left for London when the Franco-Prussian War started. Manet and Bazille, another Impressionist painter, withstood the rigors of the Siege of Paris; later, Bazille was killed in action. Renoir was nearly shot as a spy, and Pissarro suffered the loss of hundreds of his finished canvases, ripped apart and used as aprons by Germans who commandeered his home as a slaughterhouse.

Roe also spotlights a lesser-known figure among the Impressionists: art dealer and gallery owner Paul Durand-Ruel, who bought many of the painters' early works, and whose belief in their talent and durability was so strong that he kept many of the artists solvent through regular payments on account. Durand-Ruel took a great financial risk in his dealings with the Impressionists, but his confidence in them was rewarded handsomely, as he became a wealthy man from his sale of the artists' works.

In evaluating the Impressionists, "Roe writes entrancingly of artistic bliss, rowdy cafe life, profound friendships, and transcendent love," commented Booklist critic Donna Seaman. A Publishers Weekly reviewer named the book a "comprehensive and revealing group portrait, superbly contextualized within the period's volatile political, socioeconomic, and artistic shifts." Library Journal reviewer Jennifer H. Krivickas found the book to be a "decidedly readable work that should engage lay readers and spur undergraduates" to independent study and research on the Impressionists. Similarly, People reviewer Sue Corbett found it to be "lively, required reading" for both art history students and interested general readers. Roe provides "intelligent and well-crafted portraits of some of history's most intriguing geniuses," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor.



ARTnews, April, 2002, Ann Landi, review of Gwen John: A Painter's Life, p. 99.

Booklist, November 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Gwen John, p. 538; November 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 21.

Bookseller, June 30, 2006, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 36.

Boston Globe, December 28, 2006, Judith Maas, "Private Lives Paints Portraits of the Impressionists," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

British Book News, October, 1982, Roger Manwell, review of Estella, Her Expectations, p. 641; April, 1986, review of Women Reading Women's Writing, p. 223.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 2000, J.J. Patton, review of The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, p. 531.

Contemporary Review, September, 2001, review of Gwen John, p. 191; October, 2002, review of Gwen John, p. 249.

Dalhousie Review, summer, 2000, Kathryn Harvey, review of The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, p. 286.

English Literature in Transition 1880-1900, summer, 2001, J.H. Stape, "Virginia Woolf Now," review of The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, p. 394.

Guardian (London, England), August 26, 2006, Kathryn Hugest, "Sun and Sea, Wine and Women," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

Independent (London, England), September 10, 2006, Tom Rosenthal, "Degas Knew How to Treat a Woman," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

Journal of Modern Literature, fall-winter, 1988, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, review of Women Reading Women's Writing, p. 234.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of Gwen John, p. 1407; September 1, 2006, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 891.

Library Journal, December, 2001, Rebecca Tolley-Stokes, review of Gwen John, p. 118; December 1, 2006, Jennifer H. Krivickas, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 119.

Listener, July 8, 1982, John Mellors, review of Estella, Her Expectations, p. 23.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1988, Elizabeth Boyd Thompson, review of Women Reading Women's Writing, p. 747; summer, 1993, Christine Froula, review of Writing and Gender: Virginia Woolf's Writing Practice, p. 397.

New Statesman, Ruth Scurr, review of Gwen John, p. 53.

New Yorker, January 21, 2002, review of Gwen John, p. 83.

New York Review of Books, November 29, 2001, Stanford Schwartz, review of Gwen John, p. 36.

People, November 20, 2006, Sue Corbett, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, October 15, 2001, review of Gwen John, p. 59; August 28, 2006, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 39.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

Spectator, August 28, 1982, D.J. Taylor, review of Estella, Her Expectations, p. 23; June 2, 2001, Michael Holroyd, review of Gwen John, p. 37.

Telegraph (London, England), July 23, 2007, Jane Stevenson, "Behind the Sunny Canvas," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists; July 25, 2006, Martin Gayford, "Making a Bigger Impression," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 1982, Rosemary Jackson, review of Estella, Her Expectations, p. 643; March 11, 1988, Marilyn Butler, review of Women Reading Women's Writing, p. 283; December 7, 2001, review of Gwen John, p. 11; February 15, 2002, Belinda Thomson, "Mistress of the Unattainable: Solitude as Destiny: The Determined, Reticent Ambition of Gwen John," review of Gwen John, p. 18; October 27, 2006, Elizabeth Cowling, "Cash Imperative," review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists, p. 6.

Victorian Studies, summer, 1989, Barbara Leah Harman, review of Women Reading Women's Writing, p. 601.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 2002, review of Gwen John, p. 56; summer, 2002, review of Gwen John, p. 89.

Women's Review of Books, March, 1994, review of Jacob's Room, p. 17.


University of Sussex Center of Continuing Education Web site, (December 5, 2007), curriculum vitae of Sue Roe.

Yellow House Art, (December 5, 2007), biography of Sue Roe.