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Seymour, Miranda 1948–

Seymour, Miranda 1948–

(Miranda Jane Sinclair, Miranda Seymour Sinclair)

PERSONAL: Born August 8, 1948, in Nottinghamshire, England; daughter of George Fitzroy (a magistrate) and Rosemary Seymour; married Andrew Sinclair (a writer and historian), October 24, 1972 (marriage ended, 1984); married Anthony Gottlieb (an executive editor and author), September 29, 1989; children: (first marriage) Merlin George. Education: Educated privately.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England; Thrumpton Hall, in the English Midlands. Agent—Anthony Goff, David Higham Literary Agency, 5-8 Lower John St., London W1A 4HA, England.

CAREER: Writer, editor, and educator. Member of staff, Kasmin Gallery, 1966, Brods Gallery, 1966, Christie's, 1966–67, Spinks Gallery, 1967–68, Plumbers Gallery, 1969–70, and National Trust, 1970–72; Eastern Standard, journalist, 1972–74; Lorrimer Publishing, editor, beginning in 1974; Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England, visiting professor of English studies; freelance writer. Member of Samaritans Task Force; speaker in various venues.

AWARDS, HONORS: Royal Society of Literature, fellow.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Stones of Maggiare, Hutchinson (London, England), 1974, published as The Bride of Sforza, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1975.

Count Manfred (science fiction/fantasy), Coward (New York, NY), 1976.

Daughter of Darkness, Hutchinson (London, England), 1977, published as Daughter of Shadows, Coward (New York, NY), 1978.

The Goddess (historical fiction), Coward (New York, NY), 1979.

Medea (historical fiction/fantasy), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Carrying On, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1984.

The Reluctant Devil: A Cautionary Tale (science fiction/fantasy), Heinemann (London, England), 1990.

The Telling, John Murray (London, England), 1998, published as The Summer of '39, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

Also author of The Madonna of the Island, 1980. Stories anthologized in Over Twenty-one, Harper (New York, NY).

FOR CHILDREN

Mumtaz, the Magical Cat, Hodder & Stroughton (London, England), 1984.

The Vampire of Verdonai, illustrated by Alicia Garcia De Lynam, Deutsch (London, England), 1986.

Casper and the Secret Kingdom, illustrated by Lois Allard, Silver Burdett (Morristown, NJ), 1986.

(With husband, Anthony Gottlieb) Pierre and the Pamplemousse, Leapfrog (Wellfleet, MA), 1989.

NONFICTION

A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and His Literary Circle, 1895–1915, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1988.

Ottoline Morrell: Life on the Grand Scale, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1992, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.

Robert Graves: Life on the Edge, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.

Mary Shelley, John Murray (London, England), 2000, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2001.

A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs, illustrations by Jane Macfarlane, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of reviews to periodicals, including Sunday Times, New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement, and Spectrum.

SIDELIGHTS: Miranda Seymour writes both nonfiction and fiction. The English author has written books for children and several novels within the science fiction and fantasy genre, including Count Manfred and The Reluctant Devil: A Cautionary Tale, but is perhaps better classified as an author of historical fiction and biographies. Writing historical fiction caters to her interest in research and the behavioral analysis of people and, as she once told CA, it also helped to develop her writing skills. Noted Seymour: "I wrote three historical novels because I enjoy researching and trying to work out why people acted as they did. For me they were also a good way of learning how to write. A novel with a message does not leave room for the inexperienced to practice style. In my short stories, I draw a lot from my travels."

Seymour's experiences with historical fiction eventually led her to write critically acclaimed biographies as well. She has documented the lives of several influential contributors to English literature, including Ottoline Morrell, a patron of the arts who was associated with the Bloomsbury Group, Frankenstein novelist Mary Shelley, and poet, novelist, and literary critic Robert Graves. In her biographies, Seymour's respect and affection for her subjects are evident, but according to critics she presents unbiased accounts that display impressive research and are enlivened by her skills as a novelist. In a Nation review of Robert Graves: Life on the Edge, James Longenback wrote: "Seymour is not only a biographer but an accomplished novelist and her skill as a fiction writer shines in the finely detailed evocations not only of Graves but of the fascinating people who made up Graves's inner circle."

Seymour's biography of Graves was published on the hundredth anniversary of the poet and novelist's birth. Although his notoriety was largely based on controversy and on his book I, Claudius, Graves believed himself to be first and foremost a poet, rather than a novelist or literary critic. Seymour's portrait, notable as the first biography of Graves to be written by someone outside his "inner circle," sheds light on some of the myths that surround the writer. Graves' second wife and son gave Seymour complete access to personal files, which led Seymour, according to Booklist contributor Donna Seaman, to "fresh readings of his work." Although "an 'authorized' biography," remarked Melanie Lawrence in the San Francisco Chronicle, "the book maintains an admirably objective stance." Central to Seymour's presentation of Graves is her analysis and presentation of the women in his life, among them his mother, his wives, and poet Laura Riding, who was his collaborator, friend, and lover. Longenback observed: "Seymour's biography is often marked by a partisan's single-mindedness, especially in its treatment of the women in Graves's life. She even seems to revel in her occasionally vicious treatment of Riding." Despite this and his belief that "one of the most interesting aspects of Robert Graves's life is his long, difficult collaboration with [Riding,] a minor American poet," Longenback noted: "A compelling version of that story remains to be told."

Seymour delves further into the character of Riding, although not specifically, in her well-received novel The Summer of '39, which was published in England as The Telling. The novel's protagonist was inspired by the real-life Katherine Jackson, who went insane after losing her husband to Riding. While New York Times Book Review contributor Nancy Willard suggested that perhaps Seymour's fiction was too constrained by the truth that inspired it. Other reviewers praised The Summer of '39 as an exciting story independent of the realities on which it was based. "Seymour's characters and their predicaments—as well as the noel's morel and metaphysical concerns regarding the violation of the innocence of children, and both the sanctity of friendship, love, and marriage, as well as spiritual abuse—are so compelling in their own right that a reader who knew nothing about Graves, Riding, and the Jacksons—or Seymour's interest in them—would readily embrace the narrative's sensual imagery and sharp insights into human nature," wrote Donna Seaman in Boston Review.

The story alternates between the present and past, as its first-person narrator, Nancy Brewster, writes her memoir. Brewster looks back at her unstable life, recounting her troubled childhood—her father abused her and her self-centered mother was preoccupied—her marriage, her children, and the Salem, Massachusetts, house that became hers. Dark elements, including ties to a cult and to witchcraft, infuse Brewster's life. In the summer of 1939, Brewster excitedly greets her family's houseguest, Isabel March, only to find her an evil and destructive force. Willard felt that at times "the story lags" and sometimes Seymour's "language descends to the prose of romance novels," yet New Statesman & Society contributor Candia McWilliam assessed: "Seymour show mastery of tension, of domestic investment, of pace, and a superb understanding of delay. She is excellent on the Whartonian House Beautiful, the details of American husbandry, idiom and vocabulary."

Just as The Summer of '39 and the Graves biography are bridged, so too is Seymour's novel Count Manfred, which fictitiously portrays a Lord Byron-like character, and her biography Mary Shelley, whose subject walked in the same circles as the poet Byron. Count Manfred "reflected the prevailing view of Mary Shelley," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor, calling Mary Shelley a "splendid biography" that shows Shelley "as flawed but heroic." From a well-known Victorian family, Shelley left home at sixteen to marry poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who would widow her by the time she was twenty-five. Shelley, who produced the popular book Frankenstein before her husband's death, remained unmarried and supported her family, pursuing a lifestyle that was socially unfavorable during her era. The deaths in her life, which included three of her four children, her marriage and other romantic relationships, and her literary struggles are among the subjects addressed by Seymour.

Mary Shelley was widely acclaimed as a detailed, affectionate, and spirited work. Economist contributor Julie Hankey described it as a "warm, lively and minutely detailed account," and Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., maintained in the Library Journal: "Seymour's lively writing, penetrating critical insights, and attention to detail elevate this to one of the finest and most significant literary biographies of recent years." New York Times Book Review contributor Claude Rawson also praised Seymour for producing an "affectionate and well-written biography" that displays her "vivid narrative gifts and a perceptive understanding of the main personalities." However, Rawson found fault with her literary analysis of Shelley: "Her account of Mary Shelley's writings is generally competent but pedestrian, and her view of Frankenstein inflated." According to Anne Barton in the London Review of Books, Seymour's "biography is level-headed, thorough, scholarly and consistently sympathetic to its subject without lapsing into hagiography. It is also lively and well-written."

In Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend, Seymour tells the story of Helene Delangle, a French woman who became a car racing pioneer beginning in 1929. The biography recounts how Delangle went from a career in modeling, which was halted by a skiing accident, to racing, in which, sponsored by the famous Bugatti family, she broke several speed records. The biography also relates Delangle's fall from grace as she is accused by another racecar driver of being a Nazi sympathizer during World War II. Although the accusation was never corroborated, Delangle was ostracized and died alone and destitute. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented: "Bravo to Seymour for her dazzling portrait of an intrepid woman." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the biography a "colorful, engrossing story" and "a stunning portrait, intriguing with unanswerable questions." In a review for Spectator, Alan Judd wrote: "Miranda Seymour writes with an elegance and verve her subject would have appreciated, but rightly without ever closing her judging eye." Writing in the Library Journal, Jim Doyle commented that the author's "persistent research skills led to a treasure trove of pictures, newspaper clippings, and letters that bring this truly unique woman back to life."

Seymour once told CA: "As I novelist, I should like to stimulate interest, to make people go back and read the classics again after reading The Goddess—stop people thinking that it is dull or difficult to read 'heavy history.'

"My strongest admiration is for Kazantzakis, in whom message and history, past and present, synthesize with a force and relish for life which few modern writers can convey."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975–1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

PERIODICALS

American Literature, March, 1990, Rob Johnson, review of A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and His Literary Circle, p. 130.

Atlantic, July, 1989, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 94; October, 1993, Hermione Lee, review of Ottoline Morrell: Life on the Grand Scale, p. 123.

Belles Lettres, spring, 1994, Gale Harris, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 19.

Best Sellers, July, 1982, review of Medea, p. 132.

Booklist, May 15, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 1600; September 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Robert Graves, p. 129; August, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Summer of '39, p. 2029; January 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Summer of '39, p. 921; July, 2001, Bryce Christensen, review of Mary Shelley, p. 1970; November 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend, p. 545.

Books, September, 1988, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 16.

Books & Bookmen, March, 1980, review of Madonna of the Island, p. 52; November, 1984, review of Carrying On, p. 32; August, 1986, review of Carrying On, p. 29; December, 1986, review of Casper and the Secret Kingdom, p. 40.

Boston Review, November 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, "Contests of Will."

British Book News, October, 1981, review of Medea, p. 631; February, 1985, review of Carrying On, p. 111.

British Book News Children's Supplement, June, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 28.

Choice, January, 1990, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 801; March, 1996, S.B. Darrell, review of Robert Graves, p. 1137.

Contemporary Review, February, 2001, review of Mary Shelley, p. 128.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 14, 2000, Claudia Fitzherbert, "'None Else Noticed Me'"; September 22, 2001, David Horspool, review of Mary Shelley.

Economist, November 12, 1988, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 104; October 10, 1992, Charles Darwent, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 133; July 8, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 83; October 28, 2000, Julie Hankey, review of Mary Shelley, p. 256; February 28, 2004, review of Bugatti Queen, p. 81.

Growing Point, November, 1986, review of Caspar and the Secret Kingdom, p. 4700.

Guardian (London, England), December 13, 1992, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 28; December 23, 2000, John Mullan, "The Agony and the Ecstasy," p. 8; September 8, 2001, John Dugdale, review of Mary Shelley, p. 11.

Illustrated London News, Christmas, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 82.

Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), January 21, 1996, David Kirby, "Conflicted Graves Cast a Strong Spell, Though His Poetry Doesn't," p. 19.

Junior Bookshelf, June, 1985, review of Mumtaz, The Magical Cat, p. 133; August, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 159; February, 1987, review of Caspar and the Secret Kingdom, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1979, review of The Goddess, p. 350; March 1, 1982, review of Medea, p. 299; December 15, 1987, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 1737; April 15, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 611; April 1, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 440; August 1, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 1094; July 15, 1999, review of The Summer of '39, p. 1077; October 15, 2004, review of Bugatti Queen, p. 997.

Library Journal, May 15, 1982, Andrew Peters, review of Medea, p. 1013; June 15, 1989, John Budd, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 58; August, 1993, Keith Cushman, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 116; September 15, 1995, Tim Gavin, review of Robert Graves, p. 68; August, 2001, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of Mary Shelley, p. 108; November 15, 2004, Jim Doyle, review of Bugatti Queen, p. 67.

Listener, April 5, 1990, review of The Reluctant Devil, p. 27.

London Review of Books, September 7, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 26; February 8, 2001, Anne Barton, "Tousy-Mousy," pp. 9-11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 29, 1982, review of Medea, p. 7; August 22, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 5; January 7, 1996, review of Robert Graves, p. 4; October 3, 1999, review of The Summer of '39, p. 11.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1990, David A. Leeming, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 543.

Nation, November 20, 1995, James Longenback, review of Robert Graves, p. 634.

New Leader, July 12, 1993, Phoebe Pettingell, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 13.

New Republic, July 12, 1993, Christopher Maurer, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 39.

New Statesman, December 5, 1986, review of Caspar and the Secret Kingdom, p. 28.

New Statesman & Society, March 20, 1998, Candia McWilliam, review of The Telling, p. 55; October 30, 2000, Ruth Scurr, "Fruits of Bitterness," p. 57.

New Yorker, August 7, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 96; August 9, 1993, Christopher Ricks, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 82; October 15, 2001, review of Mary Shelley, p. 217.

New York Review of Books, December 7, 1989, John Bayley, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 21; October 7, 1993, Noel Annan, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 30; April 4, 1996, Denis Donoghue, review of Robert Graves, p. 27.

New York Times, June 20, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. C19.

New York Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 11; June 13, 1993, Perry Meisel, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 14; November 5, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 10; September 19, 1999, Nancy Willard, "It Wasn't a Very Good Year," p. 9; October 7, 2001, Claude Rawson, "Bride of Frankenstein," p. 11; October 21, 2001, review of Mary Shelley, p. 34.

Observer (London, England), June 17, 1979, review of The Goddess, p. 37; June 14, 1981, review of Medea, p. 29; April 8, 1990, review of The Reluctant Devil, p. 58; October 11, 1992, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 59; September 5, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 52; July 2, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 15; May 9, 1999, review of The Telling, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1979, review of Count Manfred, p. 182; April 2, 1979, review of The Goddess, p. 68; March 19, 1982, review of Medea, p. 55; May 5, 1989, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 59; April 19, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 41; September 11, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 69; July 19, 1999, review of The Summer of '39, p. 180; July 16, 2001, review of Mary Shelley, p. 171.

Punch, October 14, 1988, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 56.

San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, 1996, Melanie Lawrence, "The Bard of the Great Goddess," p. 6.

School Librarian, September, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 254.

School Library Journal, December, 1982, review of Medea, p. 88; April, 1987, Margaret C. Howell, review of Caspar and the Secret Kingdom, p. 89; October, 1988, Lisa Smith, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 147.

Sewanee Review, fall, 1992, Benjamin Griffith, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. R118; April, 1994, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 310.

Southern Review, summer, 1990, Daniel Mark Fogel, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 697.

Spectator, April 26, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 36; December 17, 1988, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 35; April 21, 1990, review of The Reluctant Devil, p. 29; October 24, 1992, Mirabel Cecil, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 36; April 25, 1998, Harry Eyres, review of The Telling, p. 35; January 31, 2004, Alan Judd, review of Bugatti Queen, p. 52.

Times Educational Supplement, October 31, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 27; August 4, 1995, review of Robert Graves, p. 16.

Times Literary Supplement, August 7, 1981, review of Medea, p. 910; August 1, 1986, review of The Vampires of Verdonia, p. 850; December 16, 1988, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 1402; May 4, 1990, Rachel Clare, review of The Reluctant Devil, p. 480; October 2, 1992, Rosemary Dinnage, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 13; November 3, 1995, Neil Powell, review of Robert Graves, p. 6; April 3, 1998, review of The Telling, p. 24; October 27, 2000, Zachary Leader, review of Mary Shelley, p. 25.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 6, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 3; July 25, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 6; January 7, 1996, review of Robert Graves, p. 3.

Vogue, December, 2004, Hamish Bowles, review of Bugatti Queen, p. 254.

Wall Street Journal, August 27, 1993, James Bowman, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. A5; October 24, 1995, Jamie James, review of Robert Graves, p. A20.

Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 3; June 6, 1993, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 4; September 16, 2001, John Sutherland, review of Mary Shelley, p. T8.

Woman's Journal, June, 1998, review of The Telling, p. 19.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1993, Carolyn G. Heilbrun, review of Ottoline Morrell, p. 13.

World & I, September, 1989, review of A Ring of Conspirators, p. 429.

ONLINE

Miranda Seymour's Home Page, http://www.mirandaseymour.com (October 26, 2006).

Nottingham Trent University Web site, http://human.ntu.ac.uk/ (October 26, 2006), "Miranda Seymour."

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