Praise of Janet Todd’s Biographical and Critical Work

Women’s Friendship in literature

Ronald Rosbottom Comp Lit, spring 1984

‘thorough and intelligent study ‘ ‘Todd reads the novels she has chosen imaginatively and effectively. Hers is not a skewed reading: the friendships have been recognized and discussed by dozens of critics before her. What she succeeds in doing is to show how the depiction of women’s friendship in fiction betrays an ideological bias that itself helped define the modern novel.’

The Sign of Angellica

Dinah Birch LRB Aug 1990

‘It became clear that more cogent and complete ways of understanding the literary past were called for. Janet Todd was among the first to recognise this need, and her developing work has made a substantial contribution towards fulfilling it. One of the most valuable things she has to offer her readers is information. Her studies of women’s writing in the 18th century have greatly enlarged our sense of its richness, variety and scope. The Sign of Angellica is an ambitious survey of her chosen period, juxtaposing an account of the literary culture as a whole with specific analyses of individual authors. The focus is on what women achieved in the period, particularly in the field of fiction. But men are neither absent nor routinely vilified. Janet Todd recognises that ‘the novel as a genre has both fathers and mothers.’
The Sign of Angellica has a story to tell. In Aphra Behn’s play The Rover (1677), the prostitute Angellica Bianca displays a sign of herself to win custom. Such open advertisement is a disgrace, and she is eventually denied the love of the hero. What interests Todd is Behn’s recognition of the social construction of women – a process usually hidden, but nevertheless essential to commerce between the sexes. …

Among the most engaging aspects of Todd’s argument is her exploration of unexpected sources of women’s self-assertion. We’ve grown used to the idea of their victimisation throughout the period, and Todd isn’t inclined to write the more dismal details out of the story. But she also emphasises ways in which concepts of feminine virtue became pervasively dominant, giving women a new kind of cultural status.

Behn’s works vol I and Penguin:

Caroline Moore , Times Jan 14, 1993.

‘ edited by the admirable Janet Todd’

Ros Ballaster TLS Dec 6, 1996

‘ Todd’s own editorial intervention is as inconspicuous as Behn’s authorial presence in her plays’

Catherine Decker

‘With Todd’s edition, readers can enter both Behn’s world and the sophisticated world of twentieth-century studies.’

Catherine Gallagher TLS sept 10, 1993

‘Out of the rich but disparate materials of the complete poems, Todd has created a singular poet with a readable story’.

Secret Life of Aphra Behn

Ruth Perry Women’s review of books, april 1998:

‘Janet Todd, a feminist scholar who has done a great deal of groundbreaking scholarship on women writers of the “long eighteenth century” ‘ ‘The book is certainly accessible for the lay historian—it reads quickly and lightly…Even Todd’s throwaway lines are steeped in learning and observation. Todd has documented so ably the daring attempt of a woman to write, both for her daily bread and for immortal fame’

Antonia Fraser: Times 31 oct 1996:

‘genuinely original scholarship’

Melanie McGrath. Independent :

‘Janet Todd’s brilliant biography of Aphra Behn…weaves a story together from what little evidence there is with precision, verve and confidence’. ‘Witty and pugnacious, Todd’s book is as much a window on the public cacophony of the era as it is a portrait of a playwright.’

J B Pick, the Scotsman 26 oct 1996

‘The strength of Janet Todd’s stimulating books is in her subtle and intensive probing’

Maureen Duffy, Literary review, oct 1996

‘Todd’s analysis is both thorough and stimulating. She writes a clear readable prose….what this book gives us is, properly, a fascinating study of the public face of Behn, of its shifting masks and modes.’

Lisa Jardine:

‘Janet Todd is one of the foremost feminist literary historians writing in this country. She has devoted her literary career to recovering the lives and works of women writers overlooked and disparaged by generations of male literary scholars’. Lisa then disparages…..

Michael Foot. Evening Standard:

‘Janet Todd guides us with unfailing buoyancy and a wit all her own through the intricacies of Restoration theatre and politics…..[Behn’s] epitaph seems to suggest her wit is buried with her. Not at all; it is now wondrously resurrected.’

Brian Morton Scotland on Sunday 27 oct 1996:

‘Todd is so scrupulous and educated an observer that one never has any sense of being fobbed off with speculative fiction rather than well adduced fact….Todd has shown than even determined secrecy and a series of carefully shaped masks offer no protection against posterity. This is as much of Aphra Behn as we are ever likely to know.’

Jane Spencer THE feb 14 1887:

‘ A major new biography’

‘Todd’s rich biography will be of interest to everyone who cares about the period or about women as writers’

Emma Donoghue, march 1998:

‘ Todd has a good ear for tone and a deep understanding of the period, and what she acknowledges as guesswork has the ring of truth’

‘The Secret Life of Aphra Behn is an astonishingly thorough book’

Independent on Sunday feb 2000:

‘a fascinating picture of courtly intrigue and a woman’s life’

Gender Art and Death:

Ruth F. Chadwick, British Journal for 18th century studies:

‘A short review can only give a flavour of this excellent book….Anyone interested in feminism, historicism or literary history would be well advised to savour the entire work for themselves’

TLS Jan 7, 1994: Jane Blumberg,

‘Todd is persuasive without sounding strident’

‘Todd never resorts to jargon. These essays reflect her years as one of the “hewers of wood and drawers of water in the stacks”, as well as her originality of thought ….Her approach seems rooted in common sense…’ These authoritative essays give their once marginalized subjects a sense of stature, not just as women writers, but as authors well integrated into the common pantheon…’

Clare Hanson:

‘lucid and highly readable collection of essays’

Critical Fortunes of Aphra Behn

Carolyn D. Williams YES 2001:

‘This is…an essential guide to Behn studies…Todd …makes no meek surrender to the pull of cultural relativity: as in her other works, she provides inspiration for a new generation of scholars, while delivering salutary strictures on the need for historical awareness which they will ignore at their peril’

S.J.Wiseman English Studies dec, 1999:

‘for anyone wanting to follow up what Behn’s contemporaries and successors had to say about her Todd has provided a very helpful resource.’

Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life

Mike Davies Chartist Nov/dec 2000:

‘ Todd’s biography unfolds a passionate and creative life…’

Harriet Devine Jump: RES 2002:

‘ Janet Todd conveys admirably not only her contradictoriness and her often infuriating lack of self-knowledge, but also her energy and her brilliance.’

Rosemary Ashton TLS April 2000:

‘Janet Todd tells the story o Mary Wollstonecraft’s extraordinary life with calm judiciousness, an excellent sense of the social, intellectual and economic spheres in which her subject lived and wrote, and a good eye for small but telling details.’

Miranda Seymour Sunday Times April 2000:

‘Mary’s life offers much scope for Todd’s enjoyably satirical style’ ‘shrewdness, humour and compassion’

Kathryn Hughes Literary Review April 2000:

‘The great strength of Janet Todd’s biography lies in her willingness to unpick the feminist frame on which earlier lives of Wollstonecraft were stretched to fit.’

Tony Neal West End Extra oct 2009

‘Janet Todd’s excellently researched book sheds new light by examining as never before the Wollstonecraft revealed in the remarkably frank letters’

Kris Lawson, Rain Taxi, Winter 2000/1:

‘Todd’s biography succeeds admirably. Wollstonecraft emerges as a genuine person who struggle to maintain her principles throughout her lifetime is instructive and inspiring even now’

Susan Eilenberg LRB, November 2000:

Todd cannot resist ‘the ironies of her guiltily amusing tale’

Publishers weekly june 2000:

‘Todd brings [MW] back to life in all her splendid contradictions, without condescension, idealisation or, happily, without recourse to intrusive psychologizing’

Michael McLoughlin, Sunday Tribune sept 2001

‘a stimulating account of a feminist pioneer’

Carlen Arnett, Ruminator Review Winter 2001-2:

‘In Janet Todd’s new biography, Mary Wollstonecraft comes to life on the page as never before…Todd is an extraordinary researcher and sophisticated critic’ ‘this new biograhy conjures a vivid sense of Wollstonecraft as a revolutionary and as a woman, and offers precise insights into the progress of one writer’s life’

Virginia Quarterly Review:

‘without idealization or condescension’

Sunday Times oct 2001:

‘In this thorough and painstaking biography, Todd provides a convincing portrait of a brilliant … (page torn)

Nigel Jones, Sunday Express May 2000:

‘ Janet Todd scrapes away the legends sprayed on by Mary’s adoring admirers to reveal the all too human woman beneath, determined to plough her own furrow against the grain of society as she found it.’

Paul Foot, Guardian july 2007,

‘The full force of her achievement emerges more strongly from stern criticism; as does the fact that her life was, above all else, a revolutionary one.’

Michele Roberts, New Statesman May 2000:

‘ Todd convincingly ties together the woman, the politics, the writing and the life.’

Kirkus Review:

‘intelligent and well-formed study’

Susanna Rustin, FT, june 2000:

‘her biographer does honour tp Wollstonecraft the thinker….This is an unsentimental and clearly argued biography, which offers many acute psychological insights.’

Shirley Dent, New Humanist June 2000:

‘This is a biography of a censorious and censored life, as well as a revolutionary and unconventional one. Janet Todd has produced a life of multitudes, in which writing embraces and excludes, articulates desire and alienates intimacy. A testament to Todd’s narrative ability, Wollstonecraft emerges as both the puritanical rationalist of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the infatuated lover of the Imlay letters.’

Loraine Fletcher, Independent, May 2000:

‘This book has its horrifying moments, but Wollstonecraft‘s writing is finally the more impressive for Todd’s unsparing picture’

Ruth Scurr. Times My 2000

‘Janet Todd’s new biography brilliantly captures the absurdity in Wollstonecraft while defending the view that her life was both important and revolutionary. Like Virginia Woolf, Todd interprets this life as a daring experiment’. Wollstonecraft ‘ is all but resurrected in Janet Todd’s distinguished book: brave, reckless and wide open to life. Virginia Woolf claimed for Wollstonecraft a special kind of immortality. Janet Todd has strengthened the case.’

Collected Letters of MW:

Sat Telegraph Kate Chisholm 30/8/03:

‘Todd …has produced an exemplary edition, allowing us to read the letters without editorial intrusion, while providing vividly detailed and easily accessible footnotes.’

Judith Hawley 4/10/03

‘Janet Todd’s splendid edition of the letters’ ‘Todd’s restrained but moving annotation’ ‘Todd’s ‘balanced and informative introduction’ ‘Todd’s well-judged annotations help us understand these letters in the context of Wollstonecraft’s milieu and era…her edition also constitutes an excellent companion to the biography that Todd published in 2000’

Eleanor Ty, Eighteenth-century fiction

‘Todd’s annotations are thorough, well researched , and meticulous’

Dianne M. Hunter:

‘learnedly and lovingly edited and annotated by Janet Todd

Rebel Daughters:

TLS JAN 23 2004, Nora Crook :

Todd is ‘very good at untangling the web of allegiances and enmities’ of the irish Ascendancy. ‘Todd keeps her potentially sprawling narrative under control, without drawing the reins too tight or sacrificing informative and vivid social detail.’ ‘Rebel Daughters is scrupulously researched’ ‘an excellent introduction to the ramifications of late eighteenth-century Irish politics’.

Death and the Maidens

Caroline Franklin, TLS September 2007:

‘Todd’s painstaking reconstruction’ ‘Janet Todd’s book is acily plotted and so carefully researched in all its details that she is able to shed fascinating light even on a relatively well-known story. This is a book which, while accessible enough for the general reader, will also be welcomed by specialists for a wealth of insights into one of literature’s most famous dynasties.’

Hilary Spurling, Observer, july 2007:

‘Todd confronts more frankly than anyone has done before the fact that Shelley spent virtually his entire adult life trying to lure young girls away from the protection of their families’.

Frances Wilson, Literary Review July 2007,

‘brilliant’ ‘utterly convincing’

Diana Birchall, Jane Austen’s Regency World,

‘the detective work Janet Todd has done is intuitive and insightful’

Lorraine Fletcher, The Independent, July 2007

‘Todd has a good title for her reversal of Romantic hagiography; she uncovers what the cult of genius hides.’