The testamentary acts of Michael Millgate's title are those strategies of self-protection and self-projection--textual and personal, before and after death--by which authors seek in old age to enhance posterity's view of themselves and their work. The four figures examined here in detail--Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy--sought to maintain their personal privacy and control the integrity of their texts by, for example, destroying documents, writing autobiographies, revising their earlier works and supplying them with retrospective prefaces, and publishing so-called "collected" editions that omitted items they no longer wished to preserve. These and other strategies have been widely practiced by writers, but can have entirely unanticipated results, as Millgate shows. His study also examines the difficult role of such literary executors as Pen Browning, Hallam Tennyson, and Florence Hardy, called upon to exercise a delegated, hence compromised, authority. The final section of the book considers the wills and wishes of many other literary figures, from Samuel Johnson to Walt Whitman to Philip Larkin, emphasizing the importance for contemporary biographers and editors of attention to these end-games--to the often disregarded final years of writers, and to both the intentions and the consequences of their explicit and implicit testamentary acts.
`an apt framework for cultural institutions like the Tennyson centenary.'
Victorian Poetry, Autumn 1993
`Michael Millgate ... knows all too much about the "testamentary acts" of writers on the brink of the grave, and he has written a rewarding book on the subject.'
P. N. Furbank, Times Literary Supplement
`detailed, elegantly-written and acutely thoughtful book ...As the most out-standing living biographer and scholar of Hardy, it's to be expected that he deals well with him .. he traces marvellously the aims and consequences of "explicit and implicit testamentary acts".'
Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph
`a wry but understanding account of how four famous writers prepared for the immortality of biography.'
William St Clair, Financial Times
`excellent study ...One of the many delights of this book is the emergence into the limelight of a cast of previously shadowy minor characters ... Millgate's treatment of the domestic routine at Max Gate towards the end of Hardy's life is masterly and his character-drawing rich and convincing ... Beneath the rich scholarship and biographical detail of this book ... lurk theoretical issues about the essential fictiveness of all writing and the eternal
recessiveness of creation. It is a book which deals in both a literal and a theoretical sense with "the death of the author".'
Valerie Purton, The Thomas Hardy Journal
'A detailed account, carefully organized and interestingly written.'
M. Timko, Queen's College, CUNY, Choice, Jan '93
`a series of lucid yet magnificently detailed narratives ... Millgate, for the most part, leaves unsaid the broader implications of his research; nevertheless, those implications are considerable and very much part of what makes this study so important.'
John Schad, Times Higher Education Supplement
'intelligent and engagé'
John Batchelor, British Book News, September 1993
'absorbing study ... cogent, scholarly and intriguing study ... he has achieved his goals admirably'
W. Eugene Davis, Purdue University, English Literature in Transition 1880-1920
'Millgate's treatment of the issues and problems is, as we should expect, wide-ranging, scholarly, and convincing. The chief interest of this book for most of its readers is bound to be the detailed scholarly study of his four writers. He approaches them with a biographer's eye, doing justice to each and not subordinating individual characteristics to any general thesis.'
Douglas Hewitt, Pembroke College, Oxford, Notes and Queries, September 1993
'an extraordinarily detailed and massively documented account ... This richly informative book ... fuels an important debate that will not be quickly or easily resolved.'
Philip Horne, University College, London, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 48:2 (September 1993)
'an apt framework for cultural institutions like the Tennyson centenary'
Victorian Poetry, Autumn 1993
'absorbing book ... Millgate brings to this investigation the experience of a scholar who has had to search out and work with "testamentary acts" of considerable consequence ... Millgate's chapters have the literary pleasure of well-constructed biographical detective stories, complete with intricate plots, surprising outcomes, and an intruiging range of subordinate characters.'
Frances Halpenny, University of Toronto
`a concise and vivid expression of the multiplicity of obligations an intelligent and sensitive editor will feel when faced with any wort with a moderately complex history ... the book is a pleasure to read, like all of Millgate's work, especially if you like your pleasures dry and wry ... Millgate is Thomas Hardy's finest biographer ... It is probable that no literary biographer will find it easy to ignore Millgate's book, and it is to be expected that
more attention will now be paid than hitherto has been to the ways in which the reputation of their subjects has been shaped by events immediately before and after their death.'
Simon Gatrell, TEXT, Volume 9, 1997