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Ornament and Silence : Essays on Women's Lives, from Virginia Woolf to Germaine Greer

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In these fourteen essays, Fraser focuses on women in love affairs, friendships, marriages, and families; in relation to one another and to the talented men who so often rendered them invisible. In Ornament and Silence we see Virginia Woolf, haunted and eventually destroyed by the sexual secrets of her childhood. We meet Flaubert's theatrically importunate mistress, Louise In these fourteen essays, Fraser focuses on women in love affairs, friendships, marriages, and families; in relation to one another and to the talented men who so often rendered them invisible. In Ornament and Silence we see Virginia Woolf, haunted and eventually destroyed by the sexual secrets of her childhood. We meet Flaubert's theatrically importunate mistress, Louise Colet, the one woman who could briefly slip past the master's misogyny. Fraser offers vibrant portraits of the Russian novelist Nina Berberova and the English naturalist Miriam Rothschild. And here is Fraser herself, learning her craft at The New Yorker, tending her English garden and--on every page--delighting us with the manifold felicities of her prose."A wonderfully idiosyncratic set of essays on women famous and unknown whose public and private lives Fraser examines with great feeling and exactitude...insight, intelligence, and grace."--Newsday"Subtlety, fluency, candor, an agile sensate intellect--Kennedy Fraser brings all these gifts to bear on a subject that is not always contemplated so untendentiously, with such independence of mind, and from such a generous and worldly point of view."--Phillip Roth


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In these fourteen essays, Fraser focuses on women in love affairs, friendships, marriages, and families; in relation to one another and to the talented men who so often rendered them invisible. In Ornament and Silence we see Virginia Woolf, haunted and eventually destroyed by the sexual secrets of her childhood. We meet Flaubert's theatrically importunate mistress, Louise In these fourteen essays, Fraser focuses on women in love affairs, friendships, marriages, and families; in relation to one another and to the talented men who so often rendered them invisible. In Ornament and Silence we see Virginia Woolf, haunted and eventually destroyed by the sexual secrets of her childhood. We meet Flaubert's theatrically importunate mistress, Louise Colet, the one woman who could briefly slip past the master's misogyny. Fraser offers vibrant portraits of the Russian novelist Nina Berberova and the English naturalist Miriam Rothschild. And here is Fraser herself, learning her craft at The New Yorker, tending her English garden and--on every page--delighting us with the manifold felicities of her prose."A wonderfully idiosyncratic set of essays on women famous and unknown whose public and private lives Fraser examines with great feeling and exactitude...insight, intelligence, and grace."--Newsday"Subtlety, fluency, candor, an agile sensate intellect--Kennedy Fraser brings all these gifts to bear on a subject that is not always contemplated so untendentiously, with such independence of mind, and from such a generous and worldly point of view."--Phillip Roth

30 review for Ornament and Silence : Essays on Women's Lives, from Virginia Woolf to Germaine Greer

  1. 5 out of 5

    cuz of miss audrey hope <3

  2. 5 out of 5

    Al Maki

    The book is a collection of pieces from the New Yorker and Vogue that illuminate the lives and relationships of a number of women, mostly writers or artists: Virginia Woolf's with her half brothers, the poet Nina Berberova's with the Russian Revolution, a fashion designer whose husband carried on a long affair with Greta Garbo, the author's with Wallace Shawn. I found them fascinating and moving. I think Fraser ought to be more widely read. Her tone reminds me of MFK Fisher while her technique r The book is a collection of pieces from the New Yorker and Vogue that illuminate the lives and relationships of a number of women, mostly writers or artists: Virginia Woolf's with her half brothers, the poet Nina Berberova's with the Russian Revolution, a fashion designer whose husband carried on a long affair with Greta Garbo, the author's with Wallace Shawn. I found them fascinating and moving. I think Fraser ought to be more widely read. Her tone reminds me of MFK Fisher while her technique reminds me of a lighter Joan Didion.

  3. 4 out of 5

    anna karolyne

    omg her the writing is so descriptive and in some aspects reminded me of joan didon’s!! the way she explores women’s dynamics / relationships (principally with other women), and traumas is so well done and interesting; i will definitely read more of her work in the future

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara Estrada

    I really really enjoyed the essays about Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Nina Nikolayevna and I admire the work and investigation Fraser did here but quite honestly, I would have given the book five stars if she didn’t write from an extremely white point of view. I felt that she was completely oblivious to race and class issues (though not all the time) and it made the quality of the essays grew weary, for me, at least. Not to mention she (of course) only writes about extremely white and privi I really really enjoyed the essays about Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Nina Nikolayevna and I admire the work and investigation Fraser did here but quite honestly, I would have given the book five stars if she didn’t write from an extremely white point of view. I felt that she was completely oblivious to race and class issues (though not all the time) and it made the quality of the essays grew weary, for me, at least. Not to mention she (of course) only writes about extremely white and privileged women. Also, to be a book about “essays on women’s lives” I feel like she spends way too much time focusing on men.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mimi

    a wonderful group of essays by a former writer for the New Yorker. a 4.5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amaya Veiga

    This past week, I decided to go beyond my comfort zone and decided to read this lovely, intelligent, anthology by the one and only Kennedy Fraser. The book focuses on the lives of women, both famous such as Edith Wharton, and those less well known, but not any less interesting. Fraser's writing is beautiful, thoughtful and a pleasure to read.  * * * The book is filled with a love of literature and an incredible attention to detail. The way in which she describes each story making you feel as if you This past week, I decided to go beyond my comfort zone and decided to read this lovely, intelligent, anthology by the one and only Kennedy Fraser. The book focuses on the lives of women, both famous such as Edith Wharton, and those less well known, but not any less interesting. Fraser's writing is beautiful, thoughtful and a pleasure to read.  * * * The book is filled with a love of literature and an incredible attention to detail. The way in which she describes each story making you feel as if you are there, a silent observer watching the author's formation of writing come together was a very curious experience. I found myself particularly moved by her writing about Anne Bronte. It seemed extremely delicate and precise, giving me the sensation of being able to see crystal clear into each persons life revealed from within their words on breadths of paper that seemed too little for such big subjects. I would recommend this anthology to anyone who wants to read something incredibly intelligent and detailed, but not without some literary criticism mixed with a dash of fun-loving "ch chat". This is the sort of book you can pick up and read a section in the evening. I read the first essay at a mexican restaurant while third wheeling with my parents :D If any of that sounds appealing then definitely check it out :))

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ella

    I really did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Ornament and Silence is a collection of essays written on the lives of influential western artists, most of which are women. From Designer Valentina to artist Johannes Vermeer, Fraser’s storytelling is sharp, elegant and immersive. My favourite short story would have to be Nina Berberova’s, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Adding to this, Fraser includes shorter snippets of moments in her life, recalling her time working for ‘the New I really did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Ornament and Silence is a collection of essays written on the lives of influential western artists, most of which are women. From Designer Valentina to artist Johannes Vermeer, Fraser’s storytelling is sharp, elegant and immersive. My favourite short story would have to be Nina Berberova’s, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Adding to this, Fraser includes shorter snippets of moments in her life, recalling her time working for ‘the New Yorker’, sisterhood and her childhood in the British countryside. There is something for everyone; from writers and novelists, to naturalists and painters. Almost every art form is represented. For me, this book threw me right into Gossip Girl and I understand why the writers would have Audrey Hope reading this book, it’s full of references to the old European aristocracy which thrived in the US. However, I definitely would’ve liked more references to early feminism and female political figures in general, whilst the idealisation of the white ruling class was off putting at times. Nevertheless, in terms of what she has chosen to write about, I would say that this is one of the best short story collections I have read. 4.5/5

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julia Sampaio

    3,5 stars half of the essays are great, half of them really boring or uninteresting. I didn't love the writing, but it had some beautiful passages especially on the vermeer essay. Overall I liked but I don't think it's a primal reading "(on vermeers paintings) The emotion stirred up in us is akin to what we feel when we look in a window and see someone lost in the pages of a book; when we visit a church and see a stranger knelt in prayer; when a loved one murmurs in his sleep; or when we contempl 3,5 stars half of the essays are great, half of them really boring or uninteresting. I didn't love the writing, but it had some beautiful passages especially on the vermeer essay. Overall I liked but I don't think it's a primal reading "(on vermeers paintings) The emotion stirred up in us is akin to what we feel when we look in a window and see someone lost in the pages of a book; when we visit a church and see a stranger knelt in prayer; when a loved one murmurs in his sleep; or when we contemplate a corpse."

  9. 4 out of 5

    karina ❀ུ۪

    3.25⭐️ This collection of essays is so beautifully written, but I’d lie if I rated it higher. I feel like something was missing and sadly, this book didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would.

  10. 4 out of 5

    cher guevara

    One of the highlights of the year

  11. 4 out of 5

    marto

    i liked some essays more than others but i appreciated style and prose throughout the whole book

  12. 5 out of 5

    Evva Geraerts

    Some essays I found very boring and just not for me but others i really loved.

  13. 5 out of 5

    April Arias

    such a cool book all the short stories told are completely different and all revolve around the woman and how these certain things being tols has molded them into who they now are.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kyleigh

    Beautiful prose, but it was uncomfortable to read essay after essay strictly about white affluent women

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I hefted and skimmed this today, and although I didn't buy it, it has much to recommend it, like a longish piece on Nina Berberova that contained many interesting details I didn't know (Fraser apparently knew Berberova in her last years). This book looks like one of that series of compilations of profiles highlighting the semi-obscure female halves of famous literary couples. There's Phyllis Rose's 'Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages,' Frances Wilson's 'Literary Seductions,' Francine Prose I hefted and skimmed this today, and although I didn't buy it, it has much to recommend it, like a longish piece on Nina Berberova that contained many interesting details I didn't know (Fraser apparently knew Berberova in her last years). This book looks like one of that series of compilations of profiles highlighting the semi-obscure female halves of famous literary couples. There's Phyllis Rose's 'Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages,' Frances Wilson's 'Literary Seductions,' Francine Prose's 'The Lives of the Muses,' and, bringing up the distant rear, Katie Roiphe's 'Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939'--which is terrible, a rag-bag of lazy, glib, sub-Slate jottings.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    I really enjoyed the essays on the lives of Virginia Woolf, Nina Berverova, Edith Wharton, Paul Scott, Valentina, and Germaine Greer. I had a hard time with the last chapter, which was the author's dedication to an editor at the New Yorker. The writing was a little bit self-conscious at times I felt, but overall I really enjoyed this book! The stars of the book tended to be more literary than anything else, and I found myself adding books to my list of books to-read with fervor. I think this was I really enjoyed the essays on the lives of Virginia Woolf, Nina Berverova, Edith Wharton, Paul Scott, Valentina, and Germaine Greer. I had a hard time with the last chapter, which was the author's dedication to an editor at the New Yorker. The writing was a little bit self-conscious at times I felt, but overall I really enjoyed this book! The stars of the book tended to be more literary than anything else, and I found myself adding books to my list of books to-read with fervor. I think this was a good start to understanding some of the backgrounds of many of these women.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a fantastic collections of essays, most of which first appeared in Vogue or The New Yorker. Kennedy Fraser offers the fascinating details of the lives and loves of various artists, along with thought provoking conclusions about how these details impacted the work of these creators. It's all so beautifully written and accessible. If only all nonfiction could be this poetic, I would read more of it. This is a fantastic collections of essays, most of which first appeared in Vogue or The New Yorker. Kennedy Fraser offers the fascinating details of the lives and loves of various artists, along with thought provoking conclusions about how these details impacted the work of these creators. It's all so beautifully written and accessible. If only all nonfiction could be this poetic, I would read more of it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Becky J

    The final chapter pretty much tied together the chapters I hated (the one about the author going to a fashion show, coming back home, and deciding not to write about the fashion show, and the one about Miriam Rothschild, both of which just seemed shallow and uninteresting to me) and the others (which I really enjoyed). Overall, it was an interesting book and I'm glad I read it. The final chapter pretty much tied together the chapters I hated (the one about the author going to a fashion show, coming back home, and deciding not to write about the fashion show, and the one about Miriam Rothschild, both of which just seemed shallow and uninteresting to me) and the others (which I really enjoyed). Overall, it was an interesting book and I'm glad I read it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rwildfon

    Kennedy Fraser has created a book of essays written from her time at the New Yorker magazine. She spoke of her days there as being one of the few women writers in the stable.I especially liked her retelling of the meetings she had with Nina Berbernova and Miriam Rothschild, also the very "New Yorker", E.B. White style piece at the end. Kennedy Fraser has created a book of essays written from her time at the New Yorker magazine. She spoke of her days there as being one of the few women writers in the stable.I especially liked her retelling of the meetings she had with Nina Berbernova and Miriam Rothschild, also the very "New Yorker", E.B. White style piece at the end.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Simply beautifully written essays on a variety of famous women throughout history -- Colet, Nina Berberova, Edith Wharton -- and on the author's own experiences, finishing with a romantic tribute to the old days of the New Yorker. Simply beautifully written essays on a variety of famous women throughout history -- Colet, Nina Berberova, Edith Wharton -- and on the author's own experiences, finishing with a romantic tribute to the old days of the New Yorker.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erika Nerdypants

    Essays on the lives of women, both famous such as Edith Wharton, and those less well known, but not any less interesting. Fraser's writing is beautiful, thoughtful and a pleasure to read. Essays on the lives of women, both famous such as Edith Wharton, and those less well known, but not any less interesting. Fraser's writing is beautiful, thoughtful and a pleasure to read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sally Anne

    Loved it! One of the yummiest, smartest books I have read this year. Highly recommended.

  23. 4 out of 5

    RUSA CODES

    This was one of the 1998 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rus... This was one of the 1998 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rus...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ugne Gabriele

  27. 4 out of 5

    isabelle redden

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany S

  30. 5 out of 5

    ditte

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