The Woman Who Dared: A Biog­ra­phy of Amy Levy

Chris­tine Pullen
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

Pullen’s biog­ra­phy of author Amy Levy offers a sol­id and thought­ful analy­sis of an all-too-short life. Born to a Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, Amy Levy broke con­ven­tion to study at uni­ver­si­ty, trav­el abroad with­out the then-com­mon prop­er super­vi­sion, and con­tribute to intel­lec­tu­al cir­cles in dis­cus­sions of fem­i­nism and the chang­ing role of women, among oth­er rad­i­cal issues of the day. Despite her ear­ly lit­er­ary suc­cess, how­ev­er, Amy Levy end­ed her life. Pullen explores the pos­si­ble rea­sons for this final act by means of a com­pre­hen­sive look at the par­al­lels between Levy’s writ­ten work and her lived expe­ri­ences as reflect­ed in a wide range of pri­ma­ry sources, espe­cial­ly let­ters between Levy and her friends and family. 

Read­ers should antic­i­pate that The Woman Who Dared is not a typ­i­cal mass-mar­ket biog­ra­phy. Pullen does an excel­lent job of telling Levy’s sto­ry through tex­tu­al analy­sis rather than sim­ple nar­ra­tion, and there­fore the book focus­es heav­i­ly on Levy’s short sto­ries and poet­ry and less on cat­a­logu­ing the events of Levy’s life. This is a strength, but is best enjoyed by those who appre­ci­ate a lit­er­ary per­spec­tive. Index, notes.

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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