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.