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Getting a life

The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has been denounced for its many mistakes and tendentious commentary. But it extends the idea of Britishness, includes an impressive variety of lives, and the online version enables hours of happy browsing by entry, contributor, theme or even phrase

The founding editor of the original Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen, abandoned sole responsibility midway through his enormous task. His wife Julia was convinced that it was ruining his health, and persuaded him to resign and take refuge in the Alps. In To the Lighthouse (1927), Stephen’s daughter, Virginia Woolf, commemorated her parents as Mr and Mrs Ramsay, paying tribute to his dogged persistence and to her beauty and loving kindness (both were long dead: she died in 1895, he in 1904). Julia Prinsep Stephen was a woman who lived in and through family, friends and philanthropic projects, in…

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