A sultry month changed the way I viewed my history. It is good that it has been reprinted

Hurray. Faber has reprinted one of the most enlightening and insufficiently praised books of the past 60 years. by Alethea Hayter A sultry month, first published in 1965, marked a new way of writing biography: a study of several connected lives, closely considered over a period of a few weeks. It changed the way I looked at history.

In June 1846, temperatures in London soared. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were planning their escape; Robert Peel resigned as prime minister; Jane and Thomas Carlyle suffered from constipation and from each other; William Macready played King Lear at the Princess Theater. And an almost forgotten painter, Benjamin Robert Haydon, slit his throat. There were a lot of big shots out there, but Hayter’s collage gives the characters the importance they had at the time, not the fame they later achieved. Haydon was then a looming figure; full of the sense of his own destiny, perpetually in debt, confused when the crowds passed his solo show to watch “Tom Thumb the midget”, staged in Piccadilly by the circus owner Barnum.

I was stunned when I first read the book over 30 years ago – it was out of print and circled around a group of my friends as if it were samizdat. I sent a fan letter to the author and was fascinated by his life, his behavior, his penetration. Apparently fearless, precise and demanding, Aquilina lived in what she described as “a rather shady part of London” (Stockwell), had worked as a “half-ghost” and was the sister of William Hayter, a former ambassador in Moscow. Independent thinking was a sign of what might seem cut out to be an official family. Teresa called her own autobiography about her granddaughter Hayter of the bourgeoisie.

Hymn to a domineering woman

Carmen Callil, who died last week, also helped change the way we, that is, human beings, some of whom are men, think and read. Not only through her work at Virago: she has also kept people alert to everyday misogyny. Soon after she was appointed to head Chatto & Windus, she taped a newspaper cut about a friend’s latest job triumph on the door of her office. The headline read: “BBC Appoints Bully Woman”.

She probably would have adapted quicker than I did to shady deals al Evening standard where for some years I was among the judges of the theatrical awards of the newspaper. Back then, when most of the theater critics were men, Georgina Brown, del Sunday post, and I was quite happy with the bottle of champagne that was given to us in lieu of a fee. Until we accidentally found out that all male judges had a case. We solved, but not retrospectively. So I think they still owe us.

Waiting in the wings

The Royal Margate Theater. Photograph: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy

Wandering around Margate the other day, I was surprised to stumble upon the closed Theater Royal, in the square near where John Keats was staying and around the corner from the pub where Eric Morecambe had had his wedding breakfast. It was Britain’s second oldest functioning theater (Bristol Old Vic gets the crown): Sarah Siddons appeared on its stage in the 1890s, as did Dorothea Jordan, mother of 10 children of the Duke of Clarence, later William IV; design genius and monster Edward Gordon Craig trained in his acting school.

Owned by the Thanet council, the inviting-looking theater is awaiting refurbishment and a new operator. Here is an opportunity for an ingenious organization to expand Margate’s art businesses. The number of art galleries, some the size of a painting, is impressive. Let’s add some benefits. And give the residents much needed work.

• Susannah Clapp is the theatrical critic of the Observer

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