Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 10, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

Ornament and Silence

Current Status
In Season
Kennedy Fraser
Essays, Women's Studies

We gave it an A-

Fraser came to The New Yorker from England in 1968 and began to write about fashion — a subject she claims to have known nothing about — with such verve, directness, and freshness of observation that she changed fashion reporting for good. Soon, any piece with a Fraser byline was something to savor, yet the writer herself was a mystery. In this collection of essays written since she left the magazine (she was a devotee of grand old editor William Shawn and concludes Ornament and Silence with a chatty memoir of her time at The New Yorker), Fraser discusses, among others, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Vermeer, Germaine Greer, and the relationship between Flaubert and his mistress Louise Colet. The essays are linked by the essayist’s interest in women’s lives; they’re also linked by her distinctive style — sensuous yet not too fruity (except in her New Yorker reminiscence, where she gets a little coy), feminine yet brisk. Without giving away much, Fraser opens up and talks about herself — sometimes just in the way she talks about her hats. All details are gratefully received.

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