Play List:

1. The Rath Boys

2. The Witchfinder

3. A Madcap Prince

4. Corinne

5. The Queen of Connaught

6. The Nine Days’ Queen

7. The Mormons

8. The Shadow of the Sword

9. Lucy Brandon

10. Storm-Beaten

11. Lady Clare

[Flowers of the Forest]

12. A Sailor and His Lass

13. Bachelors

14. Constance

15. Lottie

16. Agnes

17. Alone in London

18. Sophia

19. Fascination

20. The Blue Bells of Scotland

21. Partners

22. Joseph’s Sweetheart

23. That Doctor Cupid

24. Angelina!

25. The Old Home

26. A Man’s Shadow

27. Theodora

28. Man and the Woman

29. Clarissa

30. Miss Tomboy

31. The Bride of Love

32. Sweet Nancy

33. The English Rose

34. The Struggle for Life

35. The Sixth Commandment

36. Marmion

37. The Gifted Lady

38. The Trumpet Call

39. Squire Kate

40. The White Rose

41. The Lights of Home

42. The Black Domino

43. The Piper of Hamelin

44. The Charlatan

45. Dick Sheridan

46. A Society Butterfly

47. Lady Gladys

48. The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown

49. The Romance of the Shopwalker

50. The Wanderer from Venus

51. The Mariners of England

52. Two Little Maids from School

53. When Knights Were Bold


Short Plays

Other Plays

Buchanan’s Theatrical Ventures in America

Poetry Readings





The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search



Walt Whitman and Herman Melville


At least, as Harriett Jay reports in her two paragraphs, Buchanan did manage to meet with Walt Whitman during the run of Alone in London in Philadelphia, sometime in March, 1885. The meeting is recalled by Whitman in Horace Traubel’s With Walt Whitman in Camden (Vol. 6, p. 245-246 - available at the Walt Whitman Archive):

Tuesday, January 14, 1890

     7.15 P.M. W. in his room, but not reading, though the light was full on. Not out today—it was too cold.

     I have been reading Roden Noel’s Whitman. I said of it, for one thing, this evening: “However friendly and admiring, he still takes scarce measure of Leaves of Grass.” W. thereupon: “Well—our utmost anyhow would be to say: it is very friendly. I have always felt that the book was amateurish—the work of a young man. That copy I have I suppose Noel sent”—but there was no name in it. I resented also the notes of Noel—stating Buchanan and Whitman in too-close terms. W. laughed at my warmth: “Do you know much about Buchanan?” Adding, when I asked him about B.’s   “genius.” “I don’t know. Buchanan has a great idea of making money—has written plays, novels. He lost a wife of whom he was very fond: it was a great change for him. She left him a niece—a fine young girl, Harriet Gay, who afterwards went on the stage. It is for her Browning writes plays—makes a part for her—to fit her. She has been here a couple of times—has grown up a handsome, bright girl. Although decidedly girlish, crude, youthful, now—she is of the Byron kind: I should not be surprised any morning to wake up and find her famous. Yes—I have seen Buchanan, too—twice, if I remember right—he has been here. He is a typical John Bull—short, thick, ruddy, assertive, brusque—thick-necked. He came once—I think I have told you—we sat down-stairs—in the sitting-room —the room underneath this. It was a cold day—I found it difficult to get comfortable even with a fire—was hustling up the fire. Buchanan came in a carriage— jumped out and came indoors. After he had been in some time—a half hour at least, he said something about the carriage and some one he had left in it—and when I inquired who he told me Harriet Gay, the wife’s niece. I asked, ‘What, and you have left her there and in the cold all this time? Go out this instant and bring her in: she must be frozen to death.’ And he did so—I not keeping her in the parlor but sending her back in the kitchen, where it was warmer and where Mrs. Davis gave her a cup of tea to thaw her out.” He told this story with great vehemence and then said, “But of course Buchanan is more than that—has a comradeship side to him,” though “these human derelictions a man don’t altogether get over.”



Buchanan also referred to the meeting in Latter-Day Leaves. No. 9—The Last Year of the Century’ published in the Sunday Special on 31st December, 1899.

     “I sent my New Year’s greetings to Walt Whitman, with the assurance that at least half a dozen Englishmen joined with me in that message of affectionate homage; and shortly afterwards I visited him personally in his lonely lodgings in New Jersey, across the ferry from Philadelphia. He was old, worn, weary and weather-beaten but when the chord of fellowship was struck as gently dominant and simply wise as ever. The rooms where he dwelt were very poor, his diet appeared chiefly to consist of brackish tea and custard pie—many English labourers indeed have better shelter and more sumptuous fare. And his talk! Well, I have heard Scottish peasants and English mariners talk as simply, with something of the same grave faith in the Law of Life which flows to righteousness. His very vanity was beautiful and childlike. I had with me a lady who had been reared in the belief that Walt was a great and Christlike man, and when she asked for his photograph he offered her not one but many, writing his autograph under each with boyish satisfaction and delight. Yet with all this he was sublimely free of the slightest literary self-consciousness, only it seemed to him the most natural thing in the world that we should be there with him, offering him the eager tribute of our love. He had not one word of regret over his pitiable poverty, or of bitterness towards the literary classes which had insulted and neglected him; he was perfectly satisfied with himself, with the world, with all Humanity. Though he loved such simple fame as came to him, though praise and sympathy made him happy, he did not live for these things—his thoughts were fixed higher, in the region of a perfectly peaceful and innocent Joy of Life.”


Buchanan also tried, unsuccessfully, to find the whereabouts of Herman Melville. On his return to London, Buchanan’s poetic account of his meeting with Whitman was published in The Academy (15 August, 1885) under the title ‘Socrates in Camden, With a Look Round. (Written after first meeting the American Poet, Walt Whitman, at Camden, New Jersey.)’. The poem is dated, ‘Indian Rock, Philadelphia, Pa. : March, 1885.’ It was later republished in Buchanan’s final book of poetry, The New Rome, minus the following verse:

“Meantime my sun-like music-maker,
Shines solitary and apart;
Meantime the brave sword-carrying Quaker
Broods in the peace of his great heart,—
While Melville,* sea-compelling man,
Before whose wand Leviathan
Rose hoary white upon the Deep,
With awful sounds that stirred its sleep,
Melville, whose magic drew Typee,
Radiant as Venus, from the sea,
Sits all forgotten or ignored,
While haberdashers are adored!
He, ignorant of the drapers’ trade,
Indifferent to the art of dress,
Pictures the glorious South-sea maid
Almost in mother nakedness—
Without a hat, or boot, or stocking,
A want of dress to most so shocking,
With just one chemisette to dress her
She lives,—and still shall live, God bless her!
Long as the sea rolls deep and blue,
While heaven repeats the thunder of it,
Long as the White Whale ploughs it through,
The shape my sea-magician drew
Shall still endure, or I’m no prophet!

* Hermann Melville, author of Typee, The White Whale, &c. I sought everywhere for this Triton, who is still living somewhere in New York. No one seemed to know anything of the one great imaginative writer fit to stand shoulder to shoulder with Whitman on that continent.”

The Boston Daily Globe (28 August, 1885) printed a long extract from the poem under the following headline:


And another American response to the poem appeared in this New York journal:

The Critic (29 August,1885)

     —The Academy of August 15 wastes a page of its space by filling it with a bit of doggerel called ‘Socrates in Camden. With a Look Round,’ by Robert Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan has not been as heartily welcomed by the literary class in this country as he hoped to be, and Walt Whitman’s kindness to him is responsible for this effusion, in which it is sought to extinguish the literary lights of Boston by using the ‘good, gray poet’ as a snuffer. The last lines in the poem are better than the rest. They run in this wise:

Poet divine, strong soul of fire,
Alive with love and love’s desire,
Whose strength is as the clouds, whose song
Is as the waters deep and strong,
Whose spirit, like a flag unfurled,
Proclaims the freedom of the world,
What gifts of grace and joy have come
Out of thy gentle martyrdom!
A pilgrim from afar, I bring
Homage from some who love thee well—
Ah, may the feeble song I sing
Make summer music in thy cell!
The noblest head ’neath western skies,
The tenderest heart, the clearest eyes,
Are thine, my Socrates, whose fate
Is beautifully desolate!
As deep as Hell, as high as Heaven,
Thy wisdom hath this lesson given:
When all the gods that reign’d and reign
Have fallen like leaves and left no sign,
The god-like Man shall still remain
To prove Humanity divine!



Although it should be added that the response to the poem was no better in Britain:

The Edinburgh Evening News (17 August, 1885 - p.2)

     In a long screed of doggerel in the current Academy Mr Robert Buchanan informs the world of letters that he has paid a visit to Walt Whitman at Camden, N.J., and that he holds the Boston school of poets and novelists a set of very inferior persons. He has surely misread Whitman’s message if he considers it necessary, in order to show his admiration for the “Camden Socrates,” to fling the mud of gratuitous impertinence at poets who choose to write verse instead of verbiage and the novelists who prefer analysis to melodrama. Messrs. James and Howells may be “linen drapers” and “man-milliners,” but at least they are artists; whereas Mr Buchanan, of late years, has sunk all sense of art in a passion for stage carpentery. As for his poetry, we could almost wish that Mr Buchanan might adopt Whitman’s unsophisticated rhythms when we find him perpetrating such execrable rhymes as “clothes” and “Thoreau’s,” “daughters” and “garters.”


[The corner of 42nd and 5th Avenue. New York, 1885.]


The Leaving of America


I have no idea when Buchanan and Jay actually left America. According to Buchanan’s introduction in the Olympic programme for Alone in London, Harriett Jay left first “to produce the play in England”, which seems to be confirmed by the prominence of her name in that announcement in The Era of 8th. August, 1885 (although Buchanan was also back home in England by then). Harriett Jay gives the reason for Buchanan’s departure as ill health, which seems to be confirmed by the reports in the press. I came across the following item which pushes the date of departure another month past the letter to Augustin Daly about Fascination:


The National Police Gazette (New York) (9 May, 1885 - p.3)

     Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay will return to England soon. Mr. Buchanan may do “Fascination,” a new play, in London. If a success there he will tour it here.



But a letter from Buchanan to Andrew Chatto of 22nd June, sent from his mother’s address at the Westward Ho boarding-house in Southend, is the earliest indication of Buchanan’s arrival back in England. On 30th July, 1885, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that “Mr Robert Buchanan, who has lately returned from a successful trip to the States, is lying ill at Southend.” And the same news was relayed back to America:


The Salt Lake Herald (1 August, 1885 - p.2)

British Bits.

     LONDON, July 31.—Robert Buchanan is seriously ill. He has just finished a long dramatic poem.



The Daily Graphic (New York) (6 August, 1885)

     In a single breath the cable announces that Robert Buchanan is seriously ill and that he has just finished a long dramatic poem. Whether he was indiscreet enough to read his own work at one sitting, or whether the verses on our City Hall have been cabled to London and met his affrighted gaze, cannot yet be ascertained.



So, by the end of June 1885, Buchanan and Jay were both back in England, Buchanan lying ill at Southend, while Jay made preparations for the British premiere of Alone in London. The ‘long dramatic poem’ was the first part of The Earthquake which was finally published in December - the second part never appeared.

The London production of Alone in London was beset with problems and Buchanan finally washed his hands of it, but by then he had begun a more successful stage of his theatrical career with Sophia. He never returned to America but his association with the American theatre continued. Sophia was produced at Wallack’s Theatre in November, 1886. In April, 1888, Partners was produced at the Madison-Square Theatre, and in September, Col. Sinn followed up his success with Alone in London with another two-year touring production of Fascination beginning at New York’s Fourteenth-Street Theatre. When Augustin Daly brought his company to London in the summer of 1886, Buchanan tried again, unsuccessfully, to interest him in A Madcap Prince, according to a letter of 28th July. However, in October 1889 Buchanan’s A Man’s Shadow, his adaptation of Jules Mary’s Roger-la-Honte, was further adapted by Augustin Daly for the American audience, its title changed to Roger la Honte; or, A Man’s Shadow, and was produced at Niblo’s Theatre with two stars of the English stage, William Terriss and Jessie Millward. In January 1892, Daniel Frohman produced Squire Kate at the Lyceum Theatre, starring Georgia Cayvan, who went on to tour America with the play for the next five years. Like Constance the play was never produced in Britain. 1892 also saw the American production of The English Rose by Buchanan and Sims in Boston and New York. Daniel Frohman also commissioned Buchanan to write a play about Richard Brinsley Sheridan, then rejected it in favour of one by an American playwright, Paul M. Potter. Potter’s version opened at New York’s Lyceum Theatre on 5 September, 1893 while Buchanan’s Dick Sheridan played at the Comedy Theatre in London from 3 February to 30 March, 1894. The third of Buchanan’s plays only seen in America, was Lady Gladys, which opened on 28 May, 1894 at the Madison Square Theatre and ran for two weeks. Minnie Seligman played the title role, which was originally intended for Lillie Langtry. Far more successful was the American production of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown by Buchanan and Jay, which opened at New York’s Standard Theatre on 2 December, 1895 and ran for two months before going on tour. The final play of ‘Robert Buchanan’ to be performed in America was, of course, When Knights Were Bold, which opened at the Garrick Theatre in New York on 20 August, 1907, with Francis Wilson as Sir Guy de Vere and ran for 100 performances.





MY Muse fu’ dowie faulds her wing,
An’ nought but sabs an’ sighs she’ll bring:
An’ sad-eyed Sorrow bids me sing,
Her tears to draw,
How, like a wild bird journeying,
Our Bard’s awa’!

O Rab was bright an’ warm an’ free,
Like sunlight on a simmer sea!
He aye was fu’ o’ mirth an’ glee
An’ wit an’ a’;
An’ graced wi’ gifts o’ Poesy,—
But Rab’s awa’!

O blythe it was I trow to trace
The sweet saul in his manly face,
His blue een sparkling kindly grace
On ane an’ a’:
Rab dearly lo’ed the human race,—
But Rab’s awa’!

The puir newspaper chields may mourn,
If Rab should never mair return;
His words cam’ like a bick’rin burn
An’ filled them a’:
He did them mony a friendly turn,—
But Rab’s awa’!

Play-actor billies round him hung,
An’ listened to his silv’ry tongue,
That sweet as only clair’net rung
In house or ha’:
He was the pride o’ auld an’ young,—
But Rab’s awa’!

The lang-haired literary louns
That live real puir in muckle touns,
Will miss him for the royal boons
He shower’d on a’,—
Bright silver bits as big’s half-crowns,—
But Rab’s awa’!

O when he met wi’ men o’ spirit,
Real clever cheilds o’ modest merit,
Owre oysters an’ a glass o’ claret,—
O then—hurrah!
The very earth they did inherit,—
But Rab’s awa’!

That day he gaed on board the ship,
He gied my hand a kindly grip,
An’ while a tremor shook his lip,
Said—“Tell them a’
They’ll never frae my memory slip
When I’m awa’.”

Quo’ I, wi’ heart as saft as jeel,
“Braw be your chance in Fortune’s wheel;
May seas slip past your sliding keel
Wi’ canny jaw,
An’ may the bodies use ye weel
When far awa’.”

Sin’ syne I muse on Fortune’s quirk:
She shines, then leaves me in the mirk;
I canna sleep nor wreat nor wirk,
Nor ought ava,—
I’m doited as a daunder’d stirk
Sin’ Rab’s awa’.

But whiles round Friendship’s wreathéd urn
Hope’s vestal fires fu’ brightly burn;
An’ though the vanish’d joys I mourn
That blossomed braw,
Wha kens but Rab may yet return?—
Though Rab’s awa’!

                                                                                                                                 JAMES KENNEDY

(From The Deeside Lass, and other Poems (Aberdeen: Cormack & Co., 1888). More information about James Kennedy is available here.)



Buchanan’s American Trip - a final thought


This section of the site has undergone several changes over the years. It began as an attempt to separate the purely American productions from the rest of Buchanan’s theatrical output and was also meant to add a little more flesh to the bare bones of Harriett Jay’s two paragraph summation of their American adventure in her biography of Buchanan. As the ‘Plays’ section of the site grew, I moved most of the information on the American productions there and this section was reduced to a page of odd newspaper cuttings about the American trip. At this point I should apologise for the rather random nature of this section - working from various online newspaper archives is not the most accurate way to acquire a complete record of events. Bad scans, imperfect search engines, etc., will deliver only a fraction of the material one is looking for. However, what I have found I have used, and I doubt there is some vast hidden iceberg of material where Buchanan is lauded as a literary giant and Jay as the greatest actress of the age. Although Buchanan finally managed to produce a ‘hit’ play with Alone In London, a popular success for Cora Tanner and Col. Sinn, which they later repeated with Fascination, the American trip as a whole cannot be counted a resounding success.


Evening Journal (Albany, New York) (7 December, 1885)

     —Not a very flattering account of Robert Buchanan, the author, is given by To-Day. It says:

     When Robert Buchanan came to America he was the most cordially detested literary man that ever left London. When he returned he was the most cordially detested literary man that ever left New York. Personally I found Mr. Buchanan a by no means unamiable or unpleasant companion. But he possessed an exasperatingly arrogant bumptiousness and an unconcealed contempt for all men who write for a living but himself, safe to make enemies rise up around him wherever he goes. The worst trait in his character is his greed for money. He is insatiably hungry for it, and if the experience of those who dealt with him in business is credible, is about as tricky as a Twenty-fourth street horse dealer. His latest exploit is one of the most contemptible recorded against him. He has taken the newspaper criticisms of “Alone in London” and deliberately cut and garbled them so as to form the most really favorable notices of his play. One article stated that the play “Is full of clever ideas, but as a rule they are wasted.” Mr. Buchanan quotes that his play is full of clever ideas and ignores the rest. The other criticisms, none of which are at all favorable, are thus equally distorted out of their true meaning. The practice of manufacturing bricks without straw in this way is a common one here. Mr. Buchanan probably picked it up on his travels. It is painful that a man so undeniably strong in style and gifted in fancy as the author of “God and the Man” should descend to the tricks of the sideshowman; but he is not the first whom hunger for gold has dragged into the mire.



Whether or not Buchanan “was the most cordially detested literary man that ever left New York”, can’t really be  proved, but one cannot deny a general air of, if not outright hostility, then ‘snideness’, in some of the newspaper reports that accompanied his American visit. Buchanan, of course, possessed a knack for making enemies, so it could just have been that, coupled with his overpraising of Harriett Jay’s dramatic talents, which made them both subject to derogatory comments. However, the item about Harriett Jay in The New York Times of 18th May, 1884, would suggest that this opinion of the couple was present before they ever set foot on American soil. Examining Buchanan’s connections with America prior to August 1884, might give a clue to how he was perceived. Buchanan’s biography of John James Audubon was published at the end of 1868, and after Audubon’s widow objected to some of Buchanan’s comments about her husband, which he refused to remove, his name was subsequently removed from later editions. In March, 1869, The Pall Mall Gazette, summed up Buchanan’s preface to his edition of Longfellow’s Poetical Works, as follows:

“In six short pages this amiable editor has contrived to disparage a good many persons, including his author, and to leave a most unpleasant impression of dogmatism and pretension on the mental palate prepared to enjoy the Attic fare spread by a gentleman and a scholar. Such a banquet should have another marshal than Mr. Buchanan.”

At the end of December, 1871, Buchanan published St. Abe and His Seven Wives, anonymously, but obviously intending it to be taken as the work of an American poet. He followed this with several poems in magazines, including one of his most popular, ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’, “by the author of St. Abe”, and then in October, 1873 a second long work, White Rose and Red, before his subterfuge was discovered. In March, 1876, he wrote his letter to the Daily News about Walt Whitman, in which he compared Whitman to a golden eagle, and the rest of the “established American poets” to “prosperous rooks and crows”. And then there is a hint of xenophobia in the American reaction to British authors selling their plays to America, which Buchanan had managed to do with Storm-Beaten and Lady Clare (the latter also having the whiff of plagiarism about it). This is without mentioning all the ill-feeling surrounding Buchanan due to the Fleshly School matter, which probably did make him “the most cordially detested literary man that ever left London.”

But then there is still the matter of Harriett Jay. True, she was obviously not a great actress, although her limited talents did shine in the ‘trouser parts’. And, true, she was one of the’new women’, who dressed unconventionally and smoked cigarettes. But I do wonder, especially when reading that piece in the Broome Republican, which mentioned that “many New Yorkers were not disposed to admire Mr. Buchanan’s freedom in travelling and living with his sister-in-law”, whether there was a hint of scandal attached to the couple which never seemed to intrude into the British newspapers (perhaps because of Buchanan’s love of litigation, perhaps because there was obviously nothing to it). The false report that after his wife’s death in November, 1881, Buchanan and Jay had been secretly married in Switzerland, appeared in the American press as well as the British. Buchanan denied the rumour in a letter to The Era of 29th April, 1882, complaining that the paragraph about the marriage had been widely circulated “during the past week”. And in a similar letter to the Daily News of 1st May, he states that he believes the report originated in a Glasgow paper. However, the rumour had also appeared in America as early as 3rd March, 1882 in the New York paper, The Daily Graphic:


And the rumour of the marriage, or at least an inappropriate relationship between Buchanan and Jay, seems to have persisted in America for a few years following the American trip. An article about inappropriate relationships in The Daily Graphic (again) of 30th March, 1888, includes the following passage:

“The romantic life, if so we may call it, of George Lewes and Miss Evans is another case in point. Who cares to inquire how it came about that John Ruskin’s wife became the married partner of Painter Millais? Nobody talked openly, though everybody whispered at times, about Philosopher Mill and Mrs. Taylor. To descend from empyrean heights, who refuses recognition to Robert Buchanan because of a well known relationship?”

[Click the picture below to read the full article.]


Or perhaps that was just the opinion of The Daily Graphic. Another New York paper seemed to be hinting at a different kind of relationship where Harriett Jay was concerned:


The New York Mirror (20 February, 1886 -p.11)

London Gossip.

                                                                                                                                       LONDON. Feb. 6.

. . .

     Speaking of elocutionists Edwin Drew, a most competent elocutionist, has brought about a capital idea in the shape of “The First Charles Dickens’ Birthday Celebration,” for next Monday at Free Masons’ Hall. It will consist of an entertainment of selections only from Charles Dickens, to be followed by a “Fancy Costume Ball,” in which the characters are entirely from Dickens’ novels. The patrons include the names of Rev. and Mrs. Compton Reade, Mr. Terriss, Professor Plumptree and Mrs. Kendal. Among the costumes of guests are to be those of Nancy, Rogue Riderhood, Newman Noggs, Ralph Nickleby, John Browdie, Squeers, Smike, Jeb Trotter, Old Weller, Jo, Fagin and Bill Sikes. Numbers of theatrical folks are expected to be on hand. Harriet Jay will be there, it is rumored, if her engagements will permit.
     At present this lady is busy over the musical play of Sappho, which is to have a dress rehearsal at the Opera Comique to-morrow. Hayden Coffin is to play Phaon to Harriet Jay’s Sappho. This lady’s familiar lady friend, Myra Porter, says that Miss Jay is superb in her new Greek costume. The two ladies entertain a deep friendship, the one, Miss Porter, knowing nothing of the stage personally, but being devoted to it for Miss Jay’s sake, and a constant theatre visitor behind the scenes. She accompanies the fair Harriet on her coming provincial tour, which is to begin after the 100th performance next week of Alone in London. Miss Jay is wildly enthusiastic concerning all which pertains to the dramatic profession.



Perhaps that’s taking speculation a mite too far, so I will leave it there. However, one result of the American antipathy to Harriett Jay was that, whereas the British papers always listed her as the co-writer of Alone in London and Fascination, her name seldom appeared in the American press in that capacity.

Finally, I feel I have to mention that there was another Robert W. Buchanan who kept appearing in the American newspaper archive searches, and who generated more newsprint than the one I was looking for. Dr. Robert W. Buchanan murdered his wife in 1892 and was eventually executed for the crime in April 1895. Merely a coincidence of names, but given ‘our’ Buchanan’s passionate opposition to capital punishment and his letter to The Daily Telegraph touching on the first use of the electric chair (reprinted in The Coming Terror), one wonders what Buchanan thought about his namesake’s eventual demise in that device at Sing Sing.

And then there was this item, which was reprinted in Ohio’s The Marion Daily Star on 24th August, 1892 and The Lima Daily Times two days later, but the clearest scan was the one below.


[From the Los Angeles Herald (29 September, 1892 - p.7).]



Next: Poetry Readings

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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