D.J. Enright

D.J. Enright was a poet, novelist and academic. He taught for many years in universities in South-East Asia. He died in December 2002.

How to Kowtow: The thoughts of China

D.J. Enright, 29 July 1999

‘One aspect of a country’s greatness is surely its capacity to attract and retain the attention of others. This capacity has been evident from the very beginnings of the West’s encounter with China; the passing centuries have never managed to obliterate it altogether, even though vagaries of fashion and shifting political stances have at times dulled the sheen.’ In The Chan’s Great Continent Jonathan Spence reflects on 48 ‘sightings’ or mis-sightings of ‘a great but distant culture’, stretching from the 13th century up to the Seventies.‘

The German Ocean: Suffolk Blues

D.J. Enright, 17 September 1998

Change and decay in all around we see. As one of W.G. Sebald’s epigraphs points out, the rings of Saturn are probably fragments of a moon, broken up by tidal effect when its orbit decayed.

Pychoanalysis, says John Kerr, is ‘in a period of institutional decline’: ‘Candidacies are down, patients are harder to come by’ and other therapeutic disciplines are clamouring for attention. The seeds of this sorry situation were sown during the six-year partnership between Freud and Jung, when ‘historical accuracy first came to be less important than ideological correctness.’ (Later it is the termination of the partnership that is held responsible.) Kerr’s book is written ‘in the hope that it will significantly improve the prospects for psychoanalysis, now murkily hopeful at best’. A pious hope, but a misguided one. What chance does this archaic blend of science and art have at a time when anything goes, when every detail of sexual behaviour is laid bare? Psychoanalysis did a lot to make sex fashionable, turning Lawrence’s ‘dirty little secret’ into grand opera; and now sex is growing tedious. A strong dose, if not of repression then of reticence, seems to be in order.

Though he had little Latin He seemed to like his title I named him Incitatus Meaning to run swiftly But also to excite, to incite Or so to speak spur on Me they dubbed Baby-Boots I gave him iron ones He was born in a tailored toga I hoped he would spur on the others So I made him a consul There’s a Pole called ‘I think’ who thought He performed his duties perfectly...

The Land of Serendipity

D.J. Enright, 23 September 1993

It was a different country that Gamini Salgado was born in: Ceylon, not unhappy Sri Lanka. The first chapter of these childhood memories tells of the hawkers who took turns outside the railway station: the dealer in pills for constipation, the palmist with his dogeared charts, the itinerant vendor of story books (‘he had a lovely high chanting voice, dreamy and faraway like a girl’s’), and best of all the snake-bite man, who appeared every Friday. His allure lay not in the pellets he was selling or in his dirty jokes, but in his cobra, ‘the most beautiful creature in the world’ and the boy’s first love, with ‘a gorgeous hood as large and bright as a lotus, with a beautiful brown ripple along the outside and a needle-bright flicker of tongue at the centre’. One day the cobra was gone, casting off her unworthy bedraggled master, but the boy dreamt of holding her in both his hands, ‘all the secret power of the universe coiled within that splendid shining body’.

Poem: ‘Supervision’

D.J. Enright, 19 August 1993

Below an essay on Shelley he wrote:     ‘I don’t think we’re here to judge his soul.’ A telling reproach, whatever one’s view of souls.

A fine teacher! He knew the proper medicine. Self-righteousness would never be the same, It ceased to be a right.

He could never keep his pipe alight, Smouldering matches rained about him. Once he gave it up,...

   Words you’ve never used And have always wanted to –    Get them in quickly.

           *

   Dight in dimity Enlaced with lazy-daisy    In fishnet fleshings.

   It fell on your head Her old boyfriend’s framed photo –...

Running Dogs

D.J. Enright, 13 May 1993

Mo Yan’s novel opens with a kind of prospectus for itself: ‘I didn’t realise until I’d grown up that Northeast Gaomi Township is easily the most beautiful and most repulsive, most unusual and most common, most sacred and most corrupt, most heroic and most bastardly, hardest-drinking and hardest-loving place in the world.’ And forthwith the narrator’s father, aged 15 in the year 1939, is seen hanging onto the coat-tails of Commander Yu Zhan’ao as the latter’s troops (forty of them, poorly armed) advance through the sorghum fields to ambush a Japanese convoy and, as it happens, kill a Japanese general. The Commander is in fact Father’s father, since Father’s mother, married off to a wealthy leper, promptly absconded with Yu, who thereafter murdered the leper. Yu began his career by stabbing to death a monk who was sleeping with his widowed mother: ‘a flow of lovely warm blood was released, soft and slippery, like the wing feathers of a bird.’ (Poetry pops up in the oddest places.) The mother then hanged herself. Such is village life, lived to the full.

The Conversation

D.J. Enright, 25 March 1993

This collection of essays by the psychotherapist Adam Phillips is a peculiarly difficult book to review because it reviews itself as it goes along and is hardly to be described in other than its own words. Much of it consists of a flow of sparkling apophthegms: the effect on the reader is not unlike being hit repeatedly on the head by a small, pointed hammer. But the blurb’s reference to Phillips’s ‘aphoristic, hit-and-run style’ does him an injustice. He never runs far away. Preserving the analogy, one might compare him to a spirited motorist yet not inattentive to pedestrian readers; or he might be likened to a frolicsome ambulance driver who knocks people down and follows up with first-aid on the spot.

Poem: ‘Seasons’

D.J. Enright, 5 November 1992

One sentence in English he knew by heart: ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ It sounded cheerful; it usually fitted. He was a writer. He had translated Quo Vadis? From the English. What else he had done We never learnt, nor what had been done to him. Plainly he’d had a number of hard winters Known choicely as the Cultural Revolution, Made to clean out latrines, at...

Stuck in the slot

D.J. Enright, 8 October 1992

One of John McGahern’s stories begins thus: ‘There are times when we see the small events we look forward to – a visit, a wedding, a new day – as having no existence but in the expectation. They are to be, they will happen, and before they do they almost are not: minute replicas of the expectation that we call the rest of our life.’ The story ends: ‘I was free in the Sligo morning. I could do as I pleased. There were all sorts of wonderful impossibilities in sight. The real difficulty was that the day was fast falling into its own night.’ In between, nothing happens (the girl doesn’t want the narrator ‘the way some people cannot eat shellfish or certain meats’), albeit the opening sentence is, not wholly unexpectedly, borne out.’

One blushes to admit it

D.J. Enright, 11 June 1992

There are European authors, notably those writing in German, whom we perceive to be important, intimidatingly so, but with whom we find it hard to come to grips, despite the existence of extremely skilled translations. Some of these authors are possibly less brilliant or wise than they appear to be, or than, given our nagging though commonly well-concealed sense of intellectual inferiority, we resignedly suppose them to be. Incomprehensibility and prestige often go hand in hand. Yet the fascination persists, whatever the degree of understanding (or lack of it), resentment or suspicion that attends the ‘Hegels and Schlegels’ who so bewildered Erich Heller’s undergraduate. (To whom one could add the Krauses and Strausses, Brochs and Blochs, Kellers and Hellers.) In the company of a few other British Germanists and translators, J.P. Stern, who died in November of last year, did much to make these writers more accessible to us, thanks to his persuasion that literature, no matter how exalted, is not the preserve of scholars, and that what has wide implications should be known widely. And thanks also to his moralistic turn of mind, albeit, as he says of someone else’s moral and spiritual motivation, ‘one blushes to admit it.’ Shamefacedly or otherwise, we tend to welcome some talk of right and wrong in surroundings which threaten us with the ineffable.

Holy Grails, Promised Lands

D.J. Enright, 9 April 1992

‘Proofs’, the longest story here, looks to be George Steiner’s farewell tribute on the passing of Communism; hardly a tribute, but rather more magnanimous than the run of postmortems and obituaries elicited by the event. The main character, an Italian somewhat old-fashionedly referred to as the Professore, is a convinced long-time Communist, by métier a fanatical proof-reader. The Communist, or European Communist, viewpoint is presented forcefully (if predictably): what does Western democracy have to offer but girlie magazines, lacquer for toenails, deodorants? Yes, the Professore admits, we Communists got it wrong, even hideously wrong, ‘but the big error, the overestimate of man from which the mistake came, is the single most noble motion of the human spirit in our awful history … Every beggar is a prince of possibility.’ (Or, ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp …’) Father Carlo – the Professore’s friend and debating partner, claims that the atrocities committed by the Church, on the other hand, were carried out by those who laboured to save souls: they saw themselves as God’s agents – or, ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you’ – whereas the victims of Communism were butchered ‘so that gangsters and hangmen and bureaucrats could fatten’.’’

Just going outside

D.J. Enright, 30 January 1992

Under her somewhat demotic exterior, Beryl Bainbridge is concerned (which hardly seems the right word) with myths Her dealings with them, virtually invisible, are unportentous in the extreme, perhaps too unportentous for her own good – though not for theirs. They need invisibility, being commonly regarded as ancient prescriptions, commandments and warnings, bullying and surely obsolete, for leading our lives. Probably Bainbridge (how hard it is not to call her Beryl!) feels a nervous sympathy with a remark made by the producer of Peter Pan in her previous novel, An Awfully Big Adventure: ‘I don’t want any truck with symbolic interpretations.’ Characteristically, she doesn’t want to look serious, and people who don’t look serious tend not to be taken seriously. (She is generally praised for nippy evocations of milieu, including speech habits, and for her adept detail – things expected of any novelist; also for black comedy, as if these days comedy is likely to come anywhere near whiteness.) Such is our habit, understandable enough, more than usually pronounced in a smugly sceptical age, of discounting, of ‘cutting down to size’, even those who make no claims to any form of grandeur.’

Poem: ‘Saving the world’

D.J. Enright, 19 December 1991

At Christmas our father took us to his church, The Catholic, though he only went there then, When he thought we ought to see the famous crib, Its painted figures of animals and people. I felt at home in that foreign place, the scene Reminded me of Noah’s Ark, my fondest toy, Where the animals went in two by two, or Sometimes one by one, I didn’t always count. A story lay behind...

Poem: ‘In the street’

D.J. Enright, 7 November 1991

Did I imagine that romantic story? – England 1919, and the war just over, It was raining hard, and she could see A soldier, looking lost, was getting wet. Her umbrella offered decent room for two: And that was how they met.

He didn’t rejoin the Dublin Fusiliers, Didn’t go back to Ireland, Little work there, lots more rain. Better to stay and be a British husband.

Did our...

As deadly as the male

D.J. Enright, 12 September 1991

‘The woman who kills is exactly what she is supposed not to be,’ Beatrix Campbell declares in her foreword to Women Who Kill. Killing is reckoned unnatural in a woman, or lownright impossible: if she does kill, she isn’t a woman. Unlike men. Ann Jones says, women usually confine themselves to killing their intimates, their husbands, lovers, children. (They are selective, not serial or mass murderers.) And the murders they commit, Beatrix Campbell protests, are ‘not seen in the context of the domination and subordination in which the genders live together but instead it becomes a matter of the perpetrator’s abnormal character.’ What weight is to be given to circumstance, what to character, is always a ricky problem. Beatrix Campbell is less convincing when she says that Myra Hindley might have helped us to understand the conditions in which women are likely to participate in the sexual abuse of children, but was never given the chance ‘because she was buried beneath a plethora of fantasies abouts transgressive femininity’. This strikes me as rather worse than obscurely expressed: it was the children who were buried.

Two Poems

D.J. Enright, 12 September 1991

Vandalism

Since the object in question is a modern poem, A police spokesman stated yesterday, It is hard to tell whether it has been damaged Or not or how badly.

Summoned to the scene, officers were uncertain As to whether the work had been turned upside down Or kcab to front Or whether parts of it were [missing].

A doctor of letters has been called in Together with experts on scansion and...

Showing the sights

D.J. Enright, 15 August 1991

The anthologist’s job is or ought to be a happy one. Less so the reviewer’s, especially if the reviewer is himself an herself an anthologist, and sick and tired of the standard ploys. One reviewer of a recent anthology on the subject of friendship deplored the insufficiency of homoerotic material; well, the editors had striven to avoid eroticism of any sort, as far as was possible. Another complained that the editors had neglected feminist fiction: a just observation, albeit in extenuation it might be pleaded that the theme was friendship, not unfriendliness.

Much to be endured

D.J. Enright, 27 June 1991

‘I want to draw some connections between Samuel Johnson, the amateur doctor and enthusiast for medicine, and the Doctor Johnson who figures so largely in the cultural imagination … If we focus on the figure of Samuel Johnson, the unco-ordinated, discontinuous events of 18th-century medicine will seem momentarily at least to converge. He lived a life within medicine, intimate with some of the age’s chief practitioners, learned in both the classical and contemporary branches of the art, receiving upon and within his body its various ingenuities and interventions.’ Using a mass of material drawn from Johnson’s writings and those of contemporary medical men, besides the testimonies of friends and strangers, John Wiltshire examines Johnson as both sufferer and physician (or healer). Hence his punning subtitle. Some of Johnson’s best friends, starting with his god-father, were doctors, and in addition to being himself a monumental patient, he was ready to give others the benefit of his advice. He emerges as both the most morbidly disordered of men and the sanest, and a typical virtue of his medical pronouncements, whether somatic or psychological, is that they are cool, measured and carefully framed. Boswell was at his most Johnsonian when he observed that since the exercise of his reason was Johnson’s ‘supreme enjoyment’, any threat to that faculty was ‘the evil most to be dreaded’: ‘He fancied himself seized by it [insanity], or approaching to it, at the very time when he was giving proofs of a more than ordinary soundness and vigour of judgment.’

Can rebels be happy?

D.J. Enright, 23 May 1991

After the fall of Batista in 1959, the poet Heberto Padilla, then 27 and living in New York, returned elatedly to Havana, joining the staff of the paper Revolucion. Thus helping to create the god who would later fail him. In 1961 the First Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, its motto being ‘To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture’; simultaneously, Padilla says, it became clear that membership of the new Writers’ Union was to depend on approval by the National Board of Culture, a body designed to prevent any repetition of the Pasternak affair.

A heart with testicles

D.J. Enright, 9 May 1991

‘Not to know Goethe,’ A.W. Schlegel wrote poetically, ‘is to be a Goth.’ Nicholas Boyle begins the preface to Volume One of his biography of the great man by stating, altogether correctly alas, that more must be known, ‘or at any rate there must be more to know’, about him than about almost any other human being. A shilling life could never have given you all the facts about Goethe. (Though there must have been a time when G.H. Lewes’s Life of 1855 wouldn’t have cost much more.) On the other hand, £25 (though a distinctly modest price for a book of this size) may seem a bit steep for half of the facts.

Swift radiant morning

D.J. Enright, 21 February 1991

Charles Sorley must have been the most brilliant of all the young poets who died in the First World War. Yet ‘brilliant’, with its flashy, brittle connotations, isn’t the right word. He was undeniably clever, and forthright, but also good-humoured and modest, often very funny, shrewd and serious, but never (the young man’s vice) priggish. His intelligence, far from bullying, evinced itself in a throwaway manner, and there was nothing calculated about his charm. His letters, some of which Jean Moorcroft Wilson used to excellent effect in her biography of 1985, are more immediately engaging than those of Wilfred Owen, if less touching. Sorley enjoyed a better start in life, his father being Knightsbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge and his mother a cultivated and unconventional woman, but there was no question of his living on inherited intellectual capital: in that respect he paid his own way or thought it out, no doubt with some help from his teachers at Marlborough College. With Owen there is an impression of effortfulness, and of sadness, at least of lesser youthfulness, as if you can feel his early death coming; Sorley was so full of life and the enjoyment of it that his death – five months after his 20th birthday, compared with Owen’s eight months after his 25th – seems even more incongruous.’

Two Poems

D.J. Enright, 27 September 1990

Seminar on Contemporary Chinese Writing

Novels about peasants are generally good (In general the peasantry is good) They may sound rather boring But they are not

One of them is entitled ‘The Well’ And set in a remote village Where are many hardships

Another is called ‘The Village’ Concerning a peasant and his wife Who have two sons And each son has a wife

(If the...

Knowledge Infinite

D.J. Enright, 16 August 1990

This compilation arose out of Jonathan Miller’s 1985 production of Don Giovanni for the English National Opera, and his introduction to the book is agreeably illuminating, not least for those who for one reason or another never go to the opera. The main characters of Don Giovanni, he notes, have a prior and conspicuous existence outside the opera, being well-established figures of myth, a fact which both helps and hinders. Miller is not the only contributor to glance at that other great legendary example: ‘Faust loses his soul by impudently using it to purchase omniscience. Don Giovanni spends his soul trying to assert sexual omnipotence.’ This summary – broaching two different senses of ‘knowing’ – indicates why the Faust legend is distinctly the richer, potentially as in actual literary treatment. Don Juan belongs to a specific sort of society, a circumscribed activity, and to fantasy; Faust is evergreen, universal, and darkly close to reality. Sex is the essence of the former story (2065 conquests! It sounds like somebody’s bank balance); in the latter sexual desire is present as one strand of human experience or ambition among others. (Traditionally, marriage is out of the question, because it is made in heaven.) In accord with the spirit of the particular age, Faust can feature as either villain or hero; so can Don Juan – O.V. de L. Milosz’s protagonist (1913) repents and becomes a holy man and miracle-worker – but he is less convincing, less central, in whichever role.’

Must the grasshopper be a burden?

D.J. Enright, 12 July 1990

Impatience is one characteristic of advancing years, and so, this book being delayed in the post, I set to and drafted a review in its absence. There is always another deadline looming up, all too aptly named, the one that Time’s winged chariot is heading for. More soberly, making notes before you have read a book isn’t as monstrous as it sounds: at least you formulate your own, existing, perhaps meagre views on the subject. Mind you, the book still ought to be read.

The Honour of Defeat

D.J. Enright, 3 December 1981

Born in 1838, Jean-Marie-Mathias-Philippe-Auguste, Comte de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam came of an illustrious Breton line, latterly more distinguished for its poverty and eccentricity. His grandfather, who fought against the Revolution but failed to thrive under the Restoration, wrote to the Minister of Justice in 1815 that, had his name not been so long already, he would have asked the reigning monarch, Louis XVIII, ‘to add to it that of “poor devil”, and that is a name I really deserve.’

Poem: ‘Natural Species’

D.J. Enright, 6 August 1981

There’s a law these days against the extirpation of a Natural species ... So John Brown assures himself As he moves with care down the Underground corridors. A poster for panties carries a sticker:     ‘This degrades women.’

For Brown himself is the sole survivor of one such Natural species: the John Browns. He can still recall The others – John the...

Chinese Whispers

D.J. Enright, 18 June 1981

The subtitle of Maxine Hong Kingston’s first book, The Woman Warrior (now published in paperback), embodies a pun: ‘Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts’ – that is to say, among Chinese story-ghosts and also among non-Chinese, who by definition are ghosts, if not demons. ‘Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America.’ In her books Mrs Kingston comes near to suggesting that it is America which is invisible – populated by ghosts, the Mail Ghost, the Newsboy Ghost, the Garbage Ghost – while China, the China of her parents, or the China her parents told her about, is the solid world.

Tribal Lays

D.J. Enright, 7 May 1981

This is seemingly the first draft of roughly half of a novel which, had he lived to finish it, the author might possibly have entitled ‘The Doctor of Confusion’. It is right that it should be published, for it is good work, certainly in no obvious need of revision.

Poem: ‘Explanation’

D.J. Enright, 5 March 1981

It develops like this, you see. The things called hands Which terminate in fingers, which terminate in nails, The whole depending from arms. And likewise the legs, Which merge into feet, from which emerge what are known As toes. There you see a head. These parts grow together Quite slowly, or grow one from another. As though, It might seem, a loving care is somehow involved.

A bomb, as they...

Poem: ‘Burden’

D.J. Enright, 6 November 1980

The grasshopper was a burden to me. It knew of something hurtful to me. In a dream I squashed the grasshopper.

Why was the grasshopper such a burden? Its singing hindered me from sleeping, All flesh is grass was still its burden.

Unlike the owl, the bat, the loris, The grasshopper is no power of darkness. It sings at ease in the light of the sun.

Did I lie at ease in the light of the sun? The...

Lost Empire

D.J. Enright, 16 October 1980

By the time I had reached the end of this novel I had accumulated enough notes to make a modest book: a fact that bears witness to the sheer density of the writing, as well as the seriousness of its concern. It is unwise to skim. Only in retrospect can you identify what could safely have been skipped as supererogatory or duplicate. Since complaints will follow – grave matters incur grave complaint – let me say at the outset that Earthly Powers carries greater intellectual substance, more power and grim humour, more knowledge, than ten average novels put together.

Juliet

D.J. Enright, 18 September 1980

The English governess in question – very much in question – was Juliet Herbert, governess at the Flaubert home in Croisset to Flaubert’s much-loved niece, Caroline, between 1854/5 and 1857. Her acquaintanceship with the novelist lasted till his death in 1880, but the nature of the acquaintanceship is in dispute. The most tender of Flaubert’s affairs? Or a non-affair? Hermia Oliver believes that Juliet was ‘almost certainly’ Flaubert’s mistress: but the present book, a record of indefatigable research and meagre revelations, is stuffed with ‘probably’s’, ‘may’s’, ‘if’s’ and ‘just possible’s’, a case of seeking hopefully rather than arriving.

Proust remarked that, like microbes and corpuscles, theories and schools devour one another and by their warfare ensure the continunity of life. I doubt, though, that the present is a time for schools or manifestos, whether grandly or modestly styled. ‘Acmeists’, ‘lmagists’, ‘Parnassiens’, ‘Symbolists’, ‘Projectivists’ – these days the words ring out like great ancient bells, in a secularised city. The group most frequently referred to in Britain during recent decades, and more often than not with only moderate enthusiasm, was ‘the Movement’ (a title, not invented by its members, whose simplicity suggests either considerable potency or abject poverty), and the most notable thing about it, except as concerns sociologists and culture-historians in search of a footnote, was the nonchalance with which, after a brief cohesiveness, its members went their separate ways. The best movement is one that doesn’t move far in the same direction.

A Writer’s Fancy

D.J. Enright, 21 February 1980

Brigid Brophy’s novels have often been described as ‘brilliantly written’: a judgment which can have done her sales little good. (‘Don’t bother with that book – it’s brilliantly written!’) The notion that a writer ought actually to be able to write as distinct from slapping down words on paper is a dying one. Some far grander potency is required if fiction is to compete at all effectively with television. Television, on the other hand, can afford to be stylish on occasion (and occasionally is) since there is not the faintest doubt of its virility, its power (for as long or short as is desired) to capture and absorb its public. Television is not on the way to destroying fiction (which is what much of it is), it is only going to shove writing, ‘style’, a little further back into the darkness where, one sometimes thinks, true art is most at home, or which it at the least needs in large doses. Or is just going to get anyway.

Live Entertainment

D.J. Enright, 6 December 1979

‘It isn’t easy to talk about storytelling … Explanations only mystify. Sophisticated people may be able to explain their way out of mystification, and good luck to them, but a storyteller may well succeed in explaining his way into it which, believe me, ladies and gentlemen, is bad luck for him.’ It goes without saying (which is as well, since one might not actually want to say it) that reviewers are sophisticated people. All the same, they may have trouble in explaining their way through Alan Sillitoe’s latest novel – if not because they find it mystifying, then because they find it (as it is) more complex than fiction is generally expected to be these days. It asks for the kind of academic explication which its hero would reject contemptuously. Willynilly, that is what it is going to get. For at the heart of the book – it must be said that this organ is surrounded by a thick padding of flesh – is an account, albeit quite unacademic, of the causes and effects of the profession of fiction, the problems that give rise to storytelling, and the problems that storytelling gives rise to.

McGahern’s Ireland

D.J. Enright, 8 November 1979

William Styron is reported as defending the sexual activity in his recent Sophie’s Choice on the grounds that ‘the battle to write explicitly about sex was fought long and hard. We must never begin to surrender that victory.’ The argument strikes one as considerably less silly when removed to the context of John McGahern’s fiction.

Letter
SIR: Readers of F.R. Leavis’s ‘Gwendolen Harleth’ (LRB, 21 January) may be interested to know that Chatto and Windus have in hand a collection of Leavis’s essays and papers which includes this piece. The collection will be published in the autumn under the title The Critic as Anti-Philosopher.

Omdamniverous: D.J. Enright

Ian Sansom, 25 September 2003

This is the end of something – although of what exactly it’s not quite clear. The death of D.J. Enright, in December 2002, makes one ask some serious questions about poets and about...

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Ever so comfy

James Wood, 24 March 1994

Every handful of John Updike’s silver has its square coin, its bad penny, its fake. This exquisitely careful writer tends to relax into flamboyance: it is the verbal equivalent of...

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English Proust

Christopher Prendergast, 8 July 1993

Much or the last volume of Proust’s novel is devoted to life in Paris during the First World War. Proust, the least chauvinistic of writers, is nevertheless so moved by patriotic sentiment...

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Christ’s Teeth

C.K. Stead, 10 October 1991

‘Dates, dates are of the essence; and it will be found that I date quite exactly the breakdown of the imaginative exploit of the Cantos: between the completion of the late sequence called...

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Pals

John Bayley, 23 May 1991

Do we have ‘friends’, or do we just know various people? There is something a bit sticky and self-conscious about the idea of friendship. Anyone can be in love and proud of it, but to...

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Puck’s Dream

Mark Ford, 14 June 1990

D.J. Enright recently celebrated his 70th birthday. In commemoration, Oxford University Press have prepared a rather lean Selected Poems, and a volume of personal reminiscences and critical...

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At war

Iain McGilchrist, 25 January 1990

‘What, into this?’ It is the essential incongruity they capture which makes the words of Haile Selasse, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, as he was unceremoniously bundled by the...

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Lyrics and Ironies

Christopher Ricks, 4 December 1986

Faintly repelled by elaborate theories of irony and by taxonomies of it, D.J. Enright has set himself to muster instances, observations, localities and anecdotes. There is no continuing argument,...

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Ten Poets

Denis Donoghue, 7 November 1985

One of Donald Davie’s early poems, and one of his strongest, is ‘Pushkin: A Didactic Poem’, from Brides of Reason (1955). As in Davie’s ‘Dream Forest’, Pushkin...

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Who whom?

Christopher Ricks, 6 June 1985

Trust a Director of Freshman Rhetoric to say that ‘the study of language is inherently interesting.’ He would, wouldn’t he? He trusts so. This big batch of language-books brings...

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As I begin to write this, innumerable other reviews are being born. Some are being word-processed in paper-free offices, others handwritten in the Club lounges of intercontinental jets and others...

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For the duration

John McManners, 16 June 1983

I must begin by declaring an interest. I am quoted twice in The Oxford Book of Death. This gives me a sort of literary immortality, like the poets I had to read – or, on occasion, copy for...

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Hearing about Damnation

Donald Davie, 3 December 1981

This volume represents more than forty years work by one of the most earnestly devoted and intelligent of our poets. Accordingly it must be considered deliberately, and at some length....

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It seemed to be happening only yesterday, but Blake Morrison was born in 1950, and for him the Movement is something you have to work on in a library. So it suddenly comes to seem rather remote,...

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A Martian School of two or more

James Fenton, 6 December 1979

Craig Raine’s second collection follows swiftly upon his first, The Onion, Memory (1978). It is as if the poet had been waiting impatiently over us, while we picked ourselves up off the...

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