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Ways of Being Interesting

Theo Tait: Ian McEwan, 11 September 2014

The Children Act 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 215 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 0 224 10199 8
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... that he is read on a different scale from most of his contemporaries; McEwan is fond of quoting Henry James to the effect that the only obligation of a novel ‘is that it be interesting’. Yet you only have to think of James to realise that there are many more subtle, and perhaps more rewarding, ways of being interesting. Even as long ago as Black Dogs ...

Europe or America?

Ian Gilmour, 7 November 2019

... as well as of the Commonwealth; nor the discernment of the scientist and defence adviser Sir Henry Tizard, who minuted in 1949: ‘We are not a great power and never will be again. We are a great nation but if we continue to behave like a great power we shall soon cease to be a great nation.’ In recent years, that minute has been much quoted, but it ...

Different Speeds, Same Furies

Perry Anderson: Powell v. Proust, 19 July 2018

Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 509 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 241 14383 4
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... single passage of her book, she argues that the famous scene in which Powell’s narrator, Nick Jenkins, takes Jean Templer in his arms – in the back of a car, speeding through night and snow along the Great West Road, past the neon sign where a bathing belle ‘dives eternally through the petrol-tainted air’: the opening embrace of the principal ...

Lying abroad

Fred Halliday, 21 July 1994

by Henry Kissinger.
Simon and Schuster, 912 pp., £25, May 1994, 9780671659912
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True Brits: Inside the Foreign Office 
by Ruth Dudley Edwards.
BBC, 256 pp., £16.99, April 1994, 0 563 36955 8
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Mandarin: The Diaries of Nicholas Henderson 
by Nicholas Henderson.
Weidenfeld, 517 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 297 81433 8
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... commands in French), and much about the comings and goings of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, Roy Jenkins, Prince Charles and the like – plenty of material here for a comparative study of the discourteous and the bibulous, with suggestions of an inverse correlation between the two. At one point in Henderson’s career, however, the role of ambassador ...

Poor Stephen

James Fox, 23 July 1987

An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen Ward 
by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy.
Cape, 268 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 224 02347 0
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Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward 
by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 297 79122 2
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... letter to the Times, Lords Hailsham, Drogheda, Carrington, Goodman and Weinstock, and Messrs Roy Jenkins and James Prior, said they felt it was a good time, in view of the new publicity about the Ward case, to place on record their sense of admiration for the dignity and courage displayed by Mr and Mrs John Profumo and their family in the quarter-century ...

Upside Down, Inside Out

Colin Kidd: The 1975 Referendum, 25 October 2018

Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain 
by Robert Saunders.
Cambridge, 509 pp., £24.99, March 2018, 978 1 108 42535 3
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... Labour campaign against the Common Market, in itself a pejorative term on the left. But Roy Jenkins and others on Labour’s centre-right emphasised reconciliation with former enemies, highlighting in particular the community of purpose with the German Social Democrats, and stressed the importance to the ordinary British worker of trade with Europe. As ...


Alan Bennett: A Shameful Year, 8 January 2004

... Oxford to vote for the chancellor, though it doesn’t seem very long since I did the same for Roy Jenkins. At Bodley I’m overtaken by A.N. Wilson, who’s brought his gown in a Sainsbury’s bag, though it’s part of Roy Jenkins’s legacy that gowns are no longer required on such occasions. This doesn’t stop many of ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder, 18 November 1993

The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... originally consisted of Middlemarch (Virginia Woolf’s nomination), the works of Jane Austen, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence, Dickens’s Hard Times and half of Daniel Deronda. The ‘great tradition’ doubtless stands for something much less rigorous in Mr Patten’s mind, but it is nevertheless likely to deny to early adolescents the ...

Chances are

Michael Wood, 7 July 1983

O, How the wheel becomes it! 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 143 pp., £6.95, June 1983, 0 434 59925 5
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Brilliant Creatures 
by Clive James.
Cape, 303 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 224 02122 2
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by Gordon Williams.
Joseph, 233 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 7181 2259 3
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... is a dance to the music of lost time, only more of a quickstep than the stately measure Nicholas Jenkins imagines for Poussin’s Seasons. The music goes round and round, like the wheel, and what Powell suggests, in this light, oblique novel, is not that the dancers are all gone under the hill or show up in strange configurations, but that the dance releases ...


Robert Morley, 7 July 1983

Downing Street in Perspective 
by Marcia Falkender.
Weidenfeld, 280 pp., £10.95, May 1983, 0 297 78107 3
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... politics. At times we can almost hear her repeating Mrs Irving’s fateful question: ‘How long, Henry, are you going on making a fool of yourself?’ The great actor got out of the hansom cab and went his own way, but Harold gave Mary a date and stuck to it. One of the most perspicacious of the book’s chapters is devoted to an examination of leading ...

Head over heart for Europe

Peter Pulzer, 21 March 1991

Ever Closer Union: Britain’s Destiny in Europe 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hutchinson, 96 pp., £7.99, January 1991, 0 09 174908 5
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The Challenge of Europe: Can Britain win? 
by Michael Heseltine.
Pan, 226 pp., £5.99, February 1991, 9780330314367
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... can lead to retrospective wishful thinking. When I was in Germany last month, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V was showing everywhere, and had clearly caused something of a stir. More than one German asked me whether it should not be seen as part of a long-standing English vision of European unity. I had to confess that I had never before thought of Shakespeare as ...


Clive James, 18 March 1982

... half delighted and I’m half disdainful – It looks so lovely and it feels so painful. Roy Jenkins will be standing at Hillhead In Glasgow. The world wonders: is this wise? Lose Warrington and it’s a watershed: Defeat there was a victory in disguise. But this time if he doesn’t win he’s dead With all his party sharing his demise. The SDP, awed by ...

Back to Runnymede

Ferdinand Mount: Magna Carta, 23 April 2015

Magna Carta 
by David Carpenter.
Penguin, 594 pp., £10.99, January 2015, 978 0 241 95337 2
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Magna Carta Uncovered 
by Anthony Arlidge and Igor Judge.
Hart, 222 pp., £25, October 2014, 978 1 84946 556 4
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Magna Carta 
by J.C. Holt.
Cambridge, 488 pp., £21.99, May 2015, 978 1 107 47157 3
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Magna Carta: The Foundation of Freedom 1215-2015 
by Nicholas Vincent.
Third Millennium, 192 pp., £44.95, January 2015, 978 1 908990 28 0
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Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter 
by Dan Jones.
Head of Zeus, 192 pp., £14.99, December 2014, 978 1 78185 885 1
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... William, Louis had a claim to the English throne through his wife, Blanche, granddaughter of Henry II). Yet it has been erased from the national memory. Louis’s ‘reign’ might well have lasted longer if John had not conveniently died during the renewed civil war that followed, making a fresh start possible under his nine-year-old son, ...

Mailer’s Psychopath

Christopher Ricks, 6 March 1980

The Executioner’s Song 
by Norman Mailer.
Hutchinson, 1056 pp., £8.85, November 1979, 0 09 139540 2
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... compulsions but with its own impulsion. Mrs Trilling turned upon Mailer T.S. Eliot’s praise of Henry James as having a mind so fine that no idea could violate it: ‘Of Mailer we can say that his novelist’s mind is peculiarly violable by idea, even by ideology.’ But the greatness of The Executioner’s Song is, surprisingly, in Mailer’s having ...


W.G. Runciman: Dining Out, 4 June 1998

... I might be an important person. 4 October 1997. Dinner at the country house of the Baroness Dunn. Henry (‘Taipan’) Keswick and the now ex-ministerial but ever-amusing Richard Needham are fellow-guests. A heated disagreement between them about Chris Patten’s governorship of Hong Kong flares up and amicably subsides. Entirely by chance, we meet the ...

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