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Off the record

John Bayley, 19 September 1985

Life and Fate 
by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler.
Collins, 880 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 00 261454 5
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... claim in his Introduction. When a long honest novel comes out of Russia today comparisons with Tolstoy are routine – I have made them myself – but in this case it seems worth asking rather more rigorously than usual what they really mean. In the first place, no novel that merely resembled War and Peace could be anything like it, or indeed any ...

Puffed Wheat

James Wood: How serious is John Bayley?, 20 October 2005

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 
by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey.
Duckworth, 677 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 7156 3312 0
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... of his best stories, particularly the early ones, have a remarkable affinity with Chekhov’s. Tolstoy got Chekhov wrong, too, observing of The Darling, which he much admired, that the author had intended to satirise his enthusiastic heroine for her giddy commitment to each lover in turn, but, by writing about her with so much sympathy, had in fact exalted ...

Love Story

Susan Watkins: Rosa Luxemburg, 21 February 2002

Rosa Luxemburg: An Intimate Portrait 
by Mathilde Jacob, translated by Hans Fernbach.
Lawrence and Wishart, 143 pp., £9.99, May 2000, 0 85315 900 9
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... as she put it, ‘through the bars of my cage’. Her closest colleagues (Zetkin, Franz Mehring, Leo Jogiches) recognised that Jacob, anonymous and reliable, was better suited than any of them to play the role of official prison visitor. Tersely, Jacob explains her own dedication: ‘If there was anything to be done for her, my motto was, “enough is not ...

Body Maps

Janette Turner Hospital, 7 April 1994

The Rest of Life 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £15.99, January 1994, 0 7475 1675 8
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... that hankers openly after meaning. It is teeming with the kinds of old-fashioned question Tolstoy used to ask. What is a morally acceptable way of living? What constitutes being? And these questions are not asked idly or rhetorically. Each story takes as starting point and paradigm some way of being which (it would seem) can be clearly designed as ...

Gisgo and his Enemies

John Bayley, 13 February 1992

The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo 
by Russell Weigley.
Indiana, 608 pp., £22.50, June 1991, 0 253 36380 2
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... and Peterkin in Southey’s ballad. Like Blenheim, Zama was a famous victory for someone or other. Tolstoy would have been sceptical, maintaining that no general ever had any control over a battle, in which determined and contingent factors worked themselves out higgledy-piggledy. His model for the process was Borodino, about which Russell Weigley also writes ...

Living It

Andrew O’Hagan: The World of Andy McNab, 24 January 2008

by Andy McNab.
Bantam, 414 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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Strike Back 
by Chris Ryan.
Century, 314 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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... of an asylum inmate with a split personality. You can choose to ‘be’ either ‘Danny’ or ‘Leo’: Leo is a psychotic killer, an expert in ‘combat, evasion, infiltration and assassination techniques’. Manhunt 2 was initially banned by the British Board of Film Classifications and then rescued by the Video Appeals ...

Mr Lukacs changes trains

Edward Timms, 19 February 1987

Georg Lukacs: Selected Correspondence 1902-1920 
translated by Judith Marcus and Zoltan Tar.
Columbia, 318 pp., $25, September 1986, 9780231059688
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... He pictures himself, in a confessional fairytale sent to that same friend, the art critic Leo Popper, as a Midas terrified that his touch will turn the women he meets into golden statues. Popper’s letters, which show remarkable sensitivity, advise him ‘not to write a word about “loneliness” for six months’. And in a critique of Die Seele und ...

Even if I married a whole harem of women I’d still act like a bachelor

Elaine Showalter: Isaac Bashevis Singer, 17 September 1998

Shadows on the Hudson 
by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated by Joseph Sherman.
Hamish Hamilton, 560 pp., £16.99, June 1998, 0 241 13940 6
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Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life 
by Janice Hadda.
Oxford, 254 pp., £22.50, February 1998, 0 19 508420 9
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... reasons Singer did not have it translated during his lifetime. It has been compared to the work of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but also condemned as a melodramatic mishmash. First, Richard Bernstein (last December in the New York Times) called it ‘a startling, piercing work of fiction with a strong claim to being Singer’s masterpiece’. Bernstein kvelled ...


J.P. Stern, 3 April 1986

Reflections of a Non-Political Man 
by Thomas Mann, translated by Walter Morris.
Lorrimar, 435 pp., £19.50, February 1986, 9780804425858
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... fictional status in the figures of the humanist Signor Settembrini and the Jewish Jesuit Leo Naphta; and finally in Doctor Faustus (1947). In these contexts – that is, in fictional achievements that are wholly free from the destructive pathos of serving a warlike cause – the confrontation reflected on in this book assumes a different function. It ...

Pork Chops and Pineapples

Terry Eagleton: The Realism of Erich Auerbach, 23 October 2003

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature 
by Erich Auerbach.
Princeton, 579 pp., £13.95, May 2003, 9780691113364
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... also change.’ In this sense, a lot of Postmodern art is as realist in its own way as Stendhal or Tolstoy. It is faithful to a world of surfaces, random sensations and schizoid human subjects. Postmodernism takes off when we come to realise that reality itself is now a kind of fiction, a matter of image, virtual wealth, fabricated personalities, media-driven ...

At the Fondation Louis Vuitton

Julian Barnes: The Shchukin Collection , 19 January 2017

... show from the Tretyakov Gallery to the National Portrait Gallery, Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, were two pictures of famous collectors. The first was of Pavel Tretyakov himself, painted in 1901 by Ilya Repin, showing its tall, willowy subject, arms crossed, in shy, aesthetic half-profile; behind him are some of his holdings of ...

Keeping the show on the road

John Kerrigan, 6 November 1986

Tribute to Freud 
by H. D.
Carcanet, 194 pp., £5.95, August 1985, 0 85635 599 2
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In Dora’s Case: Freud, Hysteria, Feminism 
edited by Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane.
Virago, 291 pp., £11.95, October 1985, 0 86068 712 0
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The Essentials of Psychoanalysis 
by Sigmund Freud, edited by Anna Freud.
Hogarth/Institute of Psychoanalysis, 595 pp., £20, March 1986, 0 7012 0720 5
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Freud and the Humanities 
edited by Peregrine Horden.
Duckworth, 186 pp., £18, October 1985, 0 7156 1983 7
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Freud for Historians 
by Peter Gay.
Oxford, 252 pp., £16.50, January 1986, 0 19 503586 0
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The Psychoanalytic Movement 
by Ernest Gellner.
Paladin, 241 pp., £3.50, May 1985, 0 586 08436 3
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The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art 
by Leo Bersani.
Columbia, 126 pp., $17.50, April 1986, 0 231 06218 4
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... social theory. For Gay, however, this part of Freud’s output is especially informative. LeBon, Tolstoy and others may have described mass phenomena acutely, he declares, but Freud ‘explained them’. If that strains credulity, it is also hard to counter. When Gay writes, ‘dreams are the disguised and distorted condensations of wishes and recent ...

What did they do in the war?

Angus Calder, 20 June 1985

Firing Line 
by Richard Holmes.
Cape, 436 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 224 02043 9
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The Right of the Line: The Royal Air Force in the European War 1939-1945 
by John Terraine.
Hodder, 841 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 340 26644 9
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The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book 
by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.
Viking, 804 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 670 80137 2
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’45: The Final Drive from the Rhine to the Baltic 
by Charles Whiting.
Century, 192 pp., £7.95, March 1985, 0 7126 0812 5
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In the Ruins of the Reich 
by Douglas Botting.
Allen and Unwin, 248 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 9780049430365
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1945: The World We Fought For 
by Robert Kee.
Hamish Hamilton, 371 pp., £12.95, May 1985, 0 241 11531 0
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VE Day: Victory in Europe 1945 
by Robin Cross.
Sidgwick, 223 pp., £12.95, May 1985, 0 283 99220 4
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One Family’s War 
edited by Patrick Mayhew.
Hutchinson, 237 pp., £10.95, May 1985, 0 7126 0812 5
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Poems of the Second World War: The Oasis Selection 
edited by Victor Selwyn.
Dent, 386 pp., £12, May 1985, 0 460 10432 2
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My Life 
by Bert Hardy.
Gordon Fraser, 192 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 86092 083 6
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Victory in Europe: D Day to VE Day 
by Max Hastings and George Stevens.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £10.95, April 1985, 0 297 78650 4
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... and happy life’. Richard Holmes’s impressive and absorbing Firing Line shows how accurately Tolstoy projected, in this episode and others, the psychology of troops in battle. Holmes quotes Lieutenant David Tinker on his first experience, during the Falklands War, of being shelled: ‘They must be mad. Don’t they know it’s very unsafe shooting things ...

Oh God, what have we done?

Jackson Lears: The Strange Career of Robert Oppenheimer, 20 December 2012

Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 818 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 224 06262 6
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... the Manhattan Project reached its successful conclusion.) When he and Edsall debated the merits of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Oppenheimer chose Dostoevsky, saying ‘he gets to the soul and torment of man.’ He told Edsall that ‘the kind of person that I admire most would be one who becomes extraordinarily good at doing a lot of things but maintains a ...

For Those Who Don’t Know

Julian Bell: Van Gogh’s Letters, 5 November 2009

Vincent van Gogh: The Letters 
edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker, translated by Michael Hoyle et al.
Thames and Hudson, 2180 pp., £395, October 2009, 978 0 500 23865 3
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... uncertainly forward out of the doors of the church; towards the end, he was inclining towards Tolstoy’s doctrine of a purely immanent kingdom of God. But in a certain sense, his existential thrashing about within the contradictions he had entered in 1880 was quite as religious as anything that had gone on before. The more so because, all the while, a ...

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