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The Strange Case of Peter Vansittart

Martin Seymour-Smith, 6 March 1986

Aspects of Feeling 
by Peter Vansittart.
Peter Owen, 251 pp., £10.95, January 1986, 0 7206 0637 3
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... Peter Vansittart, novelist, historian and writer for children, has been singled out for praise by critics as diverse as Philip Toynbee, Francis King, Angus Wilson and Andrew Sinclair. All feel that he lacks the large audience he deserves. Yet the curious reader, anxious to gain more information about this somewhat enigmatic writer, of undoubted power (and above all vision), may easily find himself defeated ...

Punch-up at the Poetry Reading

Joanna Kavenna: Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, 7 May 1998

The Monkey's Mask 
by Dorothy Porter.
Serpent’s Tail, 264 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 1 85242 549 0
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... self-destructive, stripped of family, a figure who slides towards pathos and even absurdity (Peter Sellers as moustache-twitching Gallic ingénu). At the beginning of the trail, the central event has already happened; the detective, divested of any power to abort or determine, can only reconstruct, seeking an origin, an ‘answer’. The genre is ...

Serious Drinking

Peter Porter, 27 October 1988

... It comes from wanting to be perfect. All human pain from spite to rape Is just a reading on the grape And all these living counterfeits Are for philosophers’ defeats. A discontent so undivine Moves water one notch up to wine. Put it away, here comes the prefect. The sinner is paid in his own coin. Blood is love’s apotheosis And brings the liver to cirrhosis, The flowers of sleep which towered stand Are the famed brandy of the damned And Wunderkinder who begin With champagne lights may end in gin ...

Shakers

Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

Write on: Occasional Essays ’65-’85 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 211 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 436 25665 7
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... on Biblical narrative, Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels, William Golding’s The Paper Men, Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot, and John Updike’s Hugging the Shore. There are also essays on Ring Lardner, on D.H. Lawrence, and on Structuralism, which Lodge as late as 1980 regarded as ‘the most significant ...

Reading with No Clothes on

Michael Hofmann: Guernsey’s Bard, 24 January 2008

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page 
by G.B. Edwards.
NYRB, 400 pp., £10.99, July 2007, 978 1 59017 233 9
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... it in his three big notebooks bought for 18/6 at ‘the Press Office in Smith Street’ in St Peter Port); but also ‘of’ in the sense of ‘made into’. It is Ebenezer made into a book. (Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude comes to mind, with its paper-baler who is finally baled up himself.) William Golding put it admirably when he said: ‘To ...

Memories of New Zealand

Peter Campbell, 1 December 2011

... of refugees from Germany that did much to transform intellectual life in New Zealand. Her husband, Peter, worked as a statistician in the Education Department. There were also the Dronkes, the Steiners, the people who founded the chamber music society. There was Karl Popper. Mostly they were reduced to doing jobs nothing like as responsible as those they had ...
The Invasion Handbook 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 201 pp., £12.99, April 2002, 0 571 20915 7
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... When the Germans occupied His Pasteur Institute With all those poor dogs Paulin has also praised Peter Reading for being ‘user-hostile’, and for contriving, by avoiding iambs, to demonstrate ‘his dissidence from the state’. The preface to Paulin’s excellent Faber Book of Vernacular Verse explains his preference for demotic diction and the ...

Booze and Fags

Christopher Hitchens, 12 March 1992

Tobacco: A History 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Radius, 249 pp., £18.99, December 1991, 0 09 174216 1
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The Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking 
edited by Simon Rae.
Faber, 554 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 571 16229 0
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... is a different matter. Uncollected in the Faber anthology is a moment in Michael Wharton’s ‘Peter Simple’ memoir when one of the more heroic Fleet Street pub-performers kept a long-postponed appointment with his doctor. After tapping and humming away, the quack inquired mildly; ‘D’you drink at all?’ Well-primed for the routine, and knowing that ...

The Way of the Wobble

Peter Campbell: Ove Arup, 5 April 2007

Ove Arup: Masterbuilder of the 20th Century 
by Peter Jones.
Yale, 364 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 300 11296 3
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... Zealand’s swing bridges came to mind when it turned out that the Millennium Bridge had a wobble. Reading about it I felt it in my feet. Suspension bridge technology has been pushed forward by a need, on the one hand, and an ambition, on the other. The need is to prevent the rhythmic, self-destructive fluttering that can be generated when the cadence of a ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Peter Doig, 6 March 2008

... Peter Doig painted Echo Lake in 1998. A man stands on the far side of a stretch of dark water. He is quite a way off, but you can see that he wears a white shirt and a dark tie. His hands are raised to his face. Is it to keep the light out of his eyes as he looks at you? Or is it to project his voice as he shouts? A police car, lights on, is parked behind him ...

Re-reading the Bible

Stephanie West, 12 March 1992

The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible 
by Robin Lane Fox.
Viking, 478 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 670 82412 7
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... for whom the Daystar had its own, very different symbolic force (Revelation 22.16, cf. 2.28,2, Peter 1.19). Early Christian tradition was, it seems, very vague about the circumstances of Jesus’s birth (which there is of course no reason to associate with the winter solstice) and invention filled the vacuum. After thus setting the scene by demonstrating ...

Exasperating Classics

Patricia Craig, 23 May 1985

Secret Gardens 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen and Unwin, 235 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 04 809022 0
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Reading and Righting 
by Robert Leeson.
Collins, 256 pp., £6.95, March 1985, 9780001844131
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Pipers at the Gates of Dawn 
by Jonathan Cott.
Viking, 327 pp., £12.95, August 1984, 0 670 80003 1
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... Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of J.M. Barrie’s ‘Lost Boys’, in later life called Peter Pan ‘that terrible masterpiece’. Brigid Brophy, having reread Little Women and its sequels, dried her eyes and blown her nose, resolved that ‘the only honourable course was to come out into the open and admit that the dreadful books are masterpieces ...

Complete with spats

A.N. Wilson, 27 May 1993

Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul 
by Barbara Reynolds.
Hodder, 398 pp., £25, March 1993, 0 340 58151 4
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... I have been reading again The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers. Barbara Reynolds says that this book – together with her famous series of radio dramas The Man Born to be King – is her greatest work. And Barbara Reynolds should know. She is the goddaughter of Sayers; she is a distinguished Italian scholar and collaborated with Sayers on her translation of The Divine Comedy (a collaboration fascinatingly written up in her book The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L ...

At the British Library

Peter Campbell: ‘Magnificent Maps’, 8 July 2010

... House’ …) and its subtitle (‘Power, Propaganda and Art’) prepare you for ways of reading that are a long way from ‘map-reading’ as taught to the school cadet corps. You could doubtless have used Jacopo de’ Barbari’s stupendous woodcut of Venice of 1500 to find your way about, but it wasn’t made ...

Diary

Peter Campbell: At the new British Library, 27 November 1997

... LRB reaches you the new British Library at St Pancras will be open – or rather, the Humanities Reading Room will be. For the Rare Books Reading Room you must wait until February 1998, for the Oriental and India Office Collections Reading Areas until August, and for the Manuscripts ...

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