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Where’s Esther?

Robert Alter: The Dead Sea Scrolls, 12 September 2013

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography 
by John Collins.
Princeton, 272 pp., £16.95, October 2012, 978 0 691 14367 5
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The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea 
by Joan Taylor.
Oxford, 418 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 19 955448 5
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... in the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms. The initial discovery, accidentally made by a Bedouin shepherd, was of three documents: a complete text of the Book of Isaiah, a sectarian manual of discipline and a commentary on the prophet Habakkuk. During the next few years, excavations were conducted in adjacent caves. In the end, some nine hundred manuscripts ...

Praise Yah

Eliot Weinberger: The Psalms, 24 January 2008

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary 
by Robert Alter.
Norton, 518 pp., £22, October 2007, 978 0 393 06226 7
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... and academics. The latest is a handsome edition, complete with the requisite red ribbon, by Robert Alter, and it has arrived accompanied by a joyful noise, widely acclaimed in the press as the Psalms for Our Time. New translations of a classic text are either done as a criticism of the old translations (correcting mistakes, finding an equivalent that is ...

Ecclefechan and the Stars

Robert Crawford, 21 January 1988

The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect 
by George Davie.
Polygon, 283 pp., £17.95, September 1986, 0 948275 18 9
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... Scottish presence. But works such as the Ossianic poems, Home’s Douglas, Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd and Wilkie’s Epigoniad dropped away, and the emphasis that remained was almost exclusively on English (with Classical) texts and standards. Scottish literature, like all writing done outside England, was seen as an eccentric achievement, significant ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1999, 20 January 2000

... satire and after. He asks me if we ever had any alternative titles to Beyond the Fringe, which was Robert Ponsonby’s contribution and not popular with us at the time. I can’t think of any but J. Miller later remembers ‘At the Drop of a Brick’, a reference to Flanders and Swann’s At the Drop of a Hat and Peter Cook’s suggestion that we call it ...


Liam McIlvanney: The House of Blackwood, 5 June 2003

The House of Blackwood: Author-Publisher Relations in the Victorian Era 
by David Finkelstein.
Pennsylvania State, 199 pp., £44.95, April 2002, 0 271 02179 9
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... At the tail-end of 1892 Robert Louis Stevenson was working on a novel. The book was going well but one thing was bothering him. Serial publication, he felt, might be difficult to secure, since ‘The Justice Clerk’ – it would eventually be published as Weir of Hermiston – was both ‘queer’ and ‘pretty Scotch ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Van Dyck’s Portraits, 12 March 2009

... baton beside him. Lord George Stuart, on the other hand, assumes the costume of a stage shepherd to play the pastoral lover. One of the finest portraits is that of Teresa, Lady Shirley, painted in Rome in 1622. The daughter of a Christian Circassian chieftain, she had married Robert Shirley in Persia and is shown ...

Committee Speak

Robert Alter: Bible Writers, 19 July 2007

Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible 
by Karel van der Toorn.
Harvard, 401 pp., £22.95, March 2007, 978 0 674 02437 3
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... main narrative and surely derive from other sources. Nevertheless, the overall story of David from shepherd youth to martial hero and king, to feeble old man shivering on his deathbed, is the greatest account of an individual life evolving through time that was produced anywhere in antiquity. (I happen to think that it is integrally related to the preceding ...

Burke and Smith

Karl Miller, 16 October 1980

Sydney Smith 
by Alan Bell.
Oxford, 250 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 19 812050 8
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Burke and Hare 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Polygon, 300 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 904919 27 7
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... landed on top of his victim in a terminal embrace, after which the body was sold to the anatomist Robert Knox. Hare turned King’s evidence, and after a trial which ended early on Christmas morning 1828, his confederate was hanged. The woman Burke lived with, Helen MacDougal, received a verdict of not proven: she had been ably defended by Henry Cockburn. A ...

On Fanny Howe

Ange Mlinko: Fanny Howe, 5 October 2017

... the intention is different. She never rejected first-person experience as a basis of her lyrics; Robert Lowell’s Notebook poems were an early influence (‘When Lowell relaxed into the sonnet form, he gave us a new kind of poetry notebook,’ she once wrote). In light of this, her poems’ fragmentary brevity suggests a kind of exploded sonnet, and they ...

Love with Time Let in

Barbara Everett: ‘The Winter’s Tale’, 8 January 2004

... are never curst but when they are hungry.’ Shakespeare took his play from a novella by Robert Greene called Pandosto: or, The Triumph of Time. That subtitle may have been one of the things which mainly interested the dramatist in it, the other being the incestuous plot situation that drives its royal hero to his final suicide: when his lost child ...

The Old Feudalist

D.A.N. Jones, 3 July 1986

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass 
by Karen Blixen.
Penguin, 351 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 008533 5
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Out of Africa 
by Karen Blixen.
Century, 288 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 7126 1016 2
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Isak Dinesen: The Life of Karen Blixen 
by Judith Thurman.
Penguin, 511 pp., £3.50, April 1986, 9780140096996
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... movie, which is full of stock English types, one of them lazily played by the American sex-object, Robert Redford. He should have taken lessons in the British accent from the hard-working Marlon Brando. Firmly hooked to the movie, this elaborate Century edition of Out of Africa is packed with illustrations which will appeal to nostalgic movie-weepers but have ...

Simile World

Denis Feeney: Virgil’s Progress, 4 January 2007

Virgil: Georgics 
translated by Peter Fallon, with notes by Elaine Fantham.
Oxford, 109 pp., £7.99, July 2006, 0 19 280679 3
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Virgil: The Aeneid 
translated by Robert Fagles.
Penguin, 486 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 7139 9968 3
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... ego Tityrus is about to sing of kings and battles when Apollo tweaks his ear and tells him that a shepherd ought to feed up his sheep to be fat but keep his poems spare. Virgil here is adapting a famous passage written just over two centuries earlier by the Alexandrian poet Callimachus, the Ezra Pound of his day. Callimachus, too, says that at the beginning ...

Dykes, Drongs, Sarns, Snickets

David Craig: Walking England, 20 December 2012

The English Lakes: A History 
by Ian Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £16.99, March 2012, 978 1 4088 0958 7
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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp., £20, June 2012, 978 0 241 14381 0
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... were resettled in a ‘model’ village along with their forebears’ gravestones. By contrast Robert Macfarlane’s accounts are nothing if not first-hand. He is a literary scholar who has spent many hundreds of hours walking in England and the Scottish Highlands, in Spain, Palestine and Tibet. His aim here is to describe some of his most memorable ...


Denton Fox, 21 January 1988

Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe 
by R.W. Southern.
Oxford, 337 pp., £30, July 1986, 9780198264507
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Politics, Policy and Finance under Henry III, 1216-1245 
by Robert Stacey.
Oxford, 284 pp., £27.50, July 1987, 0 19 820086 2
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... Robert Grosseteste, scientist, theologian and bishop, is rather like the elephant that was interpreted so differently by the various blind men. Even in his lifetime men had contrasting opinions of him: Matthew Paris, who must have known him well, called him at one time ‘heartless and inhuman’, and at another ‘liberal, urbane, cheerful, affable ...

In Bloody Orkney

Robert Crawford: George Mackay Brown, 22 February 2007

George Mackay Brown: The Life 
by Maggie Fergusson.
Murray, 363 pp., £25, April 2006, 0 7195 5659 7
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The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown 
edited by Brian Murray.
Murray, 547 pp., £18.99, October 2006, 0 7195 6884 6
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... in a language that was not their first. Native language matters more than native place. Robert Frost was a Californian who entrenched himself in New England. T.S. Eliot, for all his Russell Square papistry, came from St Louis. These poets grew to be associated with the territories they adopted and which adopted them. The idea that a place or ...

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