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On the Sofa

David Thomson: ‘Babylon Berlin’, 2 August 2018

... it on the day the Supreme Court approved Trump’s ban on Muslims, and the day before Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and Germany were knocked out of the World Cup. Not that episode 11 provided any answers; not that the series was confident about its questions. As fellow-victims will know, and in the pattern of many long-form television ...

At the Carlton Club

Andrew O’Hagan: Maggie, Denis and Mandy, 2 January 2020

... has an entertaining way with a footnote: ‘Marilyn Davies (1944-2014), educated Sharmans Cross secondary modern school, Solihull; model, novelist, showgirl and entrepreneur.’ He gives us such information every time a new person is introduced into the narrative, and it shouldn’t be startling, but somehow is, that pretty much the entirety of the ...

Inside Out

John Bayley, 4 September 1980

The Collected Ewart 1933-1980 
by Gavin Ewart.
Hutchinson, 412 pp., £10, June 1980, 0 09 141000 2
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Selected Poems and Prose 
by Michael Roberts, edited by Frederick Grubb.
Carcanet, 205 pp., £7.95, June 1980, 0 85635 263 2
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... New Review, and the poem shows, with the kind of grim undemonstrative intelligence the novels of Anthony Powell know well how to reveal in horsey men, military men or men in bars (one of his characters called Odo Stevens writes Ewart-type poems), just how much Ewart as a poet owes to his attitude to other poets. I always try to dislike my poets, it’s good ...

All in pawn

Richard Altick, 19 June 1986

The Common Writer: Life in 19th-century Grub Street 
by Nigel Cross.
Cambridge, 265 pp., £25, September 1985, 0 521 24564 8
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... magazines and reviews lay the large underclass of book-writers who are the subject of Nigel Cross’s illuminating study. Hovering perilously between the lower slopes of Parnassus and the surrounding flat with its quicksands, they were the victims of the whimsical assumption, happily less common today, that anybody who can hold a pen can live by ...


Benedict Anderson, 21 January 1988

Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800 
edited by Nicholas Canny and Anthony Pagden.
Princeton, 290 pp., £22, September 1987, 0 691 05372 3
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... or from Canton to Johor. As late as the 18th century, Eliza Pinckney averred that she ‘would not cross that frightful ocean’ again ‘for the best fortune in England’. But was this enough to create the peculiar synchronicity of Hampshire/New Hampshire? Probably not. The six authors in Colonial Identity rightly stress the immediate political, religious ...

Real Thing

John Naughton, 24 November 1988

Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television 
by Michael Cockerell.
Faber, 352 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 571 14757 7
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... political broadcasts (begun in 1951) and the odd ministerial broadcast of the kind pioneered by Anthony Eden. Mr Cockerell’s treatment of his subject is strictly chronological. He starts with Earliest Times and finishes at the Present Day. Well, not quite the present, for the closing chapter takes us only to the last General Election. Earliest times in ...

Frank knew best

Martin Pawley, 7 April 1994

Frank Lloyd Wright. The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influences 
by Anthony Alofsin.
Chicago, 456 pp., £43.95, March 1994, 0 226 01366 9
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... sources of inspiration before these became a matter for debate. This is important in considering Anthony Alofsin’s book, whose burden is that Frank Lloyd Wright was heavily influenced by the art and architecture of Europe. This is contrary to the received wisdom, which is that it was the European architectural avant-garde that was greatly influenced by ...


Ruth Scurr: A.S. Byatt, 10 August 2000

The Biographer's Tale 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £14.99, June 2000, 0 7011 6945 1
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... Francis Galton and Henrik Ibsen, three historical figures woven into this tissue of intensely cross-referenced truths, halftruths and lies. As he stumbles around on the trail of Destry-Scholes, Phineas G. – short, spotty and socially inept – improbably acquires not one but two sexual partners: a sun and a moon goddess (as he puts it to himself). The ...

How smart was Poussin?

Malcolm Bull, 4 April 1991

Nicolas Poussin 
by Alain Mérot, translated by Fabia Claris.
Thames and Hudson, 336 pp., £65, November 1990, 0 300 04763 0
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Nicolas Poussin: Dialectics of Painting 
by Oskar Bätschmann, translated by Marko Daniel.
Reaktion, 176 pp., £27, September 1990, 0 948462 10 8
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Ideal Landscape: Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain 
by Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlöf.
Yale, 256 pp., £35, November 1990, 0 300 04763 0
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... seas was Poussin’s great mind voyaging? No one really had much idea until the publication of Anthony Blunt’s monograph in 1967, which argued that Poussin ‘thought in terms of Stoicism’, set forth ‘his views on ethics ... with clarity and vigour in his letters’, and ‘applied his philosophy to the practical conduct of his life in the most exact ...

They never married

Ian Hamilton, 10 May 1990

The Dictionary of National Biography: 1981-1985 
edited by Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 518 pp., £40, March 1990, 0 19 865210 0
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... that Adams was guilty? And if we don’t, why does he get an entry? Wickedness, in the case of Anthony Blunt, actually pays off rather handsomely. He gets a four-column entry against the average two, and it is unlikely that this would have been his lot had he been listed merely as ‘art historian’ and not also as ‘a communist spy’. (Donald ...

I have written as I rode

Adam Smyth: ‘Brief Lives’, 8 October 2015

‘Brief Lives’ with ‘An Apparatus for the Lives of Our English Mathematical Writers’ 
by John Aubrey, edited by Kate Bennett.
Oxford, 1968 pp., £250, March 2015, 978 0 19 968953 8
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John Aubrey: My Own Life 
by Ruth Scurr.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 0 7011 7907 6
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... William Pitt the Younger’s voice. Or at least that’s how the story goes. New versions of this cross-generational vaulting circulate now and then: a man who saw Abraham Lincoln being shot in 1865 was on a TV show in 1956; a retired friend in Canada recalls her now deceased Hungarian friend Dorothy telling her that her mother had been walking in the park at ...

The Devilish God

David Wheatley: T.S. Eliot, 1 November 2001

Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot 
by Denis Donoghue.
Yale, 326 pp., £17.95, January 2001, 0 300 08329 7
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Adam’s Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature 
by Denis Donoghue.
Notre Dame, 178 pp., £21.50, May 2001, 0 268 02009 4
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... we can only speculate as to what continues to hold up publication of the second. Partisans of Anthony Julius’s 1995 study, T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form, will have reached their own conclusions. The anti-semitic charge was squatting awkwardly on Eliot’s reputation long before Julius’s book, but old habits of deference died hard, even ...

Chianti in Khartoum

Nick Laird: Louis MacNeice, 3 March 2011

Letters of Louis MacNeice 
edited by Jonathan Allison.
Faber, 768 pp., £35, May 2010, 978 0 571 22441 8
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... Old Foss after Mr Lear’s famous cat. The other two might perhaps be called Barocco and Rokoko (Anthony read a paper on these last night). But cats have little interest in architecture, so perhaps Rodillardus and Chat Botté would be more appropriate – though French is so difficult to pronounce. Other charming names that occur to me are ...


Melanie McFadyean: In the Wrong Crowd, 25 September 2014

... tried to calm the situation; Henry and Ferguson turned up too. Henry told the prosecution under cross-examination that he thought Grant-Murray, who had been stabbed a few weeks before in Henry’s company, was in danger. ‘My natural instinct was to help him,’ he said. The prosecution case was that Henry had a knife in his shoulder bag. But there was no ...

He blinks and night is day

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Light Perpetual’, 17 June 2021

Light Perpetual 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, February, 978 0 571 33648 7
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... London. The place and time correspond with a particularly terrible missile strike on New Cross on 25 November 1944. The novel is a sort of counter-history, imagining that five of the children killed on that day escaped unharmed, and charting the lives that they might have gone on to lead. Although Spufford makes clear in his acknowledgments that the ...

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