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Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton, 22 October 1992

The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 759 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 571 15197 3
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... from Thwaite himself, the few who are spared include figures like Vernon Watkins, Gavin Ewart, Barbara Pym: allies who are genuinely liked and admired but who are nonetheless junior to Larkin in talent and repute. The really big hates tend to be reserved for sizable poetic rivals. Ted Hughes is a recurrent, near-obsessive target, with S. Heaney ...

Keep yr gob shut

Christopher Tayler: Larkin v. Amis, 20 December 2012

The Odd Couple: The Curious Friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin 
by Richard Bradford.
Robson, 373 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84954 375 0
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... Stalinism. He and Robert Conquest had also been amused by advance word of Larkin’s letters to Barbara Pym (‘I bet they were a bit different in tone from what he writes to you and me, eh?’). At the same time, he was unsettled by finding out how much Larkin had kept from him of his arrangements in Hull – principally the depth of his involvements ...

Making Do and Mending

Rosemary Hill: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Letters, 25 September 2008

So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald 
edited by Terence Dooley.
Fourth Estate, 532 pp., £25, August 2008, 978 0 00 713640 7
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... upset’). Then there were the judgments of critics. She was compared, inevitably, with Barbara Pym and Beryl Bainbridge (the latter she thought ‘a good corrective to vanity’), and was informed by a pundit at a soirée that she had to be in Pym’s ‘group’: ‘You either have to be in hers or ...

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

The Truth about Lorin Jones 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 294 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 7181 3095 2
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Latecomers 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 248 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 224 02554 6
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Where the rivers meet 
by John Wain.
Hutchinson, 563 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 9780091736170
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About the Body 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 193 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 436 09784 2
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Stories 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 312 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 670 82113 6
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... to take off his shirt’). At times I felt I was reading a cosmopolitan, if not actually louche, Barbara Pym, in a faded fastidiousness, or fastidious fadedness, which is so smoothly done that it, and almost everything but the style, can slip by unnoticed. But the after-effect is poignant and strong. There is a slight wobble of intention evident in the ...

Yes and No

John Bayley, 24 July 1986

Lionel Trilling and the Fate of Cultural Criticism 
by Mark Krupnick.
Northwestern, 207 pp., $25.95, April 1986, 0 8101 0712 0
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... taken many forms, not all mindlessly Philistine, and Trilling would be disconcerted today to find Barbara Pym a new heroine of the campus course, and her novels the subject of doctorates. One suspects he would backtrack hastily, for as Krupnick says, ‘it was in the logic of his position as enemy of all orthodoxies that he should disavow any ...

Make use of me

Jeremy Treglown: Olivia Manning, 9 February 2006

Olivia Manning: A Life 
by Neville Braybrooke and June Braybrooke.
Chatto, 301 pp., £20, November 2004, 0 7011 7749 7
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... A great many novels nowadays are just travel books,’ Ivy Compton-Burnett grumbled to Barbara Pym in 1960. ‘Olivia has just published one about Bulgaria.’ She hadn’t noticed that the setting of The Great Fortune is in fact Romania. But she had a point. Journeys, voluntary and enforced, are big in Olivia Manning’s work, as they had been in the first forty years of her life, and the painter manqué in her always made the most of topographical detail ...

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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... off: this is what explains the canny simple-mindedness of his stance, whereby Wodehouse and Barbara Pym and Mollie Panter-Downes are used to tease overweening complexity. Everything between Tolstoy on the one side and honestly unserious Wodehouse or Ian Fleming, say, on the other – Waugh, Greene, Joyce, you name it – will have for him something ...

A Small, Sharp Stone

Ange Mlinko: Lydia Davis’s Lists, 2 December 2021

Essays One 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 512 pp., £20, November 2019, 978 0 241 37147 3
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Essays Two 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 571 pp., £20, December, 978 0 241 55465 4
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... of the final version, I knew how to spell besieged.’ (She admits to having studied the comedy of Barbara Pym.)The pieces​ in Essays Two, though even more refined in the direction of specialists, brim with daring experiments, not all of which succeed but none of which is boring. When she deconstructs translation, wading in murkier terrain, I was ...

Pickering called

Rivka Galchen: ‘The Glass Universe’, 5 October 2017

The Glass Universe: The Hidden History of the Women Who Took the Measure of the Stars 
by Dava Sobel.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £16.99, January 2017, 978 0 00 754818 7
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... to love him. OK. I thought also of the varied and lonely excellent women in those sad and comic Barbara Pym novels, transcribing notes for doofy male anthropologists, or vying for a spot to serve lemonade at a conference. Or the pleasurably menacing Fleur Talbot in Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent, working as a secretary at the Autobiographical ...

Faithful in the Dusk

Adam Mars-Jones: Tessa Hadley, 15 August 2019

Late in the Day 
by Tessa Hadley.
Cape, 281 pp., £16.99, February 2019, 978 1 78733 111 2
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... The autumnal title​ of Tessa Hadley’s new novel, almost in the resigned mode of Barbara Pym, is both truthful and deceptive. Relationships of love and friendship with deep roots in the past are thoughtfully examined, but the occasion is a drastic severing, placed on such an early page as to be exempt from any embargo on the revelation of plot ...

Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

Blake 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 399 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85619 278 4
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol I: Jerusalem 
editor David Bindman, edited by Morton D. Paley.
Tate Gallery, 304 pp., £48, August 1991, 1 85437 066 9
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. II: Songs of Innocence and Experience 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Andrew Lincoln.
Tate Gallery, 210 pp., £39.50, August 1991, 1 85437 068 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol III: The Early Illuminated Books 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Morris Eaves, Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 288 pp., £48, August 1993, 1 85437 119 3
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. IV: The Continental Prophecies: America, Europe, The Song of Los 
editor David Bindman, edited by D.W. Dörbecker.
Tate Gallery, 368 pp., £50, May 1995, 1 85437 154 1
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. V: Milton, a Poem 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 224 pp., £48, November 1993, 1 85437 121 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. VI: The Urizen Books 
 editor David Bindman, edited by David Worrall.
Tate Gallery, 232 pp., £39.50, May 1995, 9781854371553
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... the survivors, had prepared me for this. In Corso’s hutch, his minders begged for copies of Barbara Pym, while Gregory spoke wistfully of Philip Larkin. Denton Welch was William Burroughs’s main intellectual squeeze. Ferlinghetti had high hopes for Jeremy Reed. The Beats were now heritage fodder, a potential Bloomsbury group. There was even talk ...

Villain’s Talk

John Bayley, 17 April 1986

The Fisher King 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 434 59926 3
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... situation for a novelist is a character he didn’t invent walking about among those that he did. Barbara Pym’s novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, the one that was rejected by her traitorous publishers, sentencing her to fifteen years of non-appearance, has a man in it with whom she can do nothing at all, except let him marry the heroine at the end. This ...

Great Fun

John Bayley, 22 January 1987

Gossip 
by Patricia Meyer Spacks.
Chicago, 287 pp., £9.25, November 1986, 0 226 76844 9
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The Bonus of Laughter 
by Alan Pryce-Jones.
Hamish Hamilton, 263 pp., £12.95, January 1987, 0 241 11903 0
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... ridicule, as in the case of Clare Booth Luce’s play, The Women. The extraordinary success of Barbara Pym’s novels in America shows they seem to minister to the same assertiveness, and the same desire for separation. A perennial Pym scene, drawn from life once or twice in her Diaries, is of the women’s part of ...

Good History

Christopher Hill, 5 March 1981

After the Reformation: Essays in Honour of J.H. Hexter 
edited by Barbara Malament.
Manchester, 363 pp., £17.95, December 1980, 0 7190 0805 0
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Puritans and Adventurers 
by T.H. Breen.
Oxford, 270 pp., £10, October 1980, 0 19 502728 0
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On History 
by Fernand Braudel, translated by Sarah Matthews.
Weidenfeld, 226 pp., £10.95, January 1981, 0 297 77880 3
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Sociology and History 
by Peter Burke.
Allen and Unwin, 116 pp., £6.95, August 1980, 0 19 502728 0
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... and ‘Independent’ in the old carefree way. Three years later followed The Reign of King Pym, a masterly study of Parliamentary politics during the early years of the English Revolution which has dominated historical thinking ever since. In 1952, he published More’s Utopia: The Biography of an Idea, a competent but not epoch-making work. Since then ...

Living with Monsters

Ferdinand Mount: PMs v. the Media, 22 April 2010

Where Power Lies: Prime Ministers v. the Media 
by Lance Price.
Simon & Schuster, 498 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84737 253 6
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... a figure as his literary namesake. When James was succeeded by Bernard Ingham, who had worked for Barbara Castle, presentation certainly hotted up. Ingham gave a robust account of his new mistress’s views, stamped on the latest rumours with his trademark dismissal, ‘bunkum and balderdash’, and did not hesitate to pass on news that this or that minister ...

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