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Getting the Undulation

Benjamin Lytal: Willa Cather’s Letters, 20 February 2014

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather 
edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout.
Knopf, 715 pp., £24, April 2013, 978 0 307 95930 0
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... It was perhaps ten feet wide in the spring, and in the late summer it was no more than a series of black mud holes at the bottom of a ravine, with a few cottonwoods and dwarf elms growing along its banks. I remember that my little brothers and I would do almost anything to get to this creek. Cather’s ‘mystical conception of the frontier’, as Granville ...

Horrible Dead Years

Christopher Prendergast, 24 March 1994

by Joanna Richardson.
Murray, 602 pp., £30, March 1994, 0 7195 4813 6
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... excess and burn-out. Two others are those of the undertaker and the gambler. Baudelaire’s black garb echoes the undertaker’s habit, which in the Salon de 1846 he described as the uniform of his century. The poetry is like the rehearsal of a funeral, an extended act of mourning, though whether for himself or itself is not always clear (at ...

Fundamentally Goyish

James Wood: Zadie Smith, 3 October 2002

The Autograph Man 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 420 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 241 13998 8
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... singer Madonna Ciccone’, as Smith has it, a tic that runs throughout the book), Walter Benjamin (or ‘the popular wise guy Walter Benjamin’). Each chapter has a cute digest at its head, announcing the delights on offer: ‘Alex-Li Tandem was Jewish – A rainbow over Mountjoy – Hand-print – Superstar ...

Schadenfreude with Bite

Richard Seymour: Trolling, 15 December 2016

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture 
by Whitney Phillips.
MIT, 256 pp., £10, September 2016, 978 0 262 52987 7
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Gendertrolling: How Misogyny Went Viral 
by Karla Mantilla.
Praeger, 280 pp., £32, August 2015, 978 1 4408 3317 5
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Bad Clowns 
by Benjamin Radford.
New Mexico, 188 pp., £12, February 2016, 978 0 8263 5666 6
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Trolls: An Unnatural History 
by John Lindow.
Reaktion, 60 pp., £9.99, August 2015, 978 1 78023 565 3
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... acts ‘as a self-appointed cultural critic’ in a tradition of clowns and jesters, according to Benjamin Radford, while simultaneously ‘plausibly maintaining that it’s all in good fun and shouldn’t be taken (too) seriously’. According to John Lindow’s ‘unnatural history’ of trolls, the original trolls of Scandinavian folklore punished improper ...

Lingering and Loitering

Benjamin Kunkel: Javier Marías, 3 December 2009

Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Chatto, 545 pp., £18.99, November 2009, 978 0 7011 8342 4
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... In one of literary history’s great instances of the pot calling the kettle black, Henry James complained of ‘the absence of spontaneity, the excess of reflection’ in George Eliot’s work. To other readers, of course, the proportion that Eliot – or even late James – sets up between narrative spontaneity (or action and event), on the one hand, and reflection or disquisition, on the other, seems harmonious and attractive, and it’s certainly easy enough to think of novels suffering from the opposite problem of lots of action and little thought ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Princess Di and Laura Palmer, 22 January 2004

... a bit like custard. The corruption of some of the characters isn’t so unsurprising: that of Benjamin Horne, for example, the father of crazy Audrey and the owner of, among other things, Horne’s department store, the Great Northern Hotel, and One-Eyed Jacks, a casino-cum-brothel just over the Canadian border. But then there’s Laura’s other, secret ...

At the Grey Art Gallery

J. Hoberman: Inventing Downtown , 30 March 2017

... lived on the far East Side amid entire blocks being cleared for public housing, also made gorgeous black and white slides, suggestive of imagined galaxies, which he projected on the exterior walls of condemned tenements for the pleasure of a few friendly artists and his Puerto Rican neighbours. At once melancholy and exhilarating, Inventing Downtown evokes a ...


Benjamin Markovits: Michael Jordan and Me, 23 May 2002

... what is considered by Americans to be the most difficult and graceful of games. Yet unlike Ali, a black American of comparable charm and skill, Jordan has never made politics part of his appeal, and his popularity among both highbrows and ordinary joes is harder to explain. He is famous only for being almost perfect at what he does, and gracious in his ...

The Basic Couple

Benjamin Kunkel: Norman Rush, 24 October 2013

Subtle Bodies 
by Norman Rush.
Granta, 234 pp., £14.99, October 2013, 978 1 84708 780 5
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... of the crank about him. He resembles Nelson Denoon, with the important difference that Morel is black. (Not that race counts for as much as might be feared in a novel where a white woman cuckolds her husband with a black man: something else that might have surprised Fiedler, who thought racial anxiety had disfigured the ...

High Spirits

E.S. Turner, 17 March 1988

Living dangerously 
by Ranulph Fiennes.
Macmillan, 263 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 333 44417 5
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The Diaries of Lord Louis Mountbatten 1920-1922: Tours with the Prince of Wales 
edited by Philip Ziegler.
Collins, 315 pp., £15, November 1987, 0 00 217608 4
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Touch the Happy Isles: A Journey through the Caribbean 
by Quentin Crewe.
Joseph, 302 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 7181 2822 2
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... suitably British’ was the Prince of Wales’s description of the much-bally-hooed voyage of the Benjamin Bowring. In between the set-pieces of Pole-bashing eight sales exhibitions were staged in the world’s more congenial places and members of the expedition contracted 17 marriages, either to each other or to outsiders: all very different from those ...

Reader, I married you

Alethea Hayter, 30 March 1989

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett: The Courtship Correspondence 1845-1846 
edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 363 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 818547 2
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... with Hugh Stuart Boyd on prosody, with Richard Hengist Horne on contemporary literature, with Benjamin Robert Haydon on the artist’s vocation. Browning in this first letter told her that he loved her poetry with its ‘fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought’. She saw this as another ...

Time to think again

Michael Neve, 3 March 1988

Benjamin Disraeli: Letters 1838-1841 
edited by M.G Wiebe, J.B. Conacher, John Matthews and M.S. Millar.
Toronto, 458 pp., £40, March 1987, 0 8020 5736 5
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Salisbury: The Man and his Policies 
edited by Lord Blake and Hugh Cecil.
Macmillan, 298 pp., £29.50, May 1987, 0 333 36876 2
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... readers of the Sunday Telegraph. Time to think again. Time to look at the ‘theories’ of Benjamin Disraeli, and time, especially, to discover the deeply intellectualist conservatism of the third Marquis of Salisbury, whose record as the most electorally successful Conservative prime minister seems likely to be snatched by Mrs Thatcher. The ...


Naomi May, 5 July 1984

... still a long way off. In a shed at the bottom of the garden they would imitate her, shrieking: ‘Benjamin! Benjamin! Show yourself, ye wee devil!’ Benjy, the youngest, did not like this game. ‘Why d’you pick on me? Why always me?’ But they would goad him: ‘...

Forged, Forger, Forget

Nicholas Spice: Peter Carey, 5 August 2010

Parrot and Olivier in America 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 451 pp., £18.99, February 2010, 978 0 571 25329 6
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... his involvement in an illicit printing operation in Dittisham on the River Dart, a so-called ‘black house’ run by a man called Piggott, whose secret business is forging currency. The Dittisham episode is the strongest in the novel and its visionary self-sufficiency suggests that it arose in Carey’s imagination separately from the rest of the book. I ...


Nicholas Penny, 8 March 1990

The Image of the Black in Western Art. Vol. IV, Parts I-II: From the American Revolution to World War One 
by Hugh Honour.
Harvard, 379 pp., £34.95, April 1989, 9780939594177
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Primitive Art in Civilised Places 
by Sally Price.
Chicago, 147 pp., £15.95, December 1989, 0 226 68063 0
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The Return of Cultural Treasures 
by Jeanette Greenfield.
Cambridge, 361 pp., £32.50, February 1990, 0 521 33319 9
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... babies and endangered species. This logo, as it would now be called, of the kneeling, shackled black was clear, compact, memorable, touching, and yet entirely decorous – with the added attraction, as Hugh Honour astutely points out in The Image of the Black, of hinting at conversion as well as ...

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