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What a shocking bad hat!

Christopher Tayler: Ackroyd’s ‘London’, 22 February 2001

London: The Biography 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 822 pp., £25, October 2000, 1 85619 716 6
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... who had just killed his girlfriend with a similar weapon, it was ‘as if the city itself brought forth evidence from its own history’. Streets built in the 18th and 19th centuries adapt themselves to contemporary traffic through the city’s ‘ability to re-create itself silently and invisibly, as if it were truly a living thing’. The city also ‘seems ...

Unaccommodated Man

Christopher Tayler: Adventures with Robert Stone, 18 March 2004

Bay of Souls 
by Robert Stone.
Picador, 250 pp., £16.99, February 2004, 0 330 41894 7
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... Moore. As the book proceeds, however, it becomes increasingly clear that the action is bodying forth a fable: the story of a man who, having talked the talk, tries to walk the walk, and fails. The talk is Michael’s pedagogic emphasis on human strenuousness – on self-transcendence through confrontation with ‘Eros and Thanatos’. But confronted by ...

Happy Babble

Christopher Prendergast, 7 March 1996

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton 
by Mark Polizzotti.
Bloomsbury, 754 pp., £25, September 1995, 0 7475 1281 7
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... but the logic was reactive; for all the talk of discovery, shock of the new and so forth, the real object of the Surrealist quest was a lost object of thought and imagination: what they called the ‘marvellous’ (the organising category of the first Manifeste du surréalisme). In this respect, the origins of Surrealism are firmly rooted in ...


Christopher Tayler: The Fabulous Elif Batuman, 17 February 2011

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them 
by Elif Batuman.
Granta, 296 pp., £16.99, April 2011, 978 1 84708 313 5
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... of fantastic, too good to be true dialogue. At the same time, she gets themes rolling back and forth between the narrative sections and the more essayistic material: personhood in ‘Babel in California’; love and desire in ‘The Possessed’; mortality in ‘Who Killed Tolstoy?’; cultural identity in ‘Summer in Samarkand’. Occasionally ...

Bunny Hell

Christopher Tayler: David Gates, 27 August 2015

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me 
by David Gates.
Serpent’s Tail, 314 pp., £12.99, August 2015, 978 1 78125 491 2
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by David Gates.
Serpent’s Tail, 339 pp., £8.99, August 2015, 978 1 78125 490 5
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... I had a novel in the background and maybe some stories in the foreground and I could go back and forth, but now I’ve got nothing at all … Yeah. So I’ve got the notebooks. Got the pens. All I need is the stories.’ A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me is the first book he’s produced since then, and thanks to the 16-year interval it would be easy to ...

Before I Began

Christopher Tayler: Coetzee Makes a Leap, 4 June 2020

The Death of Jesus 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill Secker, 208 pp., £18.99, January, 978 1 78730 211 2
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... arithmetic. ‘We do not teach your children to play ant games, adding numbers to numbers and so forth,’ she explains. ‘I hope you now understand why. We do not want to turn your children into ants.’The otherworldly Arroyos, the sinister, worldly Dmitri, and Simón, the sceptical man of reason who’s lacking in warmth, battle for David’s soul. Not ...

Il n’y a pas de Beckett

Christopher Prendergast, 14 November 1996

Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett 
by James Knowlson.
Bloomsbury, 872 pp., £25, September 1996, 0 7475 2719 9
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Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist 
by Anthony Cronin.
HarperCollins, 645 pp., £25, October 1996, 9780246137692
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The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett. Vol I: Waiting for Godot 
edited by Dougald McMillan and James Knowlson.
Faber, 472 pp., £75, March 1994, 0 571 14543 4
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The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett. Vol II: Endgame 
edited by S.E. Gontarski.
Faber, 276 pp., £50, November 1992, 0 571 14544 2
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The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett. Vol III: Krapp’s Last Tape 
edited by James Knowlson.
Faber, 286 pp., £50, May 1992, 0 571 14563 9
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by Samuel Beckett, translated by Barbara Wright.
Faber, 170 pp., £6.99, September 1996, 9780571178261
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... in the third part that occurs the so-called voice ‘quaqua’, its interiorisation and murmuring forth when the panting stops. That is to say the ‘I’ is from he outset in the third part and the first and second, though stated as heard in the present, already over. Knowlson, who quotes this passage from a letter to Donald Mc Whinnie, draws no lesson from ...

Fathomless Strangeness of the Ordinary

Stephen Greenblatt: Disenchantment, 7 January 1999

Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 
by Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park.
Zone, 511 pp., £19.95, June 1998, 0 942299 90 6
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... that grew on trees in Scotland, mummified hands, dragons’ teeth, ostrich eggs and so on and so forth. They are likely to evoke in us something like the laughter that the passage in Borges aroused in Foucault: a shattering, liberating laughter, ‘breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion ...


Marina Warner: Dear Old Khayyám, 9 April 2009

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 
by Edward Fitzgerald, edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 167 pp., £9.99, January 2009, 978 0 19 954297 0
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... at the Presidency College in Calcutta in 1856, and after his departure the two wrote back and forth a stream of letters about minutiae of interpretation. Later, Cowell transcribed many more poems from another manuscript he found in the Asiatic Institute in Calcutta, and sent them on to FitzGerald. Just as he used scissors and paste on the new acquisitions ...

Portrait of the Scottish Poor

Rosalind Mitchison, 5 June 1980

The State of the Scottish Working Class in 1843 
by Ian Levitt and Christopher Smout.
Scottish Academic Press, 284 pp., £7.50, December 1979, 0 7073 0247 1
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... from the very real tradition of parochial survey and investigation which had already brought forth the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland. The more famous report of the vast Royal Commission which had reformed the English Poor Law in 1834 to make life as disagreeable as possible for the unemployed, and which has drawn from later historians the ...

Fashion Flashes

Zoë Heller, 26 January 1995

Kenneth Tynan: Letters 
edited by Kathleen Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 669 pp., £22, November 1994, 0 297 81076 6
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... And yes, yes, when you rehit town next month we must arrange for you to meet her,’ he writes to Christopher Fry in 1952. This shrugging nonchalance successfully camouflages the scrabbling lengths to which he went in order to forge this Hepburn connection. As his wife tells us in a footnote, Tynan had met Hepburn only once before, on the set of The African ...

Short Cuts

Patrick Wright: The Moral of Brenley Corner, 6 December 2018

... lorries shaking ancient villages to their (largely absent) foundations as they thundered back and forth along the road from London to Dover. For the first part of that journey drivers had the use of the M2, but thanks to a decision made in 1963, the new motorway came to an abrupt end at Brenley Corner. Politicians and planners would give various excuses for ...

At the V&A

Marina Warner: ‘Hollywood Costume’, 20 December 2012

... animation, by the design team Casson Mann, tries to overcome the atmosphere of a waxworks museum. Christopher Frayling, the ‘guest curator’, writes a museological piece in the catalogue, a luxurious and mighty tome, about the tricky history of costume display and changing styles in mannequins and lighting. Here, the dummies have two-way scrims for ...

Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four: Facsimile Edition 
by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison.
Secker, 291 pp., £25, July 1984, 9780436350221
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Nineteen Eighty-Four 
by George Orwell, edited by Bernard Crick.
Oxford, 460 pp., £17.50, March 1984, 0 19 818521 9
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Inside the Myth. Orwell: Views from the Left 
edited by Christopher Norris.
Lawrence and Wishart, 287 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 85315 599 2
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The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell 
by George Woodcock.
Fourth Estate, 287 pp., £5.95, November 1984, 0 947795 05 7
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Orwell’s London 
by John Thompson.
Fourth Estate, 119 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 947795 00 6
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... in the reader – contempt for Appeasement, his determination to stand up to the Russians, and so forth. I don’t object to the sentiments, but I think it’s wicked to pretend that a plain style hugs the decent sentiments and knows in advance which ones are corrupt. Other books published in honour of Orwell’s year are: Orwell Remembered by Audrey Coppard ...

English Marxists in dispute

Roy Porter, 17 July 1980

Arguments within English Marxism 
by Perry Anderson.
New Left Books, 218 pp., £3.95, May 1980, 0 86091 727 4
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Capitalism, State Formation and Marxist Theory 
edited by Philip Corrigan.
Quartet, 232 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 7043 2241 2
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Writing by Candlelight 
by E.P. Thompson.
Merlin, 286 pp., £2.70, May 1980, 0 85036 257 1
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... regard Marxist historiography as a menace. Professor J.H. Hexter’s recent ad hominem assault on Christopher Hill’s scholarly integrity seems to reveal the same crusading zeal on the other side of the Atlantic. Furthermore, in a cunning jest of History, some Marxist philosophers have latterly enlisted in the armies of the Right in denying Lebensraum to ...

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