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Clive James, 18 March 1982

... The old year ends with Cambridge under snow. The world in winter like the Moon in spring Unyieldingly gives off a grey-blue glow. An icy laminate caps everything. Christmas looks Merry if you wish it so. One strives to hark the Herald Angels sing, But at each brief hiatus in the feast A bitter wind howls sadly from the east. In Poland now the only Santa Claus Is General Jaruzelski looking grim ...

Bernard Levin: Book Two

Clive James, 6 December 1979

Taking Sides 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 281 pp., £6.50, September 1979, 0 330 26203 3
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... names which are just like Beach-comber’s except that they are not funny. Also he lacks tact. James Agate filled his column with excerpts from Racine but some of his readers could read French. Levin employs Latin tags copiously and almost always leaves them untranslated. I feel pleased at being able to puzzle some of these out, but not as pleased, I ...


Clive James, 10 January 1983

... For Mrs Thatcher’s visit the Chinese Have laid on a Grade Three official greeting. Which doesn’t mean the bum’s rush or the freeze: She gets an honour guard at the first meeting. But not much bunting flutters in the breeze. Tian’anmen Square contains no special seating. Instead there is a lot of open space With here and there a mildly curious face ...

Bullshit and Beyond

Clive James, 18 February 1988

The Road to Botany Bay 
by Paul Carter.
Faber, 384 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 571 14551 5
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The Oxford History of Australia. Vol. IV: 1901-1942 
by Stuart Macintyre.
Oxford, 399 pp., £22.50, October 1987, 0 19 554612 1
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The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship 
by Sylvia Lawson.
Penguin Australia, 292 pp., AUS $12.95, September 1987, 0 14 009848 8
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The Lucky Country Revisited 
by Donald Horne.
Dent, 235 pp., AUS $34.95, October 1987, 9780867700671
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... In its short history, Australia has weathered several storms. By world standards they were minor, but at home they loomed large. The First World War was a rude awakening; the Great Depression hit harder and lasted longer than anywhere else in the developed world; and the Second World War could have been the end of everything. Australia survived all these crises and given its usual luck should also survive the Bicentenary, although it could be touch and go ...

Boys will be girls

Clive James, 1 September 1983

Footlights! A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy 
by Robert Hewison.
Methuen, 224 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 0 413 51150 2
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... The English are not at their best, although they may well be at their most characteristic, when they go on a lot about the dear old days at school or the ’varsity. Not even the inspired Cyril Connolly could get his tongue far enough into his cheek to be anything more tolerable than stomach-turning about Eton. George Orwell, who had been there too but thought it was possible to have a life afterwards, was surely right to tell him to come off it ...

A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses

Clive James, 5 June 1980

Princess Daisy 
by Judith Krantz.
Sidgwick, 464 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 283 98647 6
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... To be a really lousy writer takes energy. The average novelist remains unread not because he is bad but because he is flat. On the evidence of Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz deserves her high place in the best-seller lists. This is the second time she has been up there. The first time was for a book called Scruples, which I will probably never get around to reading ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths, 23 May 2002

Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... typical female role model of the conformist period was June Allyson, pouting loyally at home while James Stewart, camped out in the Mojave Desert, manfully concerned himself with the creation of the Strategic Air Command – a theme that took advantage of the B-36’s capacity to fill the Cinemascope screen. The letterbox format was less suited to June ...

How Montale earned his living

Clive James, 17 February 1983

The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays of Eugenio Montale 
translated by Jonathan Galassi.
Ecco, 354 pp., $17.50, October 1982, 0 912946 84 9
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Prime alla Scala 
by Eugenio Montale.
Mondadori (Milan), 522 pp., October 1981
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Eugenio Montale’s Poetry: A Dream in Reason’s Presence 
by Glauco Cambon.
Princeton, 274 pp., £16.80, January 1983, 0 691 06520 9
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... If Eugenio Montale had never written a line of verse he would still have deserved his high honours merely on the basis of his critical prose. The product of a long life spent clearing the way for his poetry, it is critical prose of the best type: highly intelligent without making mysteries, wide-ranging without lapses into eclecticism or displays of pointless erudition, hard-bitten yet receptive, colloquial yet compressed ...

An Address to the Nation

Clive James, 17 December 1981

... Dear Britain, Merry Christmas! If I may Presume on your attention for the space Of one broadsheet, I’d simply like to say How pleased I am to see your homely face Perked up and looking forward to the day When even the downcast are kissed by grace – The day a perfect birth is celebrated And we who are imperfect feel elated. It’s normally the Queen, I’m well aware, Who takes upon herself the awesome onus At each year’s end of going on the air And giving us our verbal Christmas bonus ...

Mrs Stitch in Time

Clive James, 4 February 1982

Lady Diana Cooper 
by Philip Ziegler.
Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp., £9.95, September 1981, 0 241 10659 1
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... Either she was the biggest tease in the universe, or else well-born young ladies did not fall into bed quite so easily then as they are widely supposed to do now. The author of this biography favours the first explanation, writing as if the lady had told him about it herself, but he doesn’t say why he believes her. She might be just saying that she was a tease ...

Malcolm and the Masses

Clive James, 5 February 1981

Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life 
by Ian Hunter.
Collins, 270 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 00 216538 4
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... Even those of us who don’t know Malcolm Muggeridge personally can be certain that the charm to which his friends attest would quickly enslave us too, should we be exposed to it. One would probably soon give up quarrelling with him. But his public persona invites quarrel and not much else. He is not really very illuminating even when he is right. As a writer and television performer he has always had the virtue of embodying the questioning spirit, but he has been even more valuable as an example of what happens to the questioning spirit when it is too easily satisfied with its own answers ...
... The events in his life don’t leave him at a loss for words. The words are at a loss for events. Clive Nettleton hadn’t had a real break from work since the marriage and she was a bundle of nerves and as thin as a rake, so seeing as they were tantamount to being friends of ours, through the Clissold girls, Beryl and I had a bit of a confab in the kitchen ...

Australia’s Nineties

Clive James, 15 July 1982

Christopher Brennan: A Critical Biography 
by Axel Clark.
Melbourne, 358 pp., £20, May 1980, 0 522 84182 1
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... No Australian poet before Christopher Brennan was fully conscious of the artistic problem posed by isolation from Europe, and no Australian poet since has been fully disabled by it. Brennan’s life and death dramatised the problem once and for all. It was and is a true problem, not just a difficulty. Brennan, whether he wanted to or not, lived the problem to the full, and thereby, on everybody else’s behalf, got it out into the open ...

These Staggering Questions

Clive James, 3 April 1980

Critical Understanding 
by Wayne Booth.
Chicago, 400 pp., £14, September 1979, 0 226 06554 5
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... Previous books by Wayne C. Booth, especially The Rhetoric of Fiction, have been well received in the academic world. Since it first made its appearance in the early Sixties, The Rhetoric of Fiction has gone on to establish itself as a standard work – a touchstone of sanity. Probably the same thing will happen to the book under review. Critical Understanding is such a civilised treatise that I felt guilty about being bored stiff by it ...

Catacomb Graffiti

Clive James, 20 December 1979

Poems and Journeys 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 97 pp., £3.90
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Eugene Onegin 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Charles Johnston.
Penguin Classics, 238 pp., £1.50
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... Appearing unannounced in 1977, Charles Johnston’s verse rendering of Eugene Onegin established itself immediately as the best English translation of Pushkin’s great poem there had yet been. It was an impressive performance even to those who could not read the original. To those who could, it was simply astonishing, not least from the technical angle: Johnston had cast his Onegin in the Onegin stanza, a form almost impossibly difficult in English, and had got away with it ...

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