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A Light-Blue Stocking

Helen Deutsch: Hester Lynch Salusbury Thrale Piozzi, 14 May 2009

Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’ 
by Ian McIntyre.
Constable, 450 pp., £25, November 2008, 978 1 84529 449 6
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... that suited her best. Johnson was soon the star attraction of a circle that included Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Frances Burney and Joshua Reynolds, whose portraits of the group adorned the walls of the library in Streatham. Hester presided with remarkable wit, vivacity and in Burney’s neologism, ‘agreeability’; in both contemporary ...

Just about Anything You Want

Ben Jackson: Guerrilla Open Access, 6 October 2016

The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz 
by Aaron Swartz.
Verso, 368 pp., £15.99, February 2016, 978 1 78478 496 6
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... afford to purchase all the journals their researchers need, what hope do the rest of us have?’ David Prosser, executive director of Research Libraries UK, asked the Guardian. When Swartz was 21, he and three other unidentified authors wrote the ‘Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto’, the text of which is included in The Boy Who Could Change the World. It ...

Who is Lucian Freud?

Rosemary Hill: John Craxton goes to Crete, 21 October 2021

John Craxton: A Life of Gifts 
by Ian Collins.
Yale, 383 pp., £25, May, 978 0 300 25529 4
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... off as a ‘dull’ decade, repeating the clichéd and inaccurate suggestion that until Elizabeth David published her Book of Mediterranean Food no British person had used olive oil except as a cure for earache. Craxton, however, found England both dull and cold and from now on spent as much time as he could in Greece, where he faced the ‘unending ...

Philosophical Vinegar, Marvellous Salt

Malcolm Gaskill: Alchemical Pursuits, 15 July 2021

The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 
by Jennifer M. Rampling.
Chicago, 408 pp., £28, December 2020, 978 0 226 71070 9
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... on a stock image developed over centuries, by painters especially. Brueghel in the 16th century, David Teniers in the 17th, and Joseph Wright in the 18th, all painted grimy scenes of reclusion and penury, with hints of mad obsession and radiant wonder. Cornelis Pietersz Bega’s alchemist, from 1663, adds pathos to the mix: were it not for the delicately ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2014, 8 January 2015

... James.7 August, Oxford. To Oxford and the Holywell Music Room where Bodley’s librarian emeritus David Vaisey and I have a conversation about our time at Oxford in the 1950s. David and I were first aware of each other at the scholarship examination in Exeter College hall in January 1954. The hall was bitter cold but both ...


Malcolm Bull: Three Cheers for Apocalypse, 9 December 1999

Conversations about the End of Time 
by Umberto Eco and Stephen Jay Gould.
Allen Lane, 228 pp., £14.99, September 1999, 0 7139 9363 4
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Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs throughout the Ages 
by Eugen Weber.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £18.99, July 1999, 0 09 180134 6
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Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium 
by Richard Popkin and David Katz.
Allen Lane, 303 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 7139 9383 9
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... Eliot while accepting the terms within which Eliot had formulated the question of time in ‘Burnt Norton’. Eliot’s premise is that ‘If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable.’ Humanity needs some kind of redemption from time, but, paradoxically, ‘Only through time time is conquered.’ This juxtaposition of chronological time and ...

The Politics of Translation

Marina Warner: Translate this!, 11 October 2018

This Little Art 
by Kate Briggs.
Fitzcarraldo, 365 pp., £12.99, September 2017, 978 1 910695 45 6
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Translation as Transhumance 
by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz.
Les Fugitives, 150 pp., £10, November 2017, 978 0 9930093 3 4
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Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto 
by Mark Polizzotti.
MIT, 168 pp., £17.99, May 2018, 978 0 262 03799 0
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The 100 Best Novels in Translation 
by Boyd Tonkin.
Galileo, 304 pp., £14.99, June 2018, 978 1 903385 67 8
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The Work of Literary Translation 
by Clive Scott.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £75, June 2018, 978 1 108 42682 4
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... In​ the early 1960s, David Hockney made a series of etchings inspired by the poems of Constantine Cavafy; he went to Egypt to discover the places Cavafy had drunk coffee and picked up lovers, but in the images it’s mainly Hockney’s own life and friends who figure. The etchings touch on rapture, and the frankness of their erotic pleasure at the sight and memory of boys in bed brought Cavafy to a new, wide readership ...
... merge, to become aspects of a single burning emotion.In a letter to his old Boston friend Grace Norton the year he published The Princess Casamassima, James made clear his deep dislike for Ireland, the country of his grandparents. Ireland, he felt, could injureEngland less with [Home Rule] than she does without it … She seems to me an example of a country ...

Sisyphus at the Selectric

James Wolcott: Undoing Philip Roth, 20 May 2021

Philip Roth: The Biography 
by Blake Bailey.
Cape, 898 pp., £30, April, 978 0 224 09817 5
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Philip Roth: A Counterlife 
by Ira Nadel.
Oxford, 546 pp., £22.99, May, 978 0 19 984610 8
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Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth 
by Benjamin Taylor.
Penguin, 192 pp., £18, May 2020, 978 0 525 50524 2
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... rape reported to have taken place in 2015 at the home of one of the Times’s book critics. Norton halted shipments and cancelled a second print run; the panels, interviews and book festival events instantly vaporised. What began as a parade float was a runaway dumpster fire.Let us backtrack a bit. Not too far back: just far enough to present a portrait ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1999, 20 January 2000

... one of the curators.’ I tell him about visiting Chastleton, the 17th-century house near Chipping Norton newly restored by the National Trust, and it turns out he was the expert called in to advise on the conservation of the stonework. The Trust was anxious to know where the stone had originally been quarried. He told them to walk across the field opposite ...

Something Rather Scandalous

Jean McNicol: The Loves of Rupert Brooke, 20 October 2016

Rupert Brooke: Life, Death and Myth 
by Nigel Jones.
Head of Zeus, 588 pp., £12, April 2015, 978 1 78185 703 8
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Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke 
by Paul Delany.
McGill-Queen’s, 380 pp., £28.99, March 2015, 978 0 7735 4557 1
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The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner 
by Lorna C. Beckett.
British Library, 216 pp., £16.99, April 2015, 978 0 7123 5792 0
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... it was) of being a virgin. At length, I thought, I shall know something of all that James and Norton and Maynard and Lytton know and hold over me.’ This letter (written in 1912 just after he’d been told that Russell-Smith had died of septicaemia) gives a very detailed account of their encounter, and must have been one of those Geoffrey Keynes was most ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2000, 25 January 2001

... I came in the latter category. I went round to see him after Home and he said how much he liked David Storey. ‘He’s the ideal author … never says a word!’ In Chariots of Fire he shared a scene with Lindsay Anderson, both of them playing Cambridge dons. Lindsay was uncharacteristically nervous but having directed John G. in Home felt able to ask his ...

I’m an intelligence

Joanna Biggs: Sylvia Plath at 86, 20 December 2018

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. I: 1940-56 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kukil.
Faber, 1388 pp., £35, September 2017, 978 0 571 32899 4
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The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. II: 1956-63 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kukil.
Faber, 1025 pp., £35, September 2018, 978 0 571 33920 4
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... her next letters to Ann, she had bucked up, and described visiting a medical student at Yale, Dick Norton, who became the model for Buddy Willard in The Bell Jar. ‘Yale junior prom! Honestly, that Dick practically floored me!’ she wrote to Ann. ‘Well, I got dressed up to kill in my old white formal, and evidently things took a quick turn from the ...

Iraq, 2 May 2005

Andrew O’Hagan: Two Soldiers, 6 March 2008

... he said. ‘It’s as confusing as hell out there.’ ‘I loved to fly with Dukes,’ said David Peeler, another pilot who served with Spahr in Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323. ‘John and I had something in common in our childhoods that prepared us very well for that business. It was not a game to him. He understood that to “go to the show”, as ...

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