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Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... Norman Podhoretz). Queenie Leavis of course became an official widow, and it is les veuves on whom David Laskin relies most heavily in this relatively orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of ...

1966 and all that

Michael Stewart, 20 December 1984

The Castle Diaries. Vol. II: 1964-70 
by Barbara Castle.
Weidenfeld, 848 pp., £20, October 1984, 0 297 78374 2
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... on our contempt for Jim Callaghan.’ There is Roy Hattersley, ‘a Jenkins man’, whom Harold Wilson would not appoint as a Minister of State in 1969 ‘because he is said to have made three “disloyal” remarks recently. Dick [Crossman] and I agree this is absurd because, although we don’t think Hattersley is a particularly nice man, we know he will ...

Diary

Leslie Wilson: Talking Rubbish, 19 August 1993

... one of the dogs (very likely rabid, according to the professor). ‘What’s in it?’ I ask, but David, my husband, refuses to commit himself. That’s what you get for marrying into the trade. How will I manage not to breathe the smoke? It’s everywhere. The burnt, dusty men who work the dump are unmoved by the arrival of a coach bringing well-dressed ...

Mrs Thatcher’s Admirer

Ian Aitken, 21 November 1991

Time to declare 
by David Owen.
Joseph, 822 pp., £20, September 1991, 0 7181 3514 8
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... the hobnailed boot can be wielded with just as much delicacy and skill as the épée, once said of David Owen that the Good Fairy who attended his birth had generously bestowed upon him the three qualities of charm, intelligence and good looks. He is then reported to have added: ‘What a pity that the Bad Fairy made him a shit.’ This is a pretty cruel thing ...

Sterling and Strings

Peter Davies: Harold Wilson and Vietnam, 20 November 2008

... In opposition, Harold Wilson spoke out against American involvement in Vietnam. In May 1954, during his Bevanite phase, he declared that ‘not a man, not a gun, must be sent from this country to defend French colonisation in Indo-China … we must not join or in any way encourage an anti-Communist crusade in Asia under the leadership of the Americans or anyone else ...

Cowboy Coups

Phillip Knightley, 10 October 1991

Smear! Wilson and the Secret State 
by Stephen Dorrill and Robin Ramsay.
Fourth Estate, 502 pp., £20, August 1991, 9781872180687
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... Intelligence Service had penetrated British life. The MI5 officer quickly dispensed with the Wilson Government – its penetration was taken as read – slandered Wilson’s own loyalties and those of several members of his Cabinet, and then moved on to the Royal family. The thrust of his accusations was that ...

Into Extra Time

Deborah Steiner: Living too long, 23 February 2006

Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton 
by Emily Wilson.
Johns Hopkins, 289 pp., £35.50, December 2004, 0 8018 7964 7
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... So great was the Greeks’ concern with living too long – what Emily Wilson calls ‘overliving’– that they had a cautionary myth about it. The immortal rosy-fingered Eos, who is renewed each night by a therapeutic plunge into Okeanos, falls in love with the mortal Tithonos, abducts him, and bears him off to a life of everlasting love at the ends of the earth ...

It was sheer heaven

Bee Wilson: Just Being British, 9 May 2019

Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant 
by Barbara Hosking.
Biteback, 384 pp., £9.99, March 2019, 978 1 78590 462 2
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... started out as a Cornish scholarship girl and rose to become a senior civil servant under Harold Wilson and Edward Heath and, later, a top executive at breakfast television – has written a memoir of her rise to the top of the British establishment. Sentence by sentence, her story is likeable and impressive but never very exciting to read. Most of the great ...

The British Dimension

Rosalind Mitchison, 16 October 1980

The Life of David Hume 
by Ernest Campbell Mossner.
Oxford, 736 pp., £20, March 1980, 0 19 824381 2
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‘The People Above’: Politics and Adminsitration in Mid-18th-Century Scotland 
by Alexander Murdoch.
John Donald, 199 pp., £12, March 1980, 0 85976 053 7
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The Laird of Abbotsford 
by A.N. Wilson.
Oxford, 197 pp., £8.95, June 1980, 0 19 211756 4
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The Strange Death of Scottish History 
by Marinell Ash.
Ramsay Head Press, 166 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 902859 57 9
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... which valued dignity and self-control. Clearly, if things had gone better, the new house in St David Street would have had a mistress. The added material in the book does not really justify the title of a new edition, since it could well have been put across within a learned article, and the Oxford Press have, in photographically reproducing the ...

At Miss Whitehead’s

Edward Said, 7 July 1994

The Sixties: The Last Journal, 1960-1972 
by Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 968 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 374 26554 2
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... Among major 20th-century critics who wrote in English, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) is still by far the most readable – readable anywhere and at any time. Only professionals are likely to find his style, and even his methods, entirely too informal and amateurish – absence of footnotes, personal tone etc. But I can testify to being able to read him with pleasure and for no particular reason at home, on a bus, in an office, a hospital waiting-room, a hotel ...

Upside Down, Inside Out

Colin Kidd: The 1975 Referendum, 25 October 2018

Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain 
by Robert Saunders.
Cambridge, 509 pp., £24.99, March 2018, 978 1 108 42535 3
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... electorate from succumbing to the over-optimistic prospectus presented by the SNP. Surely, David Cameron reckoned, the same formula would work again a mere two years later in the UK-wide Brexit referendum. After all, there was also the reassuring story of the UK’s first Euro-referendum in 1975. Then, the prime minister, Harold ...

Downhill

David Marquand, 19 September 1985

Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy 1945-51 
by Alec Cairncross.
Methuen, 527 pp., £35, April 1985, 0 416 37920 6
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The Politics of Recession 
by R.W. Johnson.
Macmillan, 275 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 333 36786 3
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The Labour Government 1974-79: Political Aims and Economic Reality 
by Martin Holmes.
Macmillan, 206 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 333 36735 9
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New Jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism 
by Elizabeth Durbin and Roy Hattersley.
Routledge, 341 pp., £16.95, March 1985, 9780710096500
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... to do this than parties of the right. Where Kreisky, Schmidt and Palme have all trod, Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan should surely have been able to tread. To some extent, Attlee did. To be sure, his government made appalling mistakes. For the last four of its six years in office it was haunted by the memory of the two great crises of 1947: the fuel crisis ...

Trounced

C.H. Sisson, 22 February 1990

C.S. Lewis: A Biography 
by A.N. Wilson.
Collins, 334 pp., £15, February 1990, 0 00 215137 5
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... excursion, and indeed to have seen remarkably little of England. He died in 1963.The story A.N. Wilson has to tell is more complicated than that. Empson thought Lewis ‘the best read man of his generation, one who had read everything and remembered everything he read’. He was indeed a man of words, reading, writing and arguing incessantly, when ...

Bonfire in Merrie England

Richard Wilson: Shakespeare’s Burning, 4 May 2017

... founded the Memorial, became ‘the most important figure in Chesterton’s life’, according to David Baker in Ideology of Obsession: A.K. Chesterton and British Fascism. The two met when Chesterton went to interview Flower, ‘whose reign over Stratford-upon-Avon came as near absolutism as made no odds’. Flower was impressed by Chesterton’s refusal to ...

Über-Tony

Ben Pimlott: Anthony Crosland, 3 September 1998

Crosland’s Future: Opportunity and Outcome 
by David Reisman.
Macmillan, 237 pp., £47.50, October 1997, 0 333 65963 5
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... core which has increased in relevance with the passage of time. Such, at any rate, is the theme of David Reisman’s two volumes of intellectual biography and analysis – the most careful and thought-provoking exegesis yet to appear. Crosland was a man of contradictions, as Reisman shows, a hedonist who was also a puritan, and so on. Perhaps the biggest ...

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