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On the Feast of Stephen

Karl Miller: Spender’s Journals, 30 August 2012

New Selected Journals, 1939-95 
by Stephen Spender and Lara Feigel, edited by John Sutherland.
Faber, 792 pp., £45, July 2012, 978 0 571 23757 9
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... autobiography of 1951, World within World. The British Army of the Rhine was told of my enthusiasm for it. I practically stood to attention at the microphone. I went off to Cambridge, to study with F.R. Leavis, who let few days pass without enlarging on the badness of Stephen Spender. After prolonged exposure to the stir of ...

Omdamniverous

Ian Sansom: D.J. Enright, 25 September 2003

Injury Time: A Memoir 
by D.J. Enright.
Pimlico, 183 pp., £12.50, May 2003, 9781844133154
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... comments, a combination characteristic both of petty gods and of literary critics trained in the Leavis and the Eliot manner, in whom the insistence on apparently high standards and high seriousness often produces outbursts of scorn that detract from anything serious they might want to say. As soon as you’ve raised your voice, one sometimes wishes to ...

Cambridge Theatre

Donald Davie, 19 August 1982

Swansongs 
by Sue Lenier.
Oleander Press, 80 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 9780906672044
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Collected Poems 
by Sylvia Plath, edited by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 351 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 571 10573 4
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Devotions 
by Clive Wilmer.
Carcanet, 63 pp., £3.25, June 1982, 0 85635 359 0
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... Sue Lenier’s poems occupy 70 closely printed pages, of which I have read – the things I do for LRB! – 50 or so. If ‘read’ is the word for what one does, or can do, with language like this: Mourn no more for the flowers you have broken, Lies you have told and clouds stirred on my face Roused from my dark to the moons you have awoken, In this fair night your blackness keeps no place, When Winter holds her blue tongue to the trees Licking them white, they cry not at their death With tears like wings of flies washed in the breeze And blown away, each sad and lonely breath, And as each creature waits for Spring’s pale arms To rouse their sleep and tenderly lead them out, So I to you who did me all this harm Will wait, heart-full, to wake you with my shout  Of happiness, love and trembling sin –  As all the night goes out, the stars come in ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... memoirs of others, plankton-fashion. It is a species of history – annals, perhaps. Kynaston’s far from copious political judgments are sensible and considerate, though I don’t see why he should call Eisenhower’s annulment of the Suez invasion ‘brutal’. His reticence might lead his readers to over-interpret what he does have to say about public ...

Diary

Patrick Parrinder: On Raymond Williams, 18 February 1988

... down to a couple of brawls and a series of obituary notices. One by one the giants have departed: Leavis, Richards, Empson, and now Raymond Williams. The first three had come through to ripe and embattled old age, but Williams was still in his prime as a writer and critic. When I visited him in Saffron Walden in late December, he had been laid up ...

Placing Leavis

Geoffrey Hartman, 24 January 1985

The Leavises: Recollections and Impressions 
edited by Denys Thompson.
Cambridge, 207 pp., £15, October 1984, 0 521 25494 9
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The Social Mission of English Criticism: 1848-1932 
by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 264 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 19 812821 5
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Radical Earnestness: English Social Theory 1880-1980 
by Fred Inglis.
Robertson, 253 pp., £16.50, November 1982, 0 85520 328 5
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The Critic as Anti-Philosopher: Essays and Papers by F.R. Leavis 
edited by G. Singh.
Chatto, 208 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 7011 2644 2
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... The astonishing importance of Leavis in the English academic consciousness does not seem to be a passing fad. The scandal-maker of the 1930s became, by a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, part of the saving remnant on which the future of reading would depend. The photo on the cover of Denys Thompson’s The Leavises shows him in a jacket impermeable to the insults of time and with the open shirt of a Labour leader ...

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

Literary Education: A Revaluation 
by James Gribble.
Cambridge, 182 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 521 25315 2
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Reconstructing Literature 
edited by Laurence Lerner.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 631 13323 2
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Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory 
by Geoffrey Thurley.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 33436 1
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... perhaps was – ‘How many children has Lady Macbeth now?’ But he took enough intellectual lore for granted to get pretty quickly to Hamlet or Coriolanus. If Bateson or Knights had been lecturing to the Conference at Reading, I don’t think they would have reached a poem or a play: political entanglements, disguised as theoretical issues, would have kept ...

Sour Notes

D.A.N. Jones, 17 November 1983

Peter Hall’s Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle 
edited by John Goodwin.
Hamish Hamilton, 507 pp., £12.95, November 1983, 0 241 11047 5
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... direction of Maximilian Schell: Work on Vienna Woods this morning, and all the company together for Notes at lunchtime. At Max’s invitation I spoke my thoughts to them ... I said that the audience’s pleasure at the story had trapped the actors into indulging their feelings, and the stage was awash with sentiment. Also, the music making, instead of being ...

Morgan to his Friends

Denis Donoghue, 2 August 1984

Selected Letters of E.M. Forster: Vol. I: 1879-1920 
edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank.
Collins, 344 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 00 216718 2
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... night we painted pill boxes ... ’ and an editorial note explains that these were bee boxes, used for transporting live bees. But the conversation was evidently more searching than Forster’s account suggests. Nearly seven years later, Lawrence writing from Taos assured Forster that ‘Yes, I think of you – of your saying to me, on top of the downs in ...

Thomas’s Four Hats

Patricia Beer, 2 April 1981

The Poetry of Edward Thomas 
by Andrew Motion.
Routledge, 193 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7100 0471 0
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... the one in paperback that came out earlier this year*; or Vernon Scannell’s pamphlet written for the British Council in 1963. In any case, one always wonders about the readership of a work that started life as an academic thesis, once it has gone beyond the supervisor, the examiners and the people on the list of acknowledgements. But there is another ...

Outside the Academy

Robert Alter, 13 February 1992

Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 333 43294 0
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A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 
by René Wellek.
Yale, 458 pp., £26, October 1991, 0 300 05039 9
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... about the coherence of the schools or isms of criticism that might serve as organising rubrics for a different kind of history of criticism. There is good evidence to support his scepticism at his home institution in the so-called École de Yale. In 1979, Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman and J. Hillis Miller, all at the time ...

Puffed Wheat

James Wood: How serious is John Bayley?, 20 October 2005

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 
by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey.
Duckworth, 677 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 7156 3312 0
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... theory in America and continental Europe. And John Bayley, with his hospitable style and gift for canonical gossip, again and again attempts to defend the sensible common reader against academic criticism tout court – what he has variously called ‘the higher criticism’, ‘smart academic critics’, ‘the literary lads’, ‘the clever men at Yale ...

Jolly Jack and the Preacher

Patrick Parrinder, 20 April 1989

A Culture for Democracy: Mass Communication and the Cultivated Mind in Britain between the Wars 
by D.L. LeMahieu.
Oxford, 396 pp., £35, June 1988, 0 19 820137 0
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... of their contemporaries had never heard of, still less read, these totemistic figures. A Culture for Democracy is concerned to argue that there was a genuinely common culture in mid-20th-century Britain, a culture which embraced ‘the unemployed labourer in Huddersfield, the Oxford don, the shopkeeper in Leeds, and the typist in Grimsby’. The book pursues ...

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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... Booth has so ably detected them, these devices are lifeless except as things to be memorised for the passing of examinations. There is also a strong chance that any student who spends much time studying rhetorical devices will not read the works of fiction, or will read them with his attention unnaturally focused on technical concerns. Worrying about ...

In Love

Michael Wood, 25 January 1996

Essays in Dissent: Church, Chapel and the Unitarian Conspiracy 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 264 pp., £25, October 1995, 1 85754 123 5
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... He suffered fools grimly, because he thought there were so many of them, but he was himself far from grim. His laugh was a cross between a splutter and a chuckle, as if the joke had been cooking inside him for some time, and now was too good to be retained any longer. No mistaking the deep amusement in this laugh; not a trace of rancour or disappointment ...

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