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Only in the Balkans

Misha Glenny: The Balkans Imagined, 29 April 1999

Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination 
by Vesna Goldsworthy.
Yale, 254 pp., £19.95, May 1998, 0 300 07312 7
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Imagining the Balkans 
by Maria Todorova.
Oxford, 270 pp., £35, June 1997, 9780195087505
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... has not seen the like of ‘since the Middle Ages’. Isuppose if you overlook the period 1914-45, he does have a point. Maybe it is this barbarism that excludes Kosovo from Europe? In fact, Kosovo, like anywhere else in the Balkans, is neither inside nor outside. The rest of Europe considers its status to be malleable:one moment the British press will ...

In His Hot Head

Andrew O’Hagan: Robert Louis Stevenson, 17 February 2005

Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
HarperCollins, 503 pp., £25, February 2005, 0 00 711321 8
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... the American theatrical manager Charles Frohman spoke his last words. ‘Why fear death?’ he was heard to say. ‘It is the most beautiful adventure in life.’ He may have been echoing J.M. Barrie, whose ‘awfully big adventure’ had only recently chimed with children of all ages. But the immediate circumstances ...

Anxious Pleasures

James Wood: Thomas Hardy, 4 January 2007

Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 486 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 670 91512 2
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... the visuality of the detail. Hardy was supremely a man ‘who used to notice such things’ as he describes himself in his poem ‘Afterwards’. Most of his readers thrill to the precision with which he captures the world: the ‘scarlet handful of fire’ in the grate of Gabriel Oak’s hut in Far from the Madding ...

God’s Own

Angus Calder, 12 March 1992

Empire and English Character 
by Kathryn Tidrick.
Tauris, 338 pp., £24.95, August 1990, 1 85043 191 4
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Into Africa: The story of the East African Safari 
by Kenneth Cameron.
Constable, 229 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 09 469770 1
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Burton: Snow upon the Desert 
by Frank McLynn.
Murray, 428 pp., £19.95, September 1990, 0 7195 4818 7
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From the Sierras to the Pampas: Richard Burton’s Travels in the Americas, 1860-69 
by Frank McLynn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 258 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 7126 3789 3
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The Duke of Puddle Dock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles 
by Nigel Barley.
Viking, 276 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 670 83642 7
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... Speke ‘discovered’, had indeed been remote from European knowledge. On the other hand, when he and Burton went to Lake Tanganyika, they had been on a track well beaten by Arab slavers, and knew exactly what they could expect to find. No one who has flown over central Africa below the clouds, as I did on routes taking me from Uganda to Kenya, then on to ...

Boomster and the Quack

Stefan Collini: How to Get on in the Literary World, 2 November 2006

Writers, Readers and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain 1870-1918 
by Philip Waller.
Oxford, 1181 pp., £85, April 2006, 0 19 820677 1
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... life in Britain, ‘Corelli’s sense of grandeur was the inverse of her sense of the absurd.’ He doesn’t stint his illustration of the point: A daily ritual was her progress round Stratford in a miniature phaeton, like Cinderella, pulled by two Shetland ponies . . . complete with coachman perched on high behind . . . Best of all, she was regularly ...

Anglo-Egyptian Attitudes

Marina Warner, 5 January 2017

... subordinate, male female. But it’s one of Mr Rochester’s prerogatives to play whatever part he likes. As with labelling, as with jokes, so with costumes: it matters who is calling the names, who is putting on the pretence.When I was a little girl, one of my mother’s many wooers – she was in her twenties and later reminisced that ‘everyone’ in ...

Short Cuts

Ferdinand Mount: Untilled Fields, 1 July 2021

... times – some parts of England are becoming almost as lonesome as the African veld.’ This was Rider Haggard’s conclusion after two years’ gruelling travel across the farming counties of England in 1901 and 1902. Only the odd Irish tinker trudged the dusty roads. Thistles and rushes invaded the untilled fields. The impression of desolation ...

Nothing nasty in the woodshed

John Bayley, 25 October 1990

Yours, Plum: The Letters of P.G. Wodehouse 
edited by Frances Donaldson.
Hutchinson, 269 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 09 174639 6
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... Wittgenstein had a phrase about the ‘great heart of Beethoven’, the rider to which was that it would make no sense to talk about the ‘great heart’ of Shakespeare. So much the worse for Beethoven, might be the sentiment of a non-philosopher who did not share Wittgenstein’s passion for music. But his point has its ramifications ...

Roman Fever

Sarah Perry, 26 September 2019

Malaria and Victorian Fictions of Empire 
by Jessica Howell.
Cambridge, 238 pp., £75, October 2018, 978 1 108 48468 8
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... of Arizona was excavating the remains of a villa just outside Lugnano in Umbria in 1992 when he uncovered a fifth-century mass grave: 47 small skeletons had been interred in layers, some pressed into large amphorae. A number of them were newborn babies. The deepest layer held only a corpse or two, but the higher levels were increasingly ...

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