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In real sound stupidity the English are unrivalled

Stefan Collini: ‘Cosmo’ for Capitalists, 6 February 2020

Liberalism at Large: The World According to the ‘Economist’ 
by Alexander Zevin.
Verso, 538 pp., £25, November 2019, 978 1 78168 624 9
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... leaders, Richard Cobden and John Bright, gave encouragement to a proposal by a young Scotsman, James Wilson, to set up a weekly newspaper that would argue for the cause of free trade. But Wilson had no intention of being a mouthpiece for the Anti-Corn Law League, insisting that his paper should be an independent ...

Raven’s Odyssey

D.A.N. Jones, 19 July 1984

Swallow 
by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 312 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 0 575 03446 7
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First Among Equals 
by Jeffrey Archer.
Hodder, 446 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 340 35266 3
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Morning Star 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 264 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 9780856341380
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... to do with the real-life Peter Morrison MP but was inspired by boyhood memories of the real-life James Prior. The fictional ‘Peter Morrison MP’ reappears in Morning Star, the first volume of Raven’s new novel sequence, but now he seems nothing like James Prior MP. We are more likely to think of ...

Subversions

R.W. Johnson, 4 June 1987

Traitors: The Labyrinths of Treason 
by Chapman Pincher.
Sidgwick, 346 pp., £13.95, May 1987, 0 283 99379 0
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The Secrets of the Service: British Intelligence and Communist Subversion 1939-51 
by Anthony Glees.
Cape, 447 pp., £18, May 1987, 0 224 02252 0
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Freedom of Information – Freedom of the Individual? 
by Clive Ponting, John Ranelagh, Michael Zander and Simon Lee, edited by Julia Neuberger.
Macmillan, 110 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 333 44771 9
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... by George Brown to get MI5 to spy on their left-wing opponents within the Party in 1961, and Wilson’s use of MI5 against the seamen’s strike in 1966. Meanwhile the successive defections of Maclean, Burgess and Philby not only created an atmosphere of hysterical anti-Communist mole-hunting within the service but led to American threats to withdraw ...

Send them to Eton!

Linda Colley, 19 August 1993

The End of the House of Windsor: Birth of a British Republic 
by Stephen Haseler.
Tauris, 208 pp., £14.95, June 1993, 1 85043 735 1
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The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 211 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 1 85619 354 3
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Royal Throne: The Future of the Monarchy 
by Elizabeth Longford.
Hodder, 189 pp., £16.99, April 1993, 0 340 58587 0
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Diana v. Charles 
by James Whitaker.
Signet, 237 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 670 85245 7
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The Tarnished Crown 
by Anthony Holden.
Bantam, 400 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 0 593 02472 9
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Inheritance: A Psychological History of the Royal Family 
by Dennis Friedman.
Sidgwick, 212 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 283 06124 3
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Raine and Johnnie: The Spencers and the Scandal of Althorp 
by Angela Levin.
Weidenfeld, 297 pp., £17.99, July 1993, 0 297 81325 0
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... may not). Even worse, as far as the present Queen is concerned, most Britons don’t care. As A.N. Wilson cruelly remarks, ‘it is possible that the Queen is the only person in the British Isles who is interested in the British Commonwealth. Most of her subjects have some difficulty in remembering what, exactly, it is.’ Britons are therefore conspicuously ...

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 ...

About Myself

Liam McIlvanney: James Hogg, 18 November 2004

The Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg 
by Karl Miller.
Faber, 401 pp., £25, August 2003, 0 571 21816 4
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Altrive Tales 
by James Hogg, edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 293 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 7486 1893 7
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... On a winter’s evening in 1803, James Hogg turned up for dinner at the home of Walter Scott. The man his host liked to call ‘the honest grunter’ was shown into the drawing-room, where a pregnant Mrs Scott was resting on a sofa. Unsure of the protocol in these toney surroundings, and deciding to take his cue from the hostess, Hogg flopped onto an adjoining sofa, smirching the chintz with his dung-spattered boots ...

Renaissance

Patricia Craig, 2 March 1989

Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival: A Changling Art 
by John Wilson Foster.
Gill and Macmillan, 407 pp., £30, November 1987, 0 8156 2374 7
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... cracked, does not tell the truth’ – and the resulting distortions are, in a sense, John Wilson Foster’s subject in his impressive new scrutiny of the revival era (roughly the period between 1890 and the early 1930s). The word ‘fictions’ in Foster’s title denotes both fictional themes and concomitant misbeliefs: for example, about the ...

Boudoir Politics

Bee Wilson: Lola Montez, 7 June 2007

Lola Montez: Her Life and Conquests 
by James Morton.
Portrait, 390 pp., £20, January 2007, 978 0 7499 5115 3
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... depending on ‘both the quality or otherwise of the audience and Lola’s mood each night’, as James Morton writes in his entertaining biography. And sometimes ‘it depended on what money was thrown on stage.’ More or fewer parts of Lola’s body might be exposed during the dance, which was in two parts. In the first, she played the spider, spinning its ...

I fret and fret

Adam Phillips: Edward Thomas, 5 November 2015

Edward Thomas: From Adelstrop to Arras 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 480 pp., £25, May 2015, 978 1 4081 8713 5
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... It was, though, a darkness and the blessing was faint. ‘From an early age’, Jean Moorcroft Wilson writes, Thomas ‘felt cursed by a self-consciousness he believed the chief cause of his later problems and depression’. It made him at once shy and withdrawn but also equivocal in his writing, careful to qualify what he said, and wary of ...

Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... is: who reads these books and what purpose do they serve? I can imagine looking up a name in James Hart’s fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to American Literature. Updated to include ‘authors not yet born when this book was first begun’, it offers abbreviated commentaries on such newly arrived figures on the scene as Diane Wakoski ...

The point of it all

Asa Briggs, 25 April 1991

The Pencil: A History 
by Henry Petroski.
Faber, 434 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 16182 0
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... its fullest sense is the idea conveyed in the respective words Paper, Pen and Ink?’ asked George Wilson, a future Regius Professor of Technology at Edinburgh University. The subtitle of his article, ‘Paper, Pen and Ink’, published in Macmillans Magazine in 1859, was ‘an excursus in technology’, and he went on to survey all kinds of pens including, by ...

Under Witchwood

Adam Thorpe, 10 September 1992

Power of the Witch: A Witch’s Guide to her Craft 
by Laurie Cabot, with Tom Cowan.
Arkana/Penguin, 294 pp., June 1992, 0 14 019368 5
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Malefice 
by Leslie Wilson.
Picador, 168 pp., £15.99, August 1992, 0 330 32427 6
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... of Salem, keen to add her faith to the long list of politically correct minority causes. Leslie Wilson’s second novel, Malefice, uses historical imagination in plenty and keeps a skilful balance between propaganda and reality. The word ‘witch’ quivers throughout with its instabilities: a spit or an admiring sigh, a fatal taunt or a proud ...

Opera Mundi

Michael Neve, 1 December 1983

Out of Order 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 86051 190 1
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Frank Johnson’s Election Year 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 192 pp., £6.95, October 1983, 0 86051 254 1
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Enthusiasms 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 264 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 224 02114 1
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Poem of the Year 
by Clive James.
Cape, 79 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 224 02961 4
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The Original Michael Frayn 
by Michael Frayn.
Salamander, 203 pp., £8.50, October 1983, 0 907540 32 5
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... the cruddy world of politics and sees hilarity in its tiny events. He knows his subjects (‘James Callaghan, the Harold Wilson of politics’). He knows that Mr Healey is clever, and will therefore lose the argument. And he reminds us that Mr Heseltine is ‘a blonde’. Johnson quotes his namesake, the good ...

The Education of Philip French

Marilyn Butler, 16 October 1980

Three Honest Men: Edmund Wilson, F.R. Leavis, Lionel Trilling 
edited by Philip French.
Carcanet, 120 pp., £6.95, July 1980, 0 85635 299 3
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F.R. Leavis 
by William Walsh.
Chatto, 189 pp., £8.95, September 1980, 0 7011 2503 9
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... For Philip French, at a Bristol grammar school in the 1950s, the enlighteners were Edmund Wilson, F.R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling. For me, at a Wimbledon grammar school in the 1950s, Bertrand Russell filled the slot on his own, largely because his History of Western Philosophy was so long. But by the end of my first year at university I had ...

Lucky’s Dip

James Fox, 12 November 1987

Trail of Havoc: In the Steps of Lord Lucan 
by Patrick Marnham.
Viking, 204 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 670 81391 5
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Lucan: Not Guilty 
by Sally Moore.
Sidgwick, 271 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 9780283995361
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... Goldsmith from January 1976 to May 1977. The Eye had been investigating possible links between Wilson and the KGB, using material leaked to them by MI5 – the first evidence of that MI5 subversion of the Wilson Government dealt with by famous Peter Wright. Lady Falkender and ...

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