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John Bayley, 9 September 1993

The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... espionage worlds, and subsequently in business journalism. Unlike Fleming’s previous biographer John Pearson, Donald McCormick makes no attempt to psychologise his subject – or to reproduce the fluency which made Pearson’s book read as easily as a James Bond thriller. His justification is to produce, among much that is already familiar, some new ...

Such a Husband

John Bayley, 4 September 1997

Selected Letters of George Meredith 
edited by Mohammad Shaheen.
Macmillan, 312 pp., £47.50, April 1997, 0 333 56349 2
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... her best to mend her father’s shaky finances, writing on his behalf to Byron’s old friend Sir John Hobhouse, and almost, if not quite, soliciting him for a handout. She was close to her father, probably much closer than she ever was to either of her husbands, or to the lover who succeeded them. Her marriage to Meredith went wrong almost from the start, as ...

Come along, Alcibiades

John Bayley, 25 January 1996

Terence Rattigan: A Biography 
by Geoffrey Wansell.
Fourth Estate, 428 pp., £20, October 1995, 1 85702 201 7
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... she wouldn’t be at all disturbed or shocked. The fundamental part of his appeal, as the critic John Barber observed, ‘was both to mirror and to indulge the middle-class fear of sex’. Rattigan’s own father – their relations form another subtext in most of the plays – was a famous roué who had been eased out of the Foreign Office for ...

Clean Poetry

John Bayley, 18 August 1983

Collected Poems 1970-1983 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 172 pp., £5.95, May 1983, 0 85635 462 7
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... shires of Hardy and Betjeman – there was also the bright American world of the New Criticism, John Crowe Ransom, I.A. Richards, Allen Tate, and young up-and-coming members like Randall Jarrell, a world in which the academic and the poet were entering together a new world of feeling and technique, joining tradition and novelty. Bliss was it in that dawn ...


John Bayley, 4 April 1985

With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald 
by Robert Bernard Martin.
Faber, 313 pp., £17.50, February 1985, 0 571 13462 9
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... Its distance from FitzGerald can be nicely gauged now from the excellent literal translation by John Heath-Stubbs and Peter Avery. Yet Omar and FitzGerald have one important thing in common: they are both deadpan, using the form, however different its effect in Persian and English, to conceal as much as to reveal. As a 13th-century manual of Persian poetics ...

Pork Chops

John Bayley, 25 April 1991

Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life 
by Robert Bernard Martin.
HarperCollins, 448 pp., £18, April 1991, 0 00 217662 9
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... and revered Newman, who had, as Martin reminds us, intenser emotions about other men, Ambrose St John in particular, ‘than are usually considered normal’. Martin also gives an enchanting quote from Newman’s novel Loss and Gain, which somehow encapsulates the whole curious and colourful world of Victorian Oxford’s High Church friendships and ...


John Bayley, 7 August 1986

No, I’m not afraid 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by David McDuff.
Bloodaxe, 142 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 906427 95 9
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Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time 
by Martin Gilbert.
Macmillan, 467 pp., £14.95, April 1986, 0 333 39504 2
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The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History 
by Jane Ellis.
Croom Helm, 531 pp., £27.50, April 1986, 0 7099 1567 5
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... the same thing does not happen again. One of Ratushinskaya’s poems describes a dream in which John the Baptist appears in the Gulag, filthy and ragged, and is succoured by one of the female inmates before he gets ready to fly away. She longs for a miracle, to see her daughter, and begs him to perform it. But he is silent, weeping, and she wakes up from a ...


John Bayley, 4 June 1987

The Faber Book of Diaries 
edited by Simon Brett.
Faber, 498 pp., £12.95, March 1987, 0 571 13806 3
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A Lasting Relationship: Parents and Children over Three Centuries 
by Linda Pollock.
Fourth Estate, 319 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 947795 25 1
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... Dorothy Wordsworth makes it clear whose eyes her own journal is for, after William and his brother John had left her in Trasmere, and set off to walk into Yorkshire, ‘cold pork in their pockets’: ‘I resolved to write a journal of the time till W and J return, and I set about keeping my resolve, because I will not quarrel with myself, and because I shall ...

Skinned alive

John Bayley, 25 June 1987

Collected Poems 
by George Barker, edited by Robert Fraser.
Faber, 838 pp., £27.50, May 1987, 0 571 13972 8
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By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept 
by Elizabeth Smart, introduced by Brigid Brophy.
Grafton, 126 pp., £2.50, July 1987, 0 586 02083 7
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... exactly proper to an important occasion. Nearly forty years later he was writing on the suicide of John Berryman with just the same suitability. I have heard the sigh Of Berryman as he Exhaled his everlast- ing breath and leaped out- ward and down. That sigh hangs in the air I breathe for ever and will hang. Fellow bards with connoisseurship will admire the ...

In praise of Brigid Brophy

John Bayley, 5 March 1987

Baroque ’n’ Roll 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 172 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 241 12037 3
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... Dickens – who can tell what the unconscious of that great novelist may have got up to? – made John Jasper more in love with Edwin than he is with Rosa. I also much enjoyed the essay on Lady Morgan, known as ‘Glorvina’ and author of The Wild Irish Girl (the title is ironic – the girl was an animated and cultivated bluestocking), and its guess that ...

Bare feet and a root of fennel

John Bayley, 11 June 1992

Strong Representations: Narrative and Circumstantial Evidence in England 
by Alexander Welsh.
Johns Hopkins, 262 pp., £21.50, April 1992, 0 8018 4271 9
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... critics, like Maurice Morgann in 1777 with his Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff. A cheerful legally-minded diplomatist and civil servant, Morgann did what I suppose no good judge or defence counsel should do: he first fell for the plaintiff – fell virtually in love with him indeed – and then undertook to defend him in court ...

Godmother of the Salmon

John Bayley, 9 July 1992

‘Rain-Charm for the Duchy’ and other Laureate Poems 
by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 64 pp., £12.99, June 1992, 0 571 16605 9
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... follow. Even Day-Lewis was not wholly exempt from it when he received the laurels. His predecessor John Masefield had his merits, but writing good verse for occasions was not one of them. Indeed there is an interesting resemblance between the ghastly good taste of the modern tombstone – in chaste Cotswold or slate with a brief restrained inscription – and ...

Just off Lexham Gardens

John Bayley, 9 January 1992

Through a Glass Darkly: The life of Patrick Hamilton 
by Nigel Jones.
Scribner, 408 pp., £18.95, December 1991, 0 356 19701 8
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... whereas Corvo or Lowry, Hamilton or Conrad Aitken, and maybe poets like Dylan Thomas and John Berryman of more recent date, are celebrated inside their own time-warp, relished as creatures of their epoch. A disillusioned devotee is the worst that can happen to them; and although I enjoyed rereading Twenty Thousand Streets and reviewing it in these ...

Gisgo and his Enemies

John Bayley, 13 February 1992

The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo 
by Russell Weigley.
Indiana, 608 pp., £22.50, June 1991, 0 253 36380 2
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... one man more than any other put an end to late 17th-century stalemate. ‘Lieutenant-General Lord John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough, resolved to change all that. In military history, unlike most other branches of history, the individual who by his own will and accomplishments alters the course of events still strides across the record.’ Tolstoy would have ...


John Bayley, 25 February 1993

A History of Food 
by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, translated by Anthea Bell.
Blackwell, 801 pp., £25, December 1992, 0 631 17741 8
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... eat. How many of us who know that milk is pasteurised have also heard of the ingenious Irishman, John Tyndall, who in the 1870s discovered that mother bacteria are destroyed by heating food or milk, but that their offspring survive? These sturdy youngsters have had their powers of resistance much reduced, however, so that they succumb to an ensuing bout of ...

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