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Bon Garçon

David Coward: La Fontaine’s fables, 7 February 2002

Complete Tales in Verse 
by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Guido Waldman.
Carcanet, 334 pp., £14.95, October 2000, 9781857544824
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The Fables of La Fontaine: Wisdom Brought down to Earth 
by Andrew Calder.
Droz, 234 pp., £36.95, September 2001, 2 600 00464 5
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The Craft of La Fontaine 
by Maya Slater.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 255 pp., $43.50, May 2001, 0 8386 3920 8
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... to Paris, studied law perfunctorily and joined a group of young writers determined to make their mark. Dazzling no one but well-liked, he wore dashing white boots, ran through the money his mother left him and embarked on a scandalous affair with a married woman. In 1647, judging it was time he settled down, his father found him a wife, Marie Héricart. She ...

If they’re ill, charge them extra

James Meek: Flamingo Plucking, 21 March 2002

Salt: A World History 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 452 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 0 224 06084 8
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Salt: Grain of Life 
by Pierre Laszlo, translated by Mary Beth Mader.
Columbia, 220 pp., £15.95, July 2001, 0 231 12198 9
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... few decades ago. The island’s trees were cut down for the salt works, and the land has dried up. Mark Kurlansky, who went there, describes meeting elderly salt veterans, Belongers, who recall that with wages of a shilling and sixpence a day for hard labour shifting salt sacks, and with no alternative employment, they might as well have been slaves. It’s ...

Cartwheels over Broken Glass

Andrew O’Hagan: Worshipping Morrissey, 4 March 2004

Saint Morrissey 
by Mark Simpson.
SAF, 224 pp., £16.99, December 2003, 0 946719 65 9
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The Smiths: Songs that Saved Your Life 
by Simon Goddard.
Reynolds/Hearn, 272 pp., £14.99, December 2002, 1 903111 47 1
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... of betrayal keeping constant guard over their earnestness. The author of Saint Morrissey, Mark Simpson, is an über-admirer in this style, and it follows, quite naturally, that he is also a writer with disciples of his own, having been described in reviews of his previous books as a ‘beauhunk’, ‘the gay antichrist’, and ‘the male gay Camille ...

A Win for the Gentlemen

Paul Smith, 9 September 1993

Entrepreneurial Politics in Mid-Victorian Britain 
by G.R. Searle.
Oxford, 346 pp., £40, March 1993, 0 19 820357 8
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... that teachers would always skive if they saw a chance. His remedy was to keep them up to the mark by ‘hope and fear’, and the means of enforcing this felicific calculus was to pay schools for results ascertained by tests. The great engine of quality control currently clumping in clumsy pattens across all sectors of the British educational system is ...

Vermin Correspondence

Iain Sinclair, 20 October 1994

Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play 
by Ben Watson.
Quartet, 597 pp., £25, May 1994, 0 7043 7066 2
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Her Weasels Wild Returning 
by J.H. Prynne.
Equipage, 12 pp., £2, May 1994
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... rhetoric for unsound doctrine. Anathemas are pronounced with quarrelsome tenderness. Rogue cadres peel away to check out the alternative festival, the real action, the underground’s underground. An insider would have a sharper take on this scene. The Leeds-based poet, who operates as ‘Out to Lunch’, with long experience of these binges behind ...

Something for Theresa May to think about

John Barrell: The Bow Street Runners, 7 June 2012

The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 
by J.M. Beattie.
Oxford, 272 pp., £65, February 2012, 978 0 19 969516 4
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... be ‘improper to leave them out in any modern play’. They were generally believed honest, one mark of which may have been that, as Beattie calculates, between 1770 and 1790, of prosecutions where the runners gave evidence 79 per cent ended in a guilty verdict; the figure fell to 59 per cent where they did not. Fielding would have liked to run a force ...

Lord Cupid proves himself

David Cannadine, 21 October 1982

Palmerston: The Early Years, 1784-1841 
by Kenneth Bourne.
Allen Lane, 749 pp., £25, August 1982, 0 7139 1083 6
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... lacking its third act); Lady Longford’s Wellington (her pen as mighty as his sword); Gash’s Peel (a peerless study of a baronet); Lord David Cecil’s Melbourne (one patrician beguilingly evoking another); Blake’s Disraeli (champagne and epigrams all the way); and Marquand’s MacDonald (Fame is the spur stood on its head). But many prime ministers ...

Bigger Peaches

Rosemary Hill: Haydon, 22 February 2001

The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817 
by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.
Viking, 336 pp., £15.99, September 2000, 0 670 87999 1
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... troubled. At the time of the dinner, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstein: its publication would mark the moment in fiction when the myth of man-created life passed for the first time from the artist’s studio to the laboratory, never to return. ‘There is a March of Science,’ Lamb wrote, ‘but who shall beat the drums for its retreat?’ Yet ...


Marc Kusnetz: The death of General Mowhoush, 23 February 2006

... and thirty minutes into the interrogation, the general became unresponsive, prompting Welshofer to peel back the sleeping bag. The general, Welshofer said, had a half-smile on his face. He thought Mowhoush was ‘messing’ with him, and he poured water on his face. Mowhoush remained unresponsive. Welshofer, by now realising that something had gone ...

Metropolitan Miscreants

Matthew Bevis: Victorian Bloomsbury, 4 July 2013

Victorian Bloomsbury 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Yale, 380 pp., £25, July 2012, 978 0 300 15447 4
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Metropolitan Art and Literature, 1810-40: Cockney Adventures 
by Gregory Dart.
Cambridge, 297 pp., £55, July 2012, 978 1 107 02492 2
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... London: ‘The comers and goers face to face,/Face after face’. Blake’s Londoner can only ‘mark in every face I meet/Marks of weakness, marks of woe’. In The City of Dreadful Night, James Thomson’s narrator prowls ‘lonely streets/Where one may count up every face he meets’. This is what the metropolitan insomniac does instead of counting ...

‘Just get us out’

Ferdinand Mount, 21 March 2019

... more. The oomph had long gone out of them after the Catholic Emancipation Acts of Wellington and Peel, and Gladstone’s Ecclesiastical Titles Act of 1871, which allowed the pope to hire and fire his English bishops and give their dioceses English placenames. Richard II’s prime aim in the Great Praemunire Statute of 1392 was to prevent the pope and his ...

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow, 4 June 2020

Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick 
by Richard J. King.
Chicago, 430 pp., £23, November 2019, 978 0 226 51496 3
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Complete Poems 
by Herman Melville, edited by Hershel Parker.
Library of America, 990 pp., £37.99, August 2019, 978 1 59853 618 8
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... a surging sea while hurling your weapon at the right spot to kill a whale, the power required to peel the blubber in strips from the body of a whale without making your ship capsize, the care required to run a furnace on a wooden ship without turning the whole structure into a flaming hell. The perspective of Moby-Dick is profoundly anthropocentric, and its ...

Rubbing along in the neo-liberal way

R.W. Johnson, 22 June 1995

... Many within this group will stay loyal to the ANC in almost any circumstances, and those who peel off are likely either to support de Klerk or to become apathetic. The same polls show that the vast majority of blacks are delighted to have peace and reconciliation, don’t want a redistribution of wealth if it means confrontation, and are profoundly ...

His Own Prophet

Michael Hofmann: Read Robert Lowell!, 11 September 2003

Collected Poems 
by Robert Lowell, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
Faber, 1186 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 571 16340 8
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... It is as though heat had been applied to the language (calefaction?), and made – in Mark Rudman’s phrase – ‘fused images’. Lines from Lowell’s Leopardi suggest themselves by way of confirmation: ‘I could forget/the fascinating studies in my bolted room,/where my life was burning out,/and the heat/of my writings made the letters ...

Robin Hood in a Time of Austerity

James Meek, 18 February 2016

... former serfs had acquired of moving from place to place in search of a better life. Robert Peel’s introduction of Britain’s first peacetime income tax in 1842 – just under 3 per cent on incomes above £150 a year – was, in retrospect, a breakthrough, if not one the protest movements of the era had demanded. For ...

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