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Dialectical Satire

Paul Edwards, 18 September 1986

The Madhouse 
by Alexander Zinoviev, translated by Michael Kirkwood.
Gollancz, 411 pp., £12.95, July 1986, 9780575037304
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by Nicholas Mosley.
Secker, 298 pp., £11.95, August 1986, 0 436 28853 2
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Missing Persons 
by David Cook.
Alison Press/Secker, 184 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 436 10675 2
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Only by Mistake 
by P.J. Kavanagh.
Calder, 158 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 7145 4084 6
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... recurrence of half-lit fires smouldering in the hearth – that 19th-century incubator of domestic bliss. Edith, one of the book’s least lively and most pathetic characters – in her seventies and disfigured by unwanted hair – reaches a state of grace that is the negation of all that has encumbered her. That moment has magic because the predominant mood ...

The Man without Predicates

Michael Wood: Goethe, 20 July 2000

Goethe: The Poet and the Age. Volume II: Revolution and Reunciation, 1790-1803 
by Nicholas Boyle.
Oxford, 964 pp., £30, February 2000, 0 19 815869 6
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Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy 
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by John Williams.
Wordsworth, 226 pp., £2.99, November 1999, 1 84022 115 1
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... aid to unfulfilment: But now I see that we can never know Perfection here on earth. For with this bliss That brings me ever closer to the gods, You gave me that cold and insolent companion From whom I can no longer free myself, Who makes me feel my shame and my disgrace, And turns your gifts to dross with every breath. He fans the flames that burn within my ...

The vanquished party, as likely as not innocent, was dragged half-dead to the gallows

Alexander Murray: Huizinga’s history of the Middle Ages, 19 March 1998

The Autumn of the Middle Ages 
by John Huizinga, translated by Rodney Payton.
Chicago, 560 pp., £15.95, December 1997, 0 226 35994 8
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... Old and New Testament episodes? Art historians will wish to add their own footnotes. According to Michael Baxandall, for instance, what Huizinga calls a 15th-century painter’s horror vacui may simply have reflected the horror of a patron at getting less than his money’s worth, and therefore insisting on crowding a tableau with figures, paid for per ...

Always the Bridesmaid

Terry Castle: Sappho, 30 September 1999

Victorian Sappho 
by Yopie Prins.
Princeton, 278 pp., £40, May 1999, 0 691 05918 7
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... more spectacular instances of 19th-century Sapphic impersonation. First is the strange case of ‘Michael Field’: a pair of homosexual female lovers, aunt and niece, whose jointly-authored, Sapphically-inspired verses in Long Ago (1889) set the stage for later lesbian appropriations of the poet. Second up is Swinburne, whose outrageously sado-masochistic ...

Name the days

Marina Warner: Holy Spirits, 4 February 2021

Angels & Saints 
by Eliot Weinberger.
Norton, 159 pp., £21.99, September 2020, 978 0 8112 2986 9
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... bodyguard of the Emperor Nero, and martyred after he was converted to Christianity by St Paul). St Michael is the best-known archangel, and in his role as destroyer of devils is often portrayed in a terrific suit of armour. He is the patron saint of soldiers and police; his shrine on Monte Gargano in southern Italy remembers his support for the Normans as they ...

You have £2000, I have a kidney

Glen Newey: Morals and Markets, 21 June 2012

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets 
by Michael Sandel.
Allen Lane, 244 pp., £20, April 2012, 978 1 84614 471 4
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How Much Is Enough?: The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life 
by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky.
Allen Lane, 256 pp., £20, June 2012, 978 1 84614 448 6
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... Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy does for the market what the London Dungeon does for urban history. It’s a compendium of horror stories arising from what one might call the ryanairation of social life, the breakdown of once cash-free practices into severally billable units of account. Capitol Hill lobbying outfits now pay queuing firms to stand in line, sometimes overnight, so that the lobbyists can step in just before a committee session starts; ‘concierge’ medical companies offer queue-jumping treatment to those willing to stump up the fees ...

Vlad the Impaler

Inga Clendinnen: Hairy Humbert, 10 August 2000

Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings 
edited by Brian Boyd and Michael Pyle.
Allen Lane, 783 pp., £25, March 2000, 0 7139 9380 4
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Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius 
by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates.
Zoland, 372 pp., £18, October 1999, 1 58195 009 8
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... every one of these activities demanding the intensity of consciousness that Nabokov recognised as bliss. He offers oblique confirmation in one piece which might possibly justify the whole Boyd/Pyle compilation: a 52-page ‘second addendum’ to The Gift, written in 1939, which Nabokov chose to leave unpublished, now deciphered and translated by his son. It ...

One word says to its mate

Claire Harman: W.S. Graham, 4 October 2001

The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters of W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Snow and Margaret Snow.
Carcanet, 401 pp., £12.95, November 1999, 1 85754 445 5
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... him a sizable audience. The Nightfisherman, a selection of Graham’s letters by his friends Michael and Margaret Snow, with 19 poems, photographs, drawings and his essay ‘Notes on a Poetry of Release’, is the most useful and revealing book on the poet yet published and sets out the clearest record of his life. Graham was born into a blue-collar ...

Romantic Ireland

Denis Donoghue, 4 February 1982

The Collected Stories of Sean O’Faolain: Vols I and II 
Constable, 445 pp., £8.50, October 1980, 0 00 946330 5Show More
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... the dawn of Easter Week, 1916, some youngsters, including O’Faolain, probably felt that it was bliss to be alive, even though Eoin MacNeill was countermanding Pearse’s orders and a revolution was dwindling into a revolt. Still, when Republicans were roaming through Cork and Tipperary shooting at the Black and Tans, it was possible to feel heroic. But it ...


Lorna Sage: Henry Green, 25 January 2001

Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green 
by Jeremy Treglown.
Faber, 340 pp., £25, September 2000, 0 571 16898 1
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... thing about the writing here is that it’s not voyeuristic, but one of those moments of (textual) bliss when Green seems to lose himself – his gender, his class, his authorial voice – in his characters. ‘It’s only your old uniform . . .’ He longs to be ‘demobbed’, liberated into a state of indeterminacy and ambiguity. Not that it’s possible ...

Be flippant

David Edgar: Noël Coward’s Return, 9 December 1999

1956 and All That 
by Dan Reballato.
Routledge, 265 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 415 18938 1
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Collected Plays: Six 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 415 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Plays: Seven 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 381 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Revue Sketches and Parodies 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 282 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73390 4
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Noël Coward: A Life in Quotes 
edited by Barry Day.
Metro, 116 pp., £9.99, November 1999, 9781900512848
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Noël Coward: The Complete Lyrics 
Methuen, 352 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 413 73230 4Show More
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... was based on an underestimation of his seriousness: according to the present-day Guardian critic Michael Billington, Coward’s exploration of ‘the thin dividing line between sex and savagery’ in Private Lives puts him on a par with Strindberg. A rather different reassessment is provided by Dan Rebellato, whose revisionist deconstruction of the Osborne ...


Max Hastings: Letters from the Front, 10 September 2015

... for three years as an infantry officer in France. In 1975 he was moved to write to the historian Michael Howard by exasperation with Paul Fussell’s newly published The Great War and Modern Memory. Fussell, an American critic and veteran of World War Two, suggested that what had happened to those who fought in France was so uniquely dreadful that it defied ...

When Medicine Failed

Barbara Newman: Saints, 7 May 2015

Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation 
by Robert Bartlett.
Princeton, 787 pp., £27.95, December 2013, 978 0 691 15913 3
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... purposes, saints were grouped in hierarchical choirs. After the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Michael and the apostles, the most prestigious were martyrs, followed by confessors (such as doctors of the Church, bishops, hermits and monks) and, in a special category, virgins. Curiously, Byzantium and Venice revered Old Testament saints, such as Job and the ...


Nicholas Spice, 6 July 1995

Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music 
by Michael Chanan.
Verso, 204 pp., £39.95, May 1995, 1 85984 012 4
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Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak Easy Listening and other Moodsong 
by Joseph Lanza.
Quartet, 280 pp., £10, January 1995, 0 7043 0226 8
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... of human activity and contact, silting up in vast unchartable archives. In Repeated Takes, Michael Chanan has written a concise history of the technology that has wrought this change and the commercial and creative forces that have shaped it. His account is elegant and impressively well-informed. He ranges across the entire technical field, from ...

I am Prince Mishkin

Mark Ford, 23 April 1987

‘Howl’: Original Draft Facsimile 
by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Barry Miles.
Viking, 194 pp., £16.95, February 1987, 0 670 81599 3
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White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 89 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 81598 5
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... and a voice. The first reading took place at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on 7 October 1955. Michael McClure who also read that night along with Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Philip Lamantia, describes the poem’s impact in Scratching the Beat Surface (1982): I hadn’t seen Allen in a few weeks and I had not heard Howl – it was new to me. Allen ...

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