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Saints on Sundays, Devils All the Week After

Patrick Collinson: London Burnings, 19 September 2002

The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England 
by Peter Lake and Michael Questier.
Yale, 731 pp., £30, February 2002, 0 300 08884 1
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... Dryasdust has had his day and good riddance. Don’t be deceived by the slick subtitles, however. Peter Lake knows more than anyone else about the religious culture of the secondary and tertiary stages of the English Reformation. This is not only a book of dazzling brilliance and acute intelligence, it has many important things to say about the ...


Adam Mars-Jones, 21 September 1995

by Gordon Burn.
Secker, 231 pp., £14.99, August 1995, 0 436 20059 7
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... inhuman meaning in it, a cabalistic topographical pattern of the sort familiar from the novels of Peter Ackroyd or Iain Sinclair. She may be a husbandless housewife living in a rundown seaside resort, but she is no ordinary housewife from a seaside town. When Miller mentions his computer password, she immediately announces what hers would be if she had ...

Making Do and Mending

Rosemary Hill: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Letters, 25 September 2008

So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald 
edited by Terence Dooley.
Fourth Estate, 532 pp., £25, August 2008, 978 0 00 713640 7
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... she was mistaken, but not that the biographer of Dickens with ‘no sense of humour whatever’ is Peter Ackroyd or that the German epigraph is by Wilhelm Müller or that Arcadia is a play by Tom Stoppard. Patric Dickinson, Felicity Ashbee and David Cecil are among the dozens of names who pass by unnoted and still more are missing from the index. How ...

Dazed and Confused

Paul Laity: Are the English human?, 28 November 2002

Patriots: National Identity in Britain 1940-2000 
by Richard Weight.
Macmillan, 866 pp., £25, May 2002, 0 333 73462 9
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Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom 
by Tom Nairn.
Verso, 176 pp., £13, September 2002, 1 85984 657 2
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Identity of England 
by Robert Colls.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 19 924519 3
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Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, October 2002, 1 85619 716 6
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... wherever he found them’ – Harry Palmer ‘came to epitomise the decline of deference’. (Peter Hitchens, in contrast, uses the framework of national identity in The Abolition of Britain, published in 1999, to issue a diatribe against the ‘social revolution’ – the disappearance of restraint, family values and ‘much-mended leather ...

Nelly gets her due

John Sutherland, 8 November 1990

The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 317 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 670 82787 8
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The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant 
edited by Elisabeth Jay.
Oxford, 184 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 19 818615 0
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... research Claire Tomalin draws – concludes that Dickens visited Nelly for elocution lessons. Peter Ackroyd has put an only slightly less pure interpretation on the connection: Dickens and Nelly enjoyed (or suffered) a ‘sexless’ marriage, in which she played out the part of the idealised virgin bride. An opposite line which traces itself back to ...

His Friends Were Appalled

Deborah Friedell: Dickens, 5 January 2012

The Life of Charles Dickens 
by John Forster.
Cambridge, 1480 pp., £70, December 2011, 978 1 108 03934 5
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Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist 
by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.
Harvard, 389 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 674 05003 7
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Charles Dickens: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 527 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 670 91767 9
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... kindly paterfamilias with twinkling eyes – disintegrated; his friends were appalled. Slater and Peter Ackroyd, looking at the same letters and bills of fare, the same reminiscences of children and admirers, aren’t convinced Dickens ever slept with Nelly Ternan, but Tomalin’s Dickens is so virile (those ten children): of course he did. We know ...


Frank Kermode, 4 April 1996

Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 720 pp., £25, April 1996, 0 224 03026 4
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... and strangely interminable,’ having discovered that it was by no means a matter of one night, as Peter Ackroyd conjectured in his life of Eliot. It was also, to say the least, opportunistic; he professed to be having it in order to help the Eliots in a time of trouble, and as it ended he told Colette O’Neil, as it were with a complacent sigh, how much ...

The Opposite of a Dog

Jenny Turner, 6 October 1994

Radon Daughters 
by Iain Sinclair.
Cape, 458 pp., £15.99, August 1994, 0 224 03887 7
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... uncannily like one of those advent-calendar mobiles they used to make out of coat-hangers on Blue Peter. That’s how it goes with structures of occult significance. Phenomena which seem loaded with brooding horror by evening have a funny way of looking limp, harmless and rather foolish by the rising light of day. In one section of the novel – Book II to be ...

Hyacinth Boy

Mark Ford: T.S. Eliot, 21 September 2006

T.S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet 
by James E. Miller.
Pennsylvania State, 468 pp., £29.95, August 2005, 0 271 02681 2
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The Annotated ‘Waste Land’ with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose 
by T.S. Eliot, edited by Lawrence Rainey.
Yale, 270 pp., $35, April 2005, 0 300 09743 3
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Revisiting ‘The Waste Land’ 
by Lawrence Rainey.
Yale, 203 pp., £22.50, May 2005, 0 300 10707 2
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... Thirty years later, when Eliot’s prestige and influence were at their zenith, John Peter, a Canadian academic, published an article in Essays in Criticism called ‘A New Interpretation of The Waste Land’. Peter argued that the poem was at heart an elegy that might be compared to Tennyson’s In ...

Astral Projection

Alison Light: The Case of the Croydon Poltergeist, 17 December 2020

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 345 pp., £18.99, October, 978 1 4088 9545 0
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... if there was more supernatural activity in the late 1930s than at any other time? Poltergeists, as Peter Ackroyd tells us in The English Ghost, can be dated back to at least the 12th century, though they went by other names. The term poltergeist, from the German for a ‘noisy or merry ghost’, was certainly popularised in Britain in the 1920s and ...

Conrad and Prejudice

Craig Raine, 22 June 1989

Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1967-87 
by Chinua Achebe.
Heinemann, 130 pp., £10.95, January 1988, 0 435 91000 0
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... Dr Abse’s analogy is false. There are clear differences of degree in anti-semitism. Reviewing Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Eliot (LRB, Vol. 6, No 20), Professor Ricks began: ‘Peter Ackroyd has written a benign life of T.S. Eliot. Given the malignity visited on Eliot, this is a good deal.’ I ...

For his Nose was as sharpe as a Pen, and a Table of greene fields

Michael Dobson: The Yellow Shakespeare, 10 May 2007

William Shakespeare, Complete Works: The RSC Shakespeare 
edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.
Macmillan, 2486 pp., £30, April 2007, 978 0 230 00350 7
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... and small print and, though provided with new introductions in 1994 and supplementary essays by Peter Ackroyd and Germaine Greer thereafter, is still based on a text prepared by Peter Alexander in 1951. It is surely not a coincidence that the RSC is the same price as the hardbacks of the revised Oxford and the ...

Who was David Peterley?

Michael Holroyd, 15 November 1984

... This process has enriched our recent fiction – most remarkably, perhaps, the novels of Peter Ackroyd, D.M. Thomas, Beryl Bainbridge, Julian Barnes and Thomas Keneally, whose Schindler’s Ark was marketed in America (under a slightly different title) as non-fiction and in Britain as a novel. Writers of light fiction, too, have added to the ...

Unhappy Childhoods

John Sutherland, 2 February 1989

Trollope and Character 
by Stephen Wall.
Faber, 397 pp., £17.50, September 1988, 0 571 14595 7
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The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope 
by R.H. Super.
Michigan, 528 pp., $35, December 1988, 0 472 10102 1
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Dickens: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 607 pp., £17.95, November 1988, 0 340 48558 2
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Charlotte Brontë 
by Rebecca Fraser.
Methuen, 543 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 9780413570109
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... death ten years later effectively keep intruders like Edgar Johnson, Kaplan and the still-to-come Peter Ackroyd for ever out of the intimate recesses of his life. But in one respect Dickens, like Trollope, very invitingly opened a door for his future biographers by recording – in all its inwardness and sordid detail – his suffering at the blacking ...

Agamemnon, Smith and Thomson

Claude Rawson, 9 April 1992

Homer: The ‘Iliad’ 
translated by Robert Fagles.
Viking, 683 pp., £17.95, September 1990, 0 670 83510 2
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by Christopher Logue.
Faber, 86 pp., £4.99, March 1991, 0 571 16141 3
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... Patroclus. Yes, my darling. Not only God was out that day but Lord Apollo. It’s as though Peter Ackroyd were chronicling the capers of an order of warrior monks. Achilles bitches on about ‘Cuntstruck Agamemnon’, while the narrator refers to himself and his fellow soldiers as ‘we normals’. Gods and Trojans are similarly campy. Zeus refers ...

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