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White Man’s Heaven

Michael Wood, 7 February 1991

Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin 
by James Campbell.
Faber, 306 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 571 15391 7
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James Baldwin: Artist on Fire 
by W.J. Weatherby.
Joseph, 412 pp., £17.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3403 6
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... jobs to support his family. He entered the American literary world by doing book reviews for Randall Jarrell at the Nation and Saul Levitas at the New Leader; his first major piece was ‘The Harlem Ghetto’ for Commentary. He was working on a novel, which took years to find a publisher and its final shape; went to Paris in 1948 and stayed away for ...

Amor vincit Vinnie

Marilyn Butler, 21 February 1985

Foreign Affairs 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 291 pp., £8.95, January 1985, 0 7181 2516 9
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... would know not only early Lurie but Waugh and Powell, Bradbury and Lodge, Mary McCarthy and Randall Jarrell, and preferably also something of the American summer school, the TV comedy To the Manor Born, Private Eye and the Reading Room of the British Library. Literary transmission would be an intolerably snug coterie procedure if, as some used to ...

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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... a vocation in those days, not a profession. For Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Delmore Schwartz and Randall Jarrell, disciples of those exemplary teacher-critics John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, criticism was an essential component of a literary career. And for the critics, the obverse was true: Lionel Trilling wrote fiction, Harold Rosenberg wrote ...

Thinking without a Banister

James Miller, 19 October 1995

Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger 
by Elzbieta Ettinger.
Yale, 139 pp., £10.95, October 1995, 0 300 06407 1
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Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Uncollected and Unpublished Works 
by Hannah Arendt, edited by Jerome Kohn.
Harcourt Brace, 458 pp., $39.95, May 1994, 0 15 172817 8
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Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought 
by Margaret Canovan.
Cambridge, 298 pp., £12.95, September 1995, 0 521 47773 5
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Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 
edited by Carol Brightman.
Secker, 412 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 436 20251 4
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Hannah Arendt/Karl Jaspers: Correspondence, 1926-1969 
edited by Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner, translated by Robert and Rita Kimber.
Harcourt Brace, 821 pp., $49.95, November 1992, 0 15 107887 4
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... and the New York Review of Books. She established friendships with Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and W.H. Auden, who went so far as to propose marriage (she declined). Arendt has never inspired universal admiration, however. ‘She seems to me to be inaccurate in argument and to make a parade of learned allusion without any detailed ...

Magical Orange Grove

Anne Diebel: Lowell falls in love again, 11 August 2016

Robert Lowell in Love 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Massachusetts, 288 pp., £36.50, December 2015, 978 1 62534 186 0
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... Robert Lowell and His Circle (1987), examined Lowell’s friendships with Roethke, Berryman and Randall Jarrell, with an epilogue on Sylvia Plath. He observed that these four male poets ‘suffered from unmanly or absent fathers and from strong, seductive mothers’ and claimed that their unhappy childhoods ‘contributed to their emotional ...

I don’t even get bananas

Madeleine Schwartz: Christina Stead, 2 November 2017

The Man Who Loved Children 
by Christina Stead.
Apollo, 528 pp., £10, April 2016, 978 1 78497 148 9
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Letty Fox: Her Luck 
by Christina Stead.
Apollo, 592 pp., £14, May 2017, 978 1 78669 139 2
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... was a poste restante, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1947 … She is, as they say, not in the picture.’ Randall Jarrell tried to revive interest in Stead a few years later with a laudatory essay about The Man Who Loved Children (1940). Stead wrote to him: ‘It is quite the loveliest thing that ever happened to me in “my literary life”. That is only an ...

Short is sweet

Christopher Ricks, 3 February 1983

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs 
edited by J.A. Simpson.
Oxford, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 19 866131 2
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A World of Proverbs 
by Patricia Houghton.
Blandford, 152 pp., £5.95, September 1981, 0 7137 1114 0
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... In Beckett; in Dylan; in the poets who keep a sharp eye for the ephemeral: Auden and Larkin. And Randall Jarrell: ‘You can’t break eggs without making an omelette. That’s what they tell the eggs.’ ‘The old adage might well be applied in many cases. Every man for himself’ (D. Yancey, 1795). ‘The captain ... ordered the sailor to leave the ...

Use Use Use

Robert Baird: Robert Duncan’s Dream, 24 October 2013

Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus 
by Lisa Jarnot.
California, 509 pp., £27.95, August 2013, 978 0 520 23416 1
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... to expect as our literary-biographical due. We get the scene of Duncan’s righteous fury at Randall Jarrell, who insulted Edith Sitwell’s poetry and pudendum in a single spiteful breath; we watch him chase a speaker off a San Francisco stage for being too boring; and we hear of the time Elizabeth Bishop baked marijuana brownies to test his ...

Unhappy Families

Angela Carter, 16 September 1982

The Beauties and Furies 
by Christina Stead.
Virago, 329 pp., £3.95, July 1982, 0 86068 175 0
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... a mark of the feminine genius. As a result, because she writes as a woman, not like a woman, Randall Jarrell could say of The Man Who Loved Children (1940): ‘a male reader worries: “Ought I to be a man?” ’ Jarrell thought that The Man Who Loved Children was by far Stead’s best novel and believed its ...

Long Runs

Adam Phillips: A.E. Housman, 18 June 1998

The Poems of A.E. Housman 
edited by Archie Burnett.
Oxford, 580 pp., £80, December 1997, 0 19 812322 1
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The Invention of Love 
by Tom Stoppard.
Faber, 106 pp., £6.99, October 1997, 0 571 19271 8
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... the wrong kinds of conversation about his poetry. So when critics write about his poems – and Randall Jarrell, John Bayley and Christopher Ricks have all written wonderfully about Housman – they have to struggle not to unpick them; not to treat them as metaphysical poems masquerading as ballads and traditional lyrics. Making the case for ...

Lethal Pastoral

Paul Keegan: Housman’s Lethal Pastoral, 17 November 2016

Housman Country: Into the Heart of England 
by Peter Parker.
Little, Brown, 446 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 4087 0613 8
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... common-sense arguments along the lines of ‘I have yet to meet the man who has not …’ Randall Jarrell showed how the particularities of the poetry manage to secrete or imply a general truth. If A, then B. One of the words that works hardest in Housman’s poems is the definite article: The nettle nods, the wind blows over,     The man, he ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age, 21 June 2001

The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... the manuscript ‘The Golden Age: 1945-1950’. Peter chuckles at the title, recalling something Randall Jarrell had written: ‘how, in the most glorious of golden ages, there would always be someone complaining about how yellow everything looked’. In the coda, Peter and his creator return to this question (they have been brought together to tape a ...

Snap among the Witherlings

Michael Hofmann: Wallace Stevens, 22 September 2016

The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens 
by Paul Mariani.
Simon and Schuster, 512 pp., £23, May 2016, 978 1 4516 2437 3
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... the most beguiling locations. ‘There has never been a travel poster like Harmonium,’ Randall Jarrell said; ‘He mutter spiffy,’ John Berryman (or Henry) wrote approvingly in The Dream Songs. But Stevens lived in the North even as he wrote raptly and rapturously about the South; while writing colourful poems he made his living writing ...

A Great Big Silly Goose

Seamus Perry: Characteristically Spenderish, 21 May 2020

Poems Written Abroad: The Lilly Library Manuscript 
by Stephen Spender.
Indiana, 112 pp., £27.99, July 2019, 978 0 253 04167 8
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... who were truly great” should ever have been greeted with anything but helpless embarrassment,’ Randall Jarrell wrote, ‘makes me ashamed of the planet upon which I dwell,’ and you see why the line disgusted a generation that valued irony and understatement. Robert Lowell told Spender that the line should be ‘I would think continually of those who ...

Waiting for the Poetry

Ange Mlinko: Was Adrienne Rich a poet?, 15 July 2021

The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography 
by Hilary Holladay.
Doubleday, 416 pp., £25, November 2020, 978 0 385 54150 3
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Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution 
by Adrienne Rich.
Norton, 345 pp., £13.99, May, 978 0 393 54142 7
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... poems as ‘neatly and modestly dressed’; reviewing her second book, The Diamond Cutters (1955), Randall Jarrell called her a ‘princess in a fairy tale’. This period provides the foil to what came later – Rich’s radicalisation – and thus serves the larger allegory of her life: the princess wakes up and spits out the poisoned apple, the ...

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