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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Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Uncollected and Unpublished Works 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

My Heart on a Stick

Michael Robbins: The Poems of Frederick Seidel, 6 August 2009

Poems 1959-2009 
by Frederick Seidel.
Farrar, Straus, 509 pp., $40, March 2009, 978 0 374 12655 1
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... published by Random House, is laboriously indebted to Lowell, though the poems often resemble what Randall Jarrell described as the ‘academic and clumsy’ lines of ‘The Mills of the Kavanaughs’ rather than the febrile inventiveness of Life Studies or History. The best of the work is competent and even beautiful, but in light of the corpse paint to ...

Phut-Phut

James Wood: The ‘TLS’, 27 June 2002

Critical Times: The History of the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ 
by Derwent May.
HarperCollins, 606 pp., £25, November 2001, 0 00 711449 4
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... any work of literature; it can only hinder or chivvy the institutional success of a work of art. Randall Jarrell used to say that the critic’s duty was to be ‘right’; he liked rhetorically to wonder how many of us would have recognised Moby-Dick’s greatness in 1851. But there is no evidence that the weather of reviewing affects the climate of ...

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 ...
... times in the last thirty years, the era of the ‘post-modern’, most famously in a 1955 essay by Randall Jarrell called ‘The Age of Criticism’. Jarrell noticed that the typical literary quarterly in the Fifties had ‘two and a half pages of poems, 11 of a story and 134 of criticism’. He also traced the three ...

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 ...

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 ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters, 24 January 2013

Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... much. All the while, host Bill Styron looking a bit subdued as usual these days; we talked about Randall Jarrell’s possible suicide, Bill’s own depression. And I talked to him about William James’s own breakdown and his resuscitation through faith. What in hell am I doing with all these theatre types? Alfred Kazin’s journals, 26 December 1986 ...

A Dream in the Presence of Reason

Clive James, 15 October 1981

L’opera in versi 
by Eugenio Montale, edited by Rosanna Bettarini and Gianfranco Contini.
Einaudi, 1225 pp., £26.15
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Xenia and Motets 
by Eugenio Montale, translated by Kate Hughes.
Agenda, 45 pp., £3, December 1980, 0 902400 25 8
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The Man I Pretend to Be: The Colloquies and Selected Poems of Guido Gozzano 
edited by Michael Palma.
Princeton, 254 pp., £9.30, July 1981, 0 691 06467 9
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... heritage and combine it with what he has learned as a working artist. If you can imagine a Randall Jarrell less worried about the place of the superior mind in a democracy, you will gather something of Montale’s capacity to talk about art in general without being carried away by general ideas. He had an unerring ear for the dogmatic no matter ...

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 ...

Everything is good news

Seamus Perry: Dylan Thomas’s Moment, 20 November 2014

The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: The New Centenary Edition 
edited by John Goodby.
Weidenfeld, 416 pp., £20, October 2014, 978 0 297 86569 8
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Under Milk Wood: The Definitive Edition 
edited by Walford Davies and Ralph Maud.
Phoenix, 208 pp., £7.99, May 2014, 978 1 78022 724 5
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Collected Stories 
by Dylan Thomas.
Phoenix, 384 pp., £8.99, May 2014, 978 1 78022 730 6
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A Dylan Thomas Treasury: Poems, Stories and Broadcasts 
Phoenix, 186 pp., £7.99, May 2014, 978 1 78022 726 9Show More
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... notes, whether the divergences are slips or hard-won new readings. Every edition is, to adapt what Randall Jarrell once said of the novel, a work of some length which has something wrong with it, but you do want to know what Thomas wrote. He was not a good proofreader himself. One of his oversights enjoys a mild celebrity: ‘Once in this wine the summer ...

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 ...

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 ...

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