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His Own Peak

Ian Sansom: John Fowles’s diary, 6 May 2004

John Fowles: The Journals, Vol. I 
edited by Charles Drazin.
Cape, 668 pp., £30, October 2003, 9780224069113
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John Fowles: A Life in Two Worlds 
by Eileen Warburton.
Cape, 510 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 224 05951 3
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... in wars; the country diaries of curates and Edwardian ladies; prisoners of conscience; Anaïs Nin; Richard Crossman; Tony Benn; Alan Bennett. But on the whole, no. And yet we can’t stop ourselves. These days, if you’re a young writer and you don’t do your own weblog you’re something of an exception, and even for the amateur, the ...

Opprobrious Epithets

Katrina Navickas: The Peterloo Massacre, 20 December 2018

Peterloo: The Story of the Manchester Massacre 
by Jacqueline Riding.
Head of Zeus, 386 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 1 78669 583 3
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... I visited​ the set of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo last year. Jacqueline Riding, who was acting as a consultant on the movie and has now written an account of the event it commemorates, showed me round the recreated St Peter’s Field. Actors wore the military regalia of the 15th regiment of hussars and the 13th regiment of foot; there was a wood-panelled room, like the one from which the Manchester magistrates had looked out over the crowd ...

Ink Blots, Pin Holes

Caroline Gonda: ‘Frankenstein’, 28 January 2010

The Original ‘Frankenstein’ 
by Mary Shelley, with Percy Shelley, edited by Charles Robinson.
Bodleian Library, 448 pp., £14.99, October 2009, 978 1 85124 396 9
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... and make-up probably owed more to stage adaptations of Frankenstein than to the novel itself. Richard Brinsley Peake’s Presumption: or the Fate of Frankenstein, which opened on 28 July 1823, ran for 37 performances in London, with Mr T.P. Cooke a great success in the role of –––, as the play called Frankenstein’s creature. Mary Shelley, who went ...

A Parlour in Purley

Tessa Hadley: Life as a Wife, 17 June 2021

The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives 
by Diane Johnson.
NYRB, 242 pp., £14.99, July 2020, 978 1 68137 445 1
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... an heiress. In 1819, aged 33, he surprised everyone by getting a job with the East India Company. Leigh Hunt wrote to Mary Shelley: ‘You have heard, of course, of Peacock’s appointment in the India House; we joke him upon his new Oriental grandeur, his Brahminical learning, and his inevitable tendencies to be one of the corrupt; upon which he seems to ...

Lady Rothermere’s Fan

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 7 November 1985

The Letters of Ann Fleming 
edited by Mark Amory.
Collins, 448 pp., £16.50, October 1985, 0 00 217059 0
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... about her own as in previous years she’d said about other people’s. (In 1951, when her nephew Richard Charteris was drowned, she’d begun a letter to the boy’s mother: ‘My Darling Virginia, I should have written sooner but there was a rush of plans for holidays, a promotion party for Noël Coward, a television party ...’) In this she was at least ...

Monstrous Offspring

Freya Johnston: The Rabbit-Breeder’s Hoax, 8 October 2020

The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and 18th-Century England 
by Karen Harvey.
Oxford, 211 pp., £16.99, January, 978 0 19 873488 8
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... doctors who met her published the most intimate gynaecological accounts of their discoveries. Sir Richard Manningham reported that he haddiligently search’d the whole Vagina, and being well assured that that time all was clear from Imposture, I touched the Os Uteri, which was close and contracted in such manner that it would not receive so much as the point ...

The Pleasures of Poverty

Barbara Everett, 6 September 1984

A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Letters and Diaries 
by Barbara Pym, edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym.
Macmillan, 320 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 333 34995 4
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... of An Unsuitable Attachment, and before she had met the much younger and presumably homosexual ‘Richard’ who was her last love, and who pained her so much by withdrawing), she describes in her journal how she had bought a damaged little china bowl with a lemon and leaves painted inside it; and liked it so much as to wonder ‘if I am getting to the stage ...

The Manners of a Hog

Christopher Tayler: Buchan’s Banter, 20 February 2020

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan 
by Ursula Buchan.
Bloomsbury, 479 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 1 4088 7081 5
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... Between​ the wars, the journalist Richard Usborne recalled in 1953, there was a feeling that John Buchan was good for you. ‘If not exactly the author set for homework, Buchan was certainly strongly recommended to the schoolboy by parent, uncle, guardian, pastor and master,’ he wrote in Clubland Heroes, a study of the thrillers he had enjoyed as a child ...

Four Moptop Yobbos

Ian Penman, 17 June 2021

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time 
by Craig Brown.
Fourth Estate, 642 pp., £9.99, March, 978 0 00 834003 2
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The Beatles and Sixties Britain 
by Marcus Collins.
Cambridge, 382 pp., £90, March 2020, 978 1 108 47724 6
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The Beatles in Context 
edited by Kenneth Womack.
Cambridge, 372 pp., £74.99, January 2020, 978 1 108 41911 6
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... beard care and curated playlists. As with the Beatles album sleeves designed by Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton, this was where art and pop first locked eyes, before deciding to move in together.Ahalf-century​ on from the band’s messy divorce, you don’t have to go searching for Beatles bumpf: it’s everywhere. They’re as much a part of the public ...

Touch of Evil

Christopher Hitchens, 22 October 1992

Kissinger: A Biography 
by Walter Isaacson.
Faber, 893 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 571 16858 2
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... Stephen Ambrose’s judicious biography of Nixon or the recollections of Averell Harriman, Richard Holbrooke or Daniel Davidson. Mr Isaacson has added some extra but exiguous detail to the story. By shopping on both sides of the street, and betraying the side he notionally worked for, Kissinger helped the Nixon campaign in its secret effort to ...

Hopi Mean Time

Iain Sinclair: Jim Sallis, 18 March 1999

Eye of the Cricket 
by James Sallis.
No Exit, 190 pp., £6.99, April 1998, 1 874061 77 7
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... to build careers on the blacklist. The virus that would surface decades later, disguised as Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, began here. Fault lines in the American psyche are most obvious at the interface of showbiz saccharine and the political process: Monroe’s birthday tribute to JFK, Sinatra as MC at the Kennedy White House, late-liberal ...

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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... Who was there? Oh, you know, the usual crew: Tennessee Williams, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and Hemingway’s great chum, the one he called ‘the Kraut’: Marlene Dietrich. ‘You could have knocked me over with a pin,’ Styron wrote to his aunt Edith, ‘when Leo took me over to meet Dietrich and she took my cold clammy hand in hers and said ...

Brief Encounters

Andrew O’Hagan: Gielgud and Redgrave, 5 August 2004

Gielgud's Letters 
edited by Richard Mangan.
Weidenfeld, 564 pp., £20, March 2004, 0 297 82989 0
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Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave 
by Alan Strachan.
Weidenfeld, 484 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 297 60764 2
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... of themselves when they imagine they are performing for an audience of one. On the strength of Richard Mangan’s edition, we must assume that Gielgud’s contribution to the documenting of theatrical history will be uncertain (‘I had never noticed that Albee had such big ears!’) while his contribution to the understanding of bad character is ...

Death in Greece

Marilyn Butler, 17 September 1981

Byron’s Letter and Journals. Vol. XI: For Freedom’s Battle 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 243 pp., £11.50, April 1981, 0 7195 3792 4
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Byron: The Complete Poetical Works 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 464 pp., £35, October 1980, 0 19 811890 2
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Red Shelley 
by Paul Foot.
Sidgwick, 293 pp., £12.95, May 1981, 0 283 98679 4
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Ugo Foscolo, Poet of Exile 
by Glauco Cambon.
Princeton, 360 pp., £15, September 1980, 0 691 06424 5
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... which covered the episode in 1813 when Byron was having an affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, and contemplating (over a game of billiards) the seduction of the chaste Lady Frances Wedder-burn Webster, while he confided in Lady Melbourne, suavest of older women, about both. The love of women hardly bothers Byron in his last months. His messages even ...

Jane Austen’s Latest

Marilyn Butler, 21 May 1981

Jane Austen’s ‘Sir Charles Grandison’ 
edited by Brian Southam.
Oxford, 150 pp., £7.95, March 1981, 0 19 812637 9
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... following Harriet’s disappearance with a scene after her rescue, is easily explained when Richard son’s novel is consulted. Since he was telling his story in letters, he had to follow a letter reporting Harriet’s disappearance with a letter reporting her safe and well at Colnebrook; the exciting details of what had happened in between could be ...

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