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Burnished and braced

Alethea Hayter, 12 July 1990

A Second Self: The Letters of Harriet Granville 1810-1845 
edited by Virginia Surtees.
Michael Russell, 320 pp., £14.95, April 1990, 0 85955 165 2
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... portrait. The only reading she mentions often is of contemporary best-sellers like Byron and Scott and Moore who were likely to be discussed at parties. She did enjoy the theatre, and to some extent music, but she has more to say about Rossini’s appearance – ‘a fat sallow squab of a man but with large, languishing eyes’ – than about his music ...
... is highly effective, but it can never produce what Henry James would have called ‘saturation’. Virginia Woolf remarked that A Handful of Dust was a brilliant novel but that she didn’t believe a word of it: a way of turning round the ordinary reader’s cliché to suggest that truth in fiction has a complex and even evasive personality which can’t be ...

Christina and the Sid

Penelope Fitzgerald, 18 March 1982

Christina Rossetti: A Divided Life 
by Georgina Battiscombe.
Constable, 233 pp., £9.50, May 1981, 0 09 461950 6
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The Golden Veil 
by Paddy Kitchen.
Hamish Hamilton, 286 pp., £7.95, May 1981, 0 241 10584 6
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The Little Holland House Album 
by Edward Burne-Jones and John Christian.
Dalrymple Press, 39 pp., £38, April 1981, 0 9507301 0 6
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... seem to her out of proportion – by Lona Mosk Packer (obsessed with the idea that William Bell Scott was Christina’s lover), Maureen Duffy (engrossed in the phallic symbolism of ‘The Goblin Market’), Maurice Bowra, Virginia Woolf. She has, of course, her own explanation. She sees Christina as a warm-blooded Italian ...

How a desire for profit led to the invention of race

Eric Foner: Slavery, 4 February 1999

Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America 
by Ira Berlin.
Harvard, 512 pp., £18.50, October 1998, 0 674 81092 9
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The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800 
by Robin Blackburn.
Verso, 602 pp., £15, April 1998, 1 85984 890 7
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... not on mankind’s inalienable right to liberty. Fifteen years later, the same court, in the Dred Scott case, declared that blacks had no rights that ‘a white man is bound to respect’ – a more characteristic expression of judicial opinion regarding slavery. America’s historical memory of slavery tends more to amnesia, however, than ...

It’s me, it’s me, it’s me

David Thomson: The Keynotes of Cary Grant, 5 November 2020

Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend 
by Mark Glancy.
Oxford, 550 pp., £22.99, October, 978 0 19 005313 0
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Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise 
by Scott Eyman.
Simon and Schuster, 556 pp., £27.10, November, 978 1 5011 9211 1
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... a lot more than Chaplin ever did.Glancy’s companion (I refuse to say rival) in this quest is Scott Eyman, an American expert in movie history. His book on John Wayne from 2014 is extraordinary for its revelation of awkwardness in a cinema celebrity. Eyman has also written excellent books on Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille and John Ford, and about the ...

Operation Backfire

Francis Spufford: Britain’s space programme, 28 October 1999

... All the British rocketmen talk of the pleasure of working with very high levels of energy. John Scott-Scott was a hydrodynamicist at Armstrong Siddeley Rocket Motors at Ansty near Rugby, who worked on conventional turbine engines before switching to rockets. He invented a turbo-pump incorporating a floating ‘cavitation ...

Booze and Fags

Christopher Hitchens, 12 March 1992

Tobacco: A History 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Radius, 249 pp., £18.99, December 1991, 0 09 174216 1
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The Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking 
edited by Simon Rae.
Faber, 554 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 571 16229 0
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... of tobacco, on which Kiernan touches, is rather iffy from the radical point of view. Colonial Virginia and Southern Rhodesia rested on forms of peonage if not slavery, and Cuba is probably more disfigured than otherwise by its reliance on a tobacco economy. (Indeed, it would be interesting to study the degeneration of the Cuban revolution as a function of ...

Really Good at Killing

Thomas Nagel: The Ethics of Drones, 3 March 2016

Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone 
by Scott Shane.
Bantam, 416 pp., £20, September 2015, 978 0 8041 4029 4
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... sitting in a control station thousands of miles away. Who could ask for more? In Objective Troy, Scott Shane explains why Barack Obama, when he became president, favoured drone warfare as his chief anti-terrorism tactic over the conventional wars of his predecessor: The number of al-Qaida plotters whose aim was to attack Americans was in the hundreds. Yet ...


David Bromwich: The Establishment President, 13 May 2010

... gun-rights fanatics carried their weapons to a rally at Fort Hunt National Park, near Alexandria, Virginia. But the tone of the anti-Obama protests has calmed down. The radio hosts now constantly remind their listeners that the surest imaginable vindication will come at the ballot-box in November. The results of off-year elections seem to bear out that ...

Finishing Touches

Susannah Clapp, 20 December 1984

Charlotte Mew and her Friends 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 00 217008 6
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The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Vol. I: 1903-17 
edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott.
Oxford, 376 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 812613 1
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... Nation, Mew was summoned to a series of poetry readings given by the culturally avid Mrs Dawson Scott, who later founded International PEN. ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ treats the case of a man inflamed with desire for his young wife, a wild little fay who runs away from him and is recaptured and incarcerated in her own house. It is remarkable for giving ...

Self-Made Women

John Sutherland, 11 July 1991

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present 
edited by Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy and Patricia Clements.
Batsford, 1231 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 7134 5848 8
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The Presence of the Present: Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel 
by Richard Altick.
Ohio State, 854 pp., $45, March 1991, 0 8142 0518 6
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... written by the three executive editors (Isobel Grundy taking responsibility for the early period, Virginia Blain for the Victorian and Edwardian periods, Patricia Clements for the 20th century). The supporting mass of scholars, one gathers, was used for the more exotic writers and for fact-checking. As a result of its extensively deployed woman power, the ...

Hug me till you drug me

Alex Harvey: Aldous Huxley, 5 May 2016

After Many a Summer 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 314 pp., £8.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 035 5
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Time Must Have a Stop 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 305 pp., £9.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 034 8
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The Genius and the Goddess 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 127 pp., £8.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 036 2
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... early satires. The weird Hollywood mix of trashy sensuality and vulgar confidence is embodied in Virginia, Stoyte’s pneumatic mistress. Her character and story parallels that of Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst’s lover, while her physical attributes recall Paulette Goddard (with whom, according to Loos, both Huxley and his son were taken). ...

A Human Kafka

Gabriel Josipovici, 5 March 1981

The World of Franz Kafka 
edited by J.P. Stern.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £9.95, January 1981, 0 297 77845 5
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... quality into focus. Was our curiosity about Kafka any different from our curiosity about Joyce or Scott Fitzgerald? It was, but how and why? Answers to these questions began to emerge as more and more of his writings began to appear: his diaries, his letter to his father, the batch of letters to Milena Jesenska and, finally, the enormous volume of letters to ...

Never the twain

Mark Amory, 4 March 1982

Evelyn Waugh, Writer 
by Robert Murray Davis.
Pilgrim Books, 342 pp., $20.95, May 1981, 0 937664 00 6
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... Though a West Country recluse can hardly be the centre of a literary movement, the comparison with Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury is not absurd. It emerges that what is required for popularity is a certain reputation, occasional brushes with high life and lengthy diaries and letters filled with sharp gossip about your famous friends; and Waugh has the advantage ...

Bright Blue Dark Blue

Rosemary Hill: ‘Weatherland’, 5 November 2015

by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 432 pp., £24.95, September 2015, 978 0 500 51811 3
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... whimsical that never quite coheres. As Harris explains, she has taken much of her inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, a hard act to follow and not always a helpful influence. Harris describes her own approach in the introduction as having ‘tried to hang a mirror in the sky, and to watch the writers and artists who appear in it’. It’s an image ...

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