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Round the (Next) Bend

Simon Adams: Sir Walter Ralegh, 6 July 2000

The Letters of Sir Walter Raleigh 
edited by Agnes Latham and Joyce Youings.
Exeter, 403 pp., £45, July 1999, 0 85989 527 0
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... he has become a central subject in New Historicist approaches to Elizabethan studies, notably in Stephen Greenblatt’s Sir Walter Ralegh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles, the most stimulating modern study of Ralegh. This collection of letters was assembled by the late Agnes Latham, who edited Ralegh’s poems in 1951. It was originally intended as a ...


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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... from the newspaper. May’s selection of detail, from an enormous supply of it, is shrewd, and we learn quite a lot about the easy, gentlemanly literary habits of early 20th-century London. The paper’s first lead review was of More Letters of Edward Fitzgerald, done by Augustine Birrell, a barrister, a Liberal MP, and the author of a volume of essays ...

Why always Dorothea?

John Mullan: How caricature can be sharp perception, 5 May 2005

The One v. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel 
by Alex Woloch.
Princeton, 391 pp., £13.95, February 2005, 0 691 11314 9
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... When we discuss novels, there is nothing easier or harder to talk about than characterisation. Nothing easier, in that unprofessional readers’ expressions of interest or aversion so often fix on a novel’s characters as vivid or pallid, believable or not. Nothing harder, in that academic critics (and their obedient students) have long since learned to steer away from the illusions of human reality conjured by fiction ...

Asterisks and Obelisks

Colin Burrow, 7 March 2019

Poems of Sextus Propertius 
edited and translated by Patrick Worsnip.
Carcanet, 253 pp., £12.99, September 2018, 978 1 78410 651 5
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... how the text should read. The radical and impressive Oxford Classical Texts edition of 2007 by Stephen Heyworth, on which Patrick Worsnip bases his new translation, is bedecked with dots, crosses in circles, lacunae, and brackets both square and pointy. Textual notes rise up the page as a great wave of scholars – Lachmann, Housman, Heinsius, Scaliger ...

Next Stop, Reims

Ardis Butterfield: Medieval Literary Itineraries, 26 April 2018

Europe: A Literary History, 1348-1418 
by David Wallace.
Oxford, 1591 pp., £180, April 2016, 978 0 19 873535 9
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... fabrics, amused by games they invented, instructed even by their ancient moral fables, why would we neglect to understand the mind of these nations, among whom our European traders have travelled ever since they could find a way to get to them?’ Wallace doesn’t use the term cosmopolitanism. It’s not in his (magnificently capacious) index. But it ...

All your walkmans fizz in tune

Adam Mars-Jones: Eimear McBride, 8 August 2013

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing 
by Eimear McBride.
Galley Beggar, 203 pp., £11, June 2013, 978 0 9571853 2 6
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... set beside such feats as eliminating the letter ‘e’ (Perec’s La Disparition, Englished by Gilbert Adair as A Void) or telling Ophelia’s side of the story using only the words Shakespeare allots her (Paul Griffiths’s Let Me Tell You). McBride compensates by scattering full stops with a liberal, raisin-loaf-making hand, but her avoidance of commas ...


John Bayley, 6 September 1984

The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol. V: 1936-1941 
edited by Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie.
Chatto, 402 pp., £17.50, June 1984, 0 7012 0566 0
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Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood 
by Angelica Garnett.
Chatto, 181 pp., £9.95, August 1984, 0 7011 2821 6
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... contempt for those who fail to do so. Rachel Vinrace (significant name), the heroine with whom all we outsiders identify, turns out to have been Head Girl all along. She compiles secret reports, sees that standards are kept up, throws herself into all the school activities. Diffident, defeated, dead she might be in the novel, but the real Rachel Vinrace was ...


W.G. Runciman: You had better look out, 10 December 1998

... didn’t know what was going to happen next. Nazi-Soviet pact? Not nice, but perhaps it means we shan’t be having to fight an alliance of three Fascist powers, including Franco’s Spain. Churchill as prime minister? All very well, but some of us remember the Dardanelles – and besides, look at the people around him! To be sure, reading the newspapers ...

Inspector of the Sad Parade

Nicholas Spice, 4 August 1994

A Way in the World 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Heinemann, 369 pp., £14.99, May 1994, 0 434 51029 7
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... exception that proves the rule. ‘It was that I had no gift. I had no natural talent,’ he tells Stephen Schiff in a recent New Yorker profile. ‘I had to learn it. Having to learn it, I became my own man.’ And, in A Way in the World: ‘I had had to learn to write from scratch, almost in the way a man has to learn to walk and use his body again ...

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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... find it.” That is the most important truth that has ever been uttered,’ he said in his Leslie Stephen Lecture of 1933, published as The Name and Nature of Poetry. His poetry is always fascinated by what is irresolvable – ‘Keep we must, if keep we can/These foreign laws of God and ...

Feed the Charm

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Political violence in Africa, 25 July 2002

In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son’s Journey to Understand His Father’s Legacy 
by Ken Wiwa.
Black Swan, 320 pp., £7.99, January 2002, 0 552 99891 5
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This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis 
by Karl Maier.
Penguin, 327 pp., £9.99, February 2002, 0 14 029884 3
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The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War 
by Stephen Ellis.
Hurst, 350 pp., £40, November 1999, 1 85065 417 4
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... children at English public schools – Eton, Roedean, Tonbridge – even as he insisted that ‘we would all return to Nigeria at the end of our studies and apply our expensively educated minds to the resolution of the problems facing our people.’ Saro-Wiwa himself understood the risk he had taken, and ‘tried his best to ensure that our education did ...

Rodinsky’s Place

Patrick Wright, 29 October 1987

White Chappell: Scarlet Tracings 
by Iain Sinclair.
Goldmark, 210 pp., £12.50, October 1987, 1 870507 00 2
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... I’ve never robbed a working-class home.’ As he sank away towards the underworld of the crypt, we ascended the hierarchical steps to hear music by Messiaen and Hans Werner Henze. The frisson was undeniable. Earlier this year I went back to visit the disused synagogue at 19 Princelet Street – a rather dilapidated building now owned by the Spitalfields ...

Touching the music

Paul Driver, 4 January 1996

Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship 
by Robert Craft.
Vanderbilt, 588 pp., £35.95, October 1994, 0 8265 1258 5
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... as he found exemplified by the poet David Jones when visiting him in a Harrow lodging-house with Stephen Spender, and the ‘many lives of pastiche’. But he is aware of the origin of his woes. From 4 October 1953: ‘My deepest problem. I have changed families and at a terrible cost substituted my ideal for my real one’ – an admission of 1994 which ...
Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 320 pp., $24.95, May 1996, 0 520 20407 7
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... by longing for a lost, pre-industrial, feudal home.’ Call it Dixieland. Supplying the music (Stephen Foster’s remains the most well known) that might attend the birth of American nationalism, the minstrel show effectively affirmed a new national identity. ‘Minstrelsy accepted ethnic difference by insisting on racial division,’ Rogin writes. It ...

The Meaninglessness of Meaning

Michael Wood, 9 October 1986

The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Cape, 368 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 224 02302 0
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Writing Degree Zero and Elements of Semiology 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith.
Cape, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 224 02267 9
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The Fashion System 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard.
Cape, 303 pp., £15, March 1985, 0 224 02984 3
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The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art and Representation 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 312 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 0 631 14746 2
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The Rustle of Language 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 373 pp., £27.50, May 1986, 0 631 14864 7
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A Barthes Reader 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 495 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 224 02946 0
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Barthes: Selected Writings 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Fontana, 495 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 00 636645 7
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Roland Barthes: A Conservative Estimate 
by Philip Thody.
University of Chicago Press, 203 pp., £6.75, February 1984, 0 226 79513 6
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Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After 
by Annette Lavers.
Methuen, 300 pp., £16.95, September 1982, 0 416 72380 2
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by Jonathan Culler.
Fontana, 128 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 635974 4
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... novel, and a love story’. Opening Roland Barthes par Roland Bartheswe read, inside the front cover, white on black in Barthes’s handwriting: Tout ceci doit être considéré comme dit par un personnage de roman. What follows is text and pictures, a fractured autobiography, a dictionary of personal ...

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