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Utterly Oyster

Andrew O’Hagan: Fergie-alike, 12 August 2021

The Bench 
by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
Puffin, 40 pp., £12.99, May 2021, 978 0 241 54221 7
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Her Heart for a Compass 
by Sarah, Duchess of York.
Mills & Boon, 549 pp., £14.99, August 2021, 978 0 00 838360 2
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... tourist said to me. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Just sitting here, witnessing great joy.’Titian-haired Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott is a bit of a one. A short, sharp Scot, she is the second daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, ‘one of the most eminent peers in the land’, and his duchess, the ‘daughter of the Second Marquess of Bath, and ...

The Sacred Cause of Idiom

Frank Kermode: Lady Gregory, 22 January 2004

Lady Gregory's Toothbrush 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 127 pp., £7.99, September 2003, 0 330 41993 5
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... use of a toothbrush was a mark of the difference between us and them, gentry and peasant, or so Lady Gregory suggested when she made the remark – jocular, perhaps, and not the sort of sally she would have chosen to be remembered by. Colm Tóibín makes more than one allusion to it in this essay, gently hinting that his sympathies are with the ...

Flinch Wince Jerk Shirk

Frank Kermode: Christine Brooke-Rose, 6 April 2006

Life, End of 
by Christine Brooke-Rose.
Carcanet, 119 pp., £12.95, February 2006, 1 85754 846 9
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... the favour of relative plainness. In an earlier autobiographical book, Remake (1996), the ‘old lady’, a kind of fictional double, does ‘think about the techniques of fiction’, but nevertheless offers a perspicuous narrative of what might be thought a life interesting in itself, even to readers who shrink from narratological exercise. For this old ...

Women of Quality

E.S. Turner, 9 October 1986

The Pebbled Shore 
by Elizabeth Longford.
Weidenfeld, 351 pp., £14.95, August 1986, 0 297 78863 9
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Leaves of the Tulip Tree 
by Juliette Huxley.
Murray, 248 pp., £7.95, June 1986, 9780719542886
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Enid Bagnold 
by Anne Sebba.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £15, September 1986, 0 297 78991 0
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... fastening her suspenders in a hotel room she heard a smart knock and in came a tall, handsome lady, very cross, saying: ‘This is my bedroom. Booked in my name. Why are you here?’ The sitting tenant, her temper rising, said: ‘I am within my rights ... I don’t have to be out until twelve.’ At this point the manager intervened with ‘This is the ...

On the Money

John Hartley Williams, 9 March 2006

... Table Round. ‘If reputation’s what you want, we do provide a lake of it to swim in, though any Lady you encounter there might very well be wet.’ More mirth. Sir Tristram-Sitting-Next-To-Me remarked: ‘Decline the Lady’s hand. The lake’s polluted. It’s a trap. Do not accept the Windmill Chain, the Stretched-Horse ...


William Thomas, 16 October 1980

Holland House 
by Leslie Mitchell.
Duckworth, 320 pp., £18, May 1980, 9780715611166
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Genius in the Drawing-Room 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 188 pp., £8.50, May 1980, 9780297777700
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... on famous literary salons, from that of Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, held in Berlin in the 1820s, to Lady Cunard’s gatherings in the Dorchester which lasted into the 1940s. Both deal with an elusive subject-matter. The purpose of the salon was to promote good talk in good company, and neither the talk nor the social qualities needed to draw it out leave much ...

Docility Rampant

Margaret Anne Doody, 31 October 1996

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Romance Writings 
edited by Isobel Grundy.
Oxford, 276 pp., £14.50, August 1996, 0 19 812288 8
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... Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) is known to us as the author of travel writings, witty poems and remarkable letters. If it were not for Isobel Grundy’s diligent work in the archives, we should not know that Lady Mary also produced prose fiction. This is hardly strange. She published in her own time neither the travel writings nor (of course) her letters to her daughter ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... wrote angry letters to the Wildes and published a pamphlet about a girl raped by a doctor. When Lady Wilde wrote to Travers’s father, accusing her of trying to extort money from her husband, she sued and gave evidence in court about the affair, which appeared prominently in the newspapers. Constance’s family too was not, as it were, without sin. Her ...
Dancing with Dogma: Britain under Thatcherism 
by Ian Gilmour.
Simon and Schuster, 328 pp., £16.99, October 1992, 0 671 71176 8
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... because the overall argument is afforced by personal observation. Thus at one point he describes Lady Thatcher as ‘mistress of the irrelevant detail’ and notes how in meetings she would cling to one unimportant fact from which she could not be prised. This was widely known before she became prime minister and many examples (some of them very ...

The Future of John Barth

Michael Irwin, 5 June 1980

by John Barth.
Secker, 772 pp., £7.95, May 1980, 0 436 03674 6
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The Left-Handed Woman 
by Peter Handke, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Eyre Methuen, 94 pp., £4.95, April 1980, 0 413 45890 3
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Passion Play 
by Jerzy Kosinski.
Joseph, 271 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 7181 1913 4
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... of the title. Each section consists of a series of missives from the same seven correspondents: Lady Amherst. Todd Andrews, Jacob Horner, A.B. Cook, Jerome Bray, Ambrose Mensch and the Author. The last-named ‘character’ is the ‘real’ John Barth, and Lady Amherst is a new invention; the other five are ...

Shopping in Lucerne

E.S. Turner, 9 June 1994

Addicted to Romance: The Life and Adventures of Elinor Glyn 
by Joan Hardwick.
Deutsch, 306 pp., £20, June 1994, 0 233 98866 1
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Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde 
by Joy Melville.
Murray, 308 pp., £19.99, June 1994, 0 7195 5102 1
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... in summary and this tale was silly in execution too, though told with great verve. Because the lady has a voice like rich music and undulates like a snake, her early warning to Paul to leave her before he is hurt goes disregarded. She receives him lying at full stretch on his tiger skin, with a red rose in her teeth, saying: ‘No, you must not come near ...

The Art of Being Found Out

Colm Tóibín: The need to be revealed, 20 March 2008

... On 23 January 1894, Henry James entered in his notebook two stories told to him by Lady Gregory, whom he had met first in Rome 15 years earlier. She had given one of them to him, he wrote, as a plot, and ‘saw more in it than, I confess, I do myself’. ‘At any rate,’ he went on, ‘Lady...

Seven Centuries Too Late

Barbara Newman: Popes in Hell, 15 July 2021

Dante’s Bones: How a Poet Invented Italy 
by Guy Raffa.
Harvard, 370 pp., £28.95, May 2020, 978 0 674 98083 9
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Poetry in Dialogue in the Duecento and Dante 
by David Bowe.
Oxford, 225 pp., £60, November 2020, 978 0 19 884957 5
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Dante’s Christian Ethics: Purgatory and Its Moral Contexts 
by George Corbett.
Cambridge, 233 pp., £75, March 2020, 978 1 108 48941 6
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Why Dante Matters: An Intelligent Person’s Guide 
by John Took.
Bloomsbury, 207 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 1 4729 5103 8
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Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio: Literature, Doctrine, Reality 
by Zygmunt Barański.
Legenda, 658 pp., £75, February 2020, 978 1 78188 879 7
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... such as Guido Cavalcanti, each vying to surpass his peers in formal intricacy and praise of his lady. Their poetics required a donna angelicata, often more symbol than person. As a pretext for the poet’s introspection and romantic projections, the lady could signify anything from divine wisdom to poetic glory; she ...

Pilgrim’s Progress

Michael Davie, 4 December 1980

The Letters of Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Mark Amory.
Weidenfeld, 664 pp., £14.95, September 1980, 0 297 77657 6
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... with her when she ran off. Partly through the Mitford family, and partly through the patronage of Lady Cunard (whom he detested), he was now able to launch himself, a successful and unattached young literary lion, into loftier social circles. Mr Amory has edited the letters meticulously. To a letter of July 1931 he appends 31 footnotes identifying those ...

Eating Alone

Francis Wyndham, 17 May 1984

... of the room, while behind and above them, seated on a raised platform, a somewhat older Indian lady regally presides. To an impressionable customer, she can suggest both the motherly authority of Indira Gandhi and the unbridled licence of erotic Hindu art. The walls are lined by banquettes to accommodate ten tables for four; one further table, seating only ...

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