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What is this Bernard?

Christopher Hitchens, 10 January 1991

Good and Faithful Servant: The Unauthorised Biography of Bernard Ingham 
by Robert Harris.
Faber, 202 pp., £14.99, December 1990, 0 571 16108 1
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... supposed to be the captors of Terry Waite. They were also the subject of covert talks between Oliver North and the Ayatollah’s men during a time when Mrs Thatcher was publicly exonerating Ronald Reagan of the charge of hostage-trading. So much is known. Any news of them today? Suddenly, HMG becomes HMV. I am fixed by Ingham with a dull Wackford Squeers ...

Echoes and Whisperings

Colin Burrow: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Oresteia’, 1 June 2017

House of Names 
by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 262 pp., £12.99, May 2017, 978 0 241 25768 5
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... the foundation of justice in Athens. In Tóibín’s novel people are repeatedly imprisoned under stone, under piles of bodies, or underground in the bowels of the House of Names. There is no buried justice, just abduction and imprisonment. Each section of House of Names is presented from the viewpoint of one of the characters in Aeschylus’ trilogy. The ...

You could scream

Jenny Diski, 20 October 1994

Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me 
by Marlon Brando and Robert Lindsey.
Century, 468 pp., £17.99, September 1994, 0 7126 6012 7
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Greta & Cecil 
by Diana Souhami.
Cape, 272 pp., £18.99, September 1994, 0 224 03719 6
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... bird cages, glass balls, engraved mirrors, shell pictures, crumbling Italian console tables, stone statues called Castor and Pollux and plaster casts of bits of his own anatomy.’ Then he held parties, with ‘lovely-looking people, charades, impersonations and dressing-up games’. But apart from the theatricals, ‘nothing much happened at ...

Not a Damn Thing

Nick Laird: In Yeats’s wake, 18 August 2005

Collected Poems 
by Patrick Kavanagh, edited by Antoinette Quinn.
Allen Lane, 299 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 7139 9599 8
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... The Green Fool. The book was well received, though a disparaging remark in it caused Oliver St John Gogarty to sue for libel. (Kavanagh had written: ‘I mistook Gogarty’s white-robed maid for his wife – or his mistress. I expected every poet to have a spare wife.’) In 1939, having decided to leave Inniskeen for good, he moved to ...

Like a Meteorite

James Davidson, 31 July 1997

Homer in English 
edited by George Steiner.
Penguin, 355 pp., £9.99, April 1996, 0 14 044621 4
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Homer’s ‘Iliad’ 
translated by Stanley Lombardo.
Hackett, 584 pp., £6.95, May 1997, 0 87220 352 2
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Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ 
translated by Robert Fagles.
Viking, 541 pp., £25, April 1997, 0 670 82162 4
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... of literature like a meteorite out of a cloudless sky, our very own qibla, our inscrutable Black Stone. That the first surviving Western poetry, born within a generation or two of the alphabet, should also be so well-achieved is astonishing. There is nothing tentative about the opening books of the Iliad or the Odyssey, no indication that these are ...

Grumpy in October

Jonathan Parry: The Anglo-French Project, 21 April 2022

Entente Imperial: British and French Power in the Age of Empire 
by Edward J. Gillin.
Amberley, 288 pp., £20, February, 978 1 3981 0289 7
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... should see this emerging collaboration in Western Europe and the Americas as the foundation stone of Atlanticism. This was a distinctive Anglo-French project that the US eventually joined once it expanded its horizons. It was based on common strategic interests and on the Enlightenment values of which Britain and France were the leading exponents: free ...

The End of Labour?

Colin Kidd, 8 March 2012

... the referendum of 1997, was supposed to strengthen the union by killing nationalism in Scotland ‘stone dead’, in the words of the Labour politician George Robertson. Under the Additional Member System introduced for elections to the Scottish Parliament, regional list MSPs are elected on a formula designed to correct the unrepresentative results which arise ...

On a par with Nixon

Stephen Alford: Bad Queen Bess?, 17 November 2016

Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I 
by Peter Lake.
Oxford, 497 pp., £35, January 2016, 978 0 19 875399 5
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Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years 
by John Guy.
Viking, 494 pp., £25, May 2016, 978 0 670 92225 3
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... subversive, the image is gritstone to the polished marble of the Elizabethan reputation. Isaac Oliver’s unfinished portrait of Elizabeth I (c.1592) Antiquaries and historians have wrestled with Elizabeth from the outset: first there was William Camden’s ponderous official history, then the influential courtier biographies by Robert ...

At least they paid their taxes

Linda Colley, 25 July 1991

Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography 
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam, 532 pp., £16.99, April 1991, 0 593 02450 8
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... immaculate grooming, taut ambition and relentless perfectionism that had killed her performances stone-dead before the camera were channelled into Reagan’s political career. And his crooked smile, small-town anti-Communism, and ‘gee whiz, golly shucks crap’ as Sinatra styled it, which had been such a bore to Hollywood’s predominantly liberal ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... producing a consensual ‘modern poetry reader’ and creating something more than a stepping-stone between us and several dozen Collected Poems. Armitage and Crawford entitle their introduction ‘The Democratic Voice’, binding the last fifty years of poetry into its wider social and cultural contexts – education acts, decolonisation, immigration ...

Sergeant Farthing

D.A.N. Jones, 17 October 1985

A Maggot 
by John Fowles.
Cape, 460 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 224 02806 5
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The Romances of John Fowles 
by Simon Loveday.
Macmillan, 164 pp., £25, August 1985, 0 333 31518 9
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... theatre and we may remember that there was a Drury Lane pantomime called Merlin: or, the Devil of Stone-Henge in 1734, just two years before, and the plot is not unlike Jones’s report of Fanny’s story. John Fowles’s way of blending history and mystery has exercised several academic critics. Is his technique ancient or modern, dated or novel? In A Maggot ...

Christendom

Conrad Russell, 7 November 1985

F.W. Maitland 
by G.R. Elton.
Weidenfeld, 118 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 297 78614 8
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Renaissance Essays 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Secker, 312 pp., £15, July 1985, 0 436 42511 4
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History, Society and the Churches: Essays in Honour of Owen Chadwick 
edited by Derek Beales and Geoffrey Best.
Cambridge, 335 pp., £30, May 1985, 0 521 25486 8
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... the accumulation of archival bricks, but for the grand architectural design: his philosopher’s stone has always been the insight which makes sense of a mass of material already collected. The method carries the risk, of course, that it may come to seem a little old-fashioned. This is not just a matter of changing intellectual fashions, though as a ...

Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography, 22 September 2016

When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... sentimentality. I can imagine having the Oscar Wilde response – ‘one must have a heart of stone’ to read it and not laugh – but I went for it. The room, saturated with love, mirrored the many holidays and weekends we had all spent together over the years. I stroked Paul’s hair, whispering: ‘You’re a brave Paladin’ – my nickname for him ...

Wall Furniture

Nicholas Penny: Dickens and Anti-Art, 24 May 2012

... noisy advertising. In front of them some violent encounters of the sort familiar to Mr Jingle and Oliver Twist are being enacted. The print implies that cultural institutions, especially the new National Gallery, are detached from the sordid realities of urban life. The Royal Academy moved into the east wing of Wilkins’s building in 1837 while the National ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... of class and sex. Alger Hiss was not exactly a patrician but he had been a law clerk for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; he had been one of the bright boys of the Roosevelt New Deal and he had been energetic and instrumental in setting up two of the pillars of the postwar liberal American imperial order – the United Nations and the Carnegie Endowment for ...

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