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Diary

Ian Thomson: Assault on the Via Salaria

14 April 2011
... At ten past three the phone rang. ‘Pronto,’ I said, and the voice answered: ‘I am Signor Calvino.’ It was the novelist Italo Calvino; I was due to interview him later that afternoon. We had scarcely agreed on the place when something hard hit me on the back of the head. The room spun; there was a glare of light. Calvino assumed it was a bad connection ...

Through the Gullet

Helen Cooper: Medieval recipes

16 April 1998
The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy 
by Odile Redon and Françoise Sabban, translated by Edward Schneider.
Chicago, 324 pp., £25.95, September 1998, 0 226 70684 2
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... During the Christmas celebrations of 1251, Henry III and his court ate their way through 830 deer of various kinds, 200 wild swine, 1300 hares and 115 cranes. Basic supplies for the feast to mark the installation of George Neville as Archbishop of York in 1467 began with 104 oxen, 1000 sheep, 10,000 capons and six wild bulls, washed down with a hundred barrels of wine ...

It’s the Oil

Jim Holt: Iraq’s Lucrative Mess

18 October 2007
... Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: Embedded in Iraq

29 November 2007
... Getting embedded in Iraq is less controversial than you’d think, to judge from the views of journalists who’ve worked there since the invasion. Our own man Patrick Cockburn believes it’s a ‘great mistake to go with American units and report on any Iraqi city’ because local people can’t talk frankly in front of the military. But Cockburn is clearly outnumbered by reporters who see embedding as useful ...

Short Cuts

Jérôme Tubiana: Migrant Smugglers

14 June 2017
... The uncle was instructed to transfer more money. First, the ‘ghetto fee’ of 200 dinars (£115) – ‘You stayed in my house and used my water,’ Kofi said – then $300 to cover the trip back to Agadez. His return was more comfortable than the journey to Libya. He found a seat in a new car with no mileage on the clock, one of many brand new ...
30 March 2000
Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Collected Writings 
edited by Jan Marsh.
Dent, 531 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 460 87875 1
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Painter and Poet 
by Jan Marsh.
Weidenfeld, 592 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 297 81703 5
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... Your fame is the colour of grass, which comes and goes, faded by the sun that drew it from the unripe earth’ (Purgatorio XI, 115-117). Dante Gabriel Rossetti did not translate that particular text, but he might have; perhaps he should have, given his cultural history. For Rossetti was, according to his age’s two most imposing critics, Ruskin and Pater, the period’s central artistic presence and leading intelligence ...

Diary

Elaine Showalter: At Sundance

22 February 2001
... It’s 5 a.m. and we are bundled up like Sherpas in our boots and sheepskins, boarding the plane to Utah with a contingent of young New Yorkers with pony tails talking into cellphones and carrying skis. They are buyers, development executives, actors, journalists, publicists, directors and producers, heading for the Sundance Film Festival, where they will wheel and deal ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: At the Olympic Park

9 February 2012
... Alfred Dickens, the novelist’s brother, wrote a General Board of Health report on the area soon to be occupied by the Olympic athletes, recording that ‘the cholera raged’ and there was ‘neither drainage nor paving’ – ‘in winter the streets were impassable.’ More recently it was a site of old warehouses and weedy dereliction. It smelled of the oil and paint and chemical effluent that had leached for years into the land around the Hackney Marshes ...

Provocateur

Glen Bowersock: Rome versus Jerusalem

22 February 2007
Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilisations 
by Martin Goodman.
Allen Lane, 638 pp., £25, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9447 6
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... One of the most famous questions in the vast literature of the Fathers of the Early Christian Church is Tertullian’s ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ The fusion of Greek philosophy with Jewish scripture in the formation of Christian theology was a problem for the new religion, which emerged in the Greek language through the gospel narratives and the letters of Paul ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment

5 April 2007
The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... In March 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco leather ...

More Like a Mistress

Tom Crewe: Mr and Mrs Disraeli

15 July 2015
Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance 
by Daisy Hay.
Chatto, 308 pp., £20, January 2015, 978 0 7011 8912 9
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... I first heard​ of Benjamin Disraeli in a school assembly when I was ten or eleven. Our headmaster also taught history, and though he was known to us mainly as an expert in horse-drawn hoes, seed drills and threshing machines, that day he introduced us to a man born into the wrong religion and given an imperfect education, an author of unlikely novels and unlikelier cheques, sniffed at by the upper classes when he arrived at their dinner tables and baited by the mob when he asked for their votes ...

Ardour

J.P. Stern

3 November 1983
The Sacred Threshold: A Life of Rainer Maria Rilke 
by J.F. Hendry.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, July 1983, 0 85635 369 8
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Rilke: sein Leben, seine Welt, sein Werk 
by Wolfgang Leppmann.
Scherz Verlag, 483 pp., £11, May 1981, 3 502 18407 0
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Rainer Maria Rilke: Leben und Werk im Bild 
edited by Ingeborg Schnack.
Insel Verlag, 270 pp., £2.55, May 1977, 3 458 01735 6
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... There can be few poets in the whole of European literature whose lives were so single-mindedly dedicated to the pursuit of poetry as was the life of Rainer Maria Rilke. Poetry was the centre and margin, ‘the field and hedgerows’, of his existence. The men whose friendships he cherished, the host of women admirers and aristocratic protectors he met and corresponded with, the women who were or may have been his mistresses, even the children he enchanted with his stories – all these form a network of intimate relationships stretching across almost the entire Continent and centred on the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, whose decay, collapse and aftermath he witnessed ...
5 March 1987
The People’s Anger: Justice and Revenge in Post-Liberation France 
by Herbert Lottman.
Hutchinson, 332 pp., £12.95, November 1986, 0 09 165580 3
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... Modern states very seldom acknowledge their own crimes. In 1944, however, France had to assume responsibility for the fact – unlike Germany or Italy, there was no army of occupation to do it for her – that in almost every field her élites had been compromised. The resulting purge was not only a comprehensive attempt to found a new moral order: it had undeniable echoes of the Revolutionary Terror ...

The Fire This Time

John Sutherland

28 May 1992
... Future historians looking back at the Rodney King insurrection in South Central Los Angeles will not see (or not just see) another in the line of racial explosions which go back through Watts, the Zoot Suit riots, to the ‘Yellow Peril’ pogroms of the early 20th century. What distinguishes this particular affray by (and against) a Californian ethnic minority is that it was the first such to be entirely and comprehensively covered by television ...
7 January 1993
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer 
by Derek Pearsall.
Blackwell, 365 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 1 55786 205 2
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A Wyf ther was: Essays in Honour of Paule Mertens-Fonck 
edited by Juliette Dor.
University of Liège, 300 pp., June 1992, 2 87233 004 6
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Hochon’s Arrow: The Social Imagination of 14th-Century Texts 
by Paul Strohm.
Princeton, 205 pp., £27.50, November 1992, 0 691 06880 1
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... Chaucer’s life is a standing temptation to a biographer. On the one hand, we have the 493 documented mentions of him brought together in the Crow and Olson Life Records, a body of paper which makes Chaucer far better evidenced as a person than Shakespeare two centuries later; on the other, there is the persistent refusal of these documents to see him as what we think we know he was (the major poet of his age), presenting him instead as a quite important civil servant with good connections to power, and from a family almost typically English in its concentration not on literary matters but on moving up the social scale ...

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