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Ian Gilmour: The Cliveden Set, 19 October 2000

The Cliveden Set: Portrait of an Exclusive Fraternity 
by Norman Rose.
Cape, 277 pp., £20, August 2000, 0 224 06093 7
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... in the 1930s put it, ‘Lothian was an incurably superficial Johnny-Know-All.’ In 1938, A.L. Rowse, who knew him at All Souls, went further, pillorying Lothian as ‘Britain’s public enemy number one’. That was over-harsh, but by then Lothian and the rest of the Cliveden group or clique were under fire in the press ...

And Cabbages Too

Patrick Collinson: The Tudors, 22 March 2001

New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors 1485-1603 
by Susan Brigden.
Allen Lane, 434 pp., £20, September 2000, 0 7139 9067 8
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... have called it if the Tudors had reigned, say, from 1450 to 1700. For Bindoff, it was under the ‘able guidance’ of the Tudors that England ‘rose magnificently to great occasions and experienced something of a Golden Age’. ‘No wiser or mightier monarchs,’ he wrote, ‘ever adorned the English throne.’ In the same year, A.L. ...

A Cheat, a Sharper and a Swindler

Brian Young: Warren Hastings, 24 May 2001

Dawning of the Raj: The Life and Trials of Warren Hastings 
by Jeremy Bernstein.
Aurum, 319 pp., £19.99, March 2001, 1 85410 753 4
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... the universities. It was from within this clubbish world that Penderel Moon, a sometime fellow of All Souls and member of the Indian Civil Service, produced an elegant biography of Hastings in 1947, a contribution to the ‘Teach Yourself History’ series commissioned by his colleague A.L. Rowse. Moon opened his admirably ...

Father-Daughter Problems

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare’s Bad Daughters, 8 May 2008

The Lodger: Shakespeare in Silver Street 
by Charles Nicholl.
Allen Lane, 378 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 7139 9890 0
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... What with all those Henrys being succeeded by all those other Henrys in the histories, and all those worryingly ghostly patriarchs looming over the tragedies – Julius Caesar, Old Hamlet, Banquo – you never get very far from paternity in the Shakespeare canon ...

It was worse in 1931

Colin Kidd: Clement Attlee, 17 November 2016

Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee 
by John Bew.
Riverrun, 668 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 1 78087 989 5
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... whether the ordinary man was interested in it or not’. Similarly, Cole’s Oxford colleague A.L. Rowse – then on the left – held views that Attlee found ‘infantile’. Dogged pragmatism, gardening and cricket were more his line; Nye Bevan carped that he brought ‘to the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2014, 8 January 2015

... a van until her death 15 years later. Maggie Smith played Miss Shepherd on the stage in 1999 and all being well will star in the film with Nicholas Hytner directing. To date I’ve written two drafts of the script and am halfway through a third.The house where the story happened, 23 Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town, is currently lived in by the ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2013, 9 January 2014

... hard to take. Coming away we scale the gate again, happy to have outwitted authority, but since all that stands between Open and Closed is a five-bar gate it’s maybe English Heritage’s way of turning a blind eye. 11 January. The doorbell goes around noon. I’m expecting Antony Crolla, the photographer, so don’t look through the window and open the ...

On the Lower Slopes

Stefan Collini: Greene’s Luck, 5 August 2010

Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 580 pp., £25, August 2010, 978 0 224 07921 1
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... his memoir, Greene stages his puzzlement at this remark: ‘I thought of my parents, I thought of all those aunts and uncles and cousins who had gathered together at Christmas, and of the two unknown Greene grandfathers … and then I thought of the novel, the story of a hunted man, of smuggling and treachery, of murder and suicide, and I wondered what on ...

The Manners of a Hog

Christopher Tayler: Buchan’s Banter, 20 February 2020

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan 
by Ursula Buchan.
Bloomsbury, 479 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 1 4088 7081 5
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... himself a place in a Nazi handbook on Britain (‘Tweedsmuir, Lord: Pro-Jewish activity’). All the same, Hannay and Buchan’s other characters continue to obsess uneasily about Jewishness. The books’ minor villains and disreputable bit-players are sometimes Jewish, but the subject often comes up in a way that’s almost completely unmotivated, as ...

Elizabethan Spirits

William Empson, 17 April 1980

The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age 
by Frances Yates.
Routledge, 224 pp., £7.75, November 1979, 9780710003201
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... to which readers of Latin were admitted if properly introduced. And the De Nymphis is the only at all readable thing ever written by Paracelsus: only about five thousand words, and packed full of anecdotes which became sources for later German romantic authors. Some friends would be likely to put Marlowe onto reading this, even granting that he did not read ...

Alas! Deceived

Alan Bennett: Philip Larkin, 25 March 1993

Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life 
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 570 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 571 15174 4
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... driving him to Art. Not a bit of it. For a start the son was never liberal (‘true blue’ all his life, Monica says) and with a soft spot for Hitler himself. Nor was the father a tyrant; he introduced his son to the works of Hardy and, more surprisingly, Joyce, did not regard jazz as the work of the devil, bought him a subscription to the magazine ...

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack: David Astor, 2 June 2016

David Astor: A Life in Print 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 400 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 0 224 09090 2
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... had ‘crippled’ him. This was his mother, the irrepressible Nancy Astor, a nightmare we would all want to be woken from. Too much money and too much mother; small wonder that Isaiah Berlin decided David Astor was ‘a neurotic, muddled, complicated, politically irresponsible, unhappy adventurer, permanently resentful of somebody or something … a typical ...

Buffed-Up Scholar

Stefan Collini: Eliot and the Dons, 30 August 2012

Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. III: 1926-27 
edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden.
Faber, 954 pp., £40, July 2012, 978 0 571 14085 5
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... studies, but ‘he was condemned to know that the little poetry he had written was worth more than all he could do with the rest of his life. The author of Biographia Literaria was already a ruined man. Sometimes, however, to be a “ruined man” is itself a vocation.’ Eliot, it could be said, ‘made something’ of his life largely by not being a ...


Alan Bennett: Notes on 1997, 1 January 1998

... leave, the streets are full of disconsolate Roundheads and jubilant Cavaliers, the explanation for all the cars some mock-battle in Green Park. Note how one passes these far from sheepish figures without a second glance; the kind of extraordinary feature of ordinary life that never gets into a film except as part of the plot. In the evening, read at St ...


Alan Bennett: Allelujah!, 3 January 2019

... lauded, so much so that when we come to watch it this rather gets in the way. And it’s somehow all too easy. Both the 17-year-old Elio and his older lover, Oliver, are flawless, but with no anguish to their affection. Nor is there any lack of understanding from the boy’s parents, his father particularly, with this being singled out as evidence of the ...

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