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Be mean and nasty

Jenny Diski: Shirley Porter’s Story

25 May 2006
Nothing like a Dame: The Scandals of Shirley Porter 
by Andrew​ Hosken.
Granta, 372 pp., £20, March 2006, 1 86207 809 2
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... private hands. The affair had cost the residents of Westminster £4.25 million. Less, I suppose, the interest on 15p. Until this idiocy was revealed, Westminster City Council and its leader, Shirley Porter, had been the darling of the Tory Party; a showcase example of how local government could benefit from an efficient, cost-cutting, commercially-minded, unsentimental head, just as the nation had been ...

Keepers

Andrew​ Scull

29 September 1988
Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency 
by Roy Porter.
Athlone, 412 pp., £25, August 1987, 0 485 11324 4
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The Past and the Present Revisited 
by Lawrence Stone.
Routledge, 440 pp., £19.95, October 1987, 0 7102 1253 4
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Sufferers and Healers: The Experience of Illness in 17th-Century England 
by Lucinda McCray Beier.
Routledge, 314 pp., £30, December 1987, 0 7102 1053 1
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Illness and Self in Society 
by Claudine Herzlich and Janine Pierret, translated by Elborg Forster.
Johns Hopkins, 271 pp., £20.25, January 1988, 0 8018 3228 4
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Medicine and Society in Wakefield and Huddersfield 1780-1870 
by Hilary Marland.
Cambridge, 503 pp., £40, September 1987, 0 521 32575 7
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A Social History of Madness: Stories of the Insane 
by Roy Porter.
Weidenfeld, 261 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 297 79223 7
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... The 18th century,’ he confidently announced, ‘was a disaster for the insane.’ It is this long-standing consensus of reformers and Whigs, Foucauldians and Anglo-Saxon revisionists, which Roy Porter’s dazzlingly written Mind Forg’d Manacles aims to upset. Examining the ‘long 18th century’ from the Restoration to the Regency, he attempts to provide the first systematic account of the ...

Other People’s Mail

Bernard Porter: MI5

19 November 2009
The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 
by Christopher Andrew.
Allen Lane, 1032 pp., £30, October 2009, 978 0 7139 9885 6
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... the early 20th century, which was one of the reasons the formation in 1909 of what later became known as MI5 and MI6 had to be kept so secret; MI5 remained officially secret for 80 years. Christopher Andrew has another explanation, however. It was just a ‘taboo’, he writes (quoting the historian Michael Howard), like ‘intra-marital sex’. Everyone knew it went on, and was ‘quite content that it ...

Living It

Andrew​ O’Hagan: The World of Andy McNab

24 January 2008
Crossfire 
by Andy McNab.
Bantam, 414 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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Strike Back 
by Chris Ryan.
Century, 314 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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... may be beheaded online. The world of difference initially suggested by Ryan’s hapless victim being female is dispelled when you consider his book’s rugged hero, a McNabian squarehead called John Porter, former SAS man and now broken-backed vodka-guzzler under the arches of Vauxhall. All these men have a chance to thwart the Ruperts by fixing – via immense personal courage and a lot of guns and ...

Players, please

Jonathan Bate

6 December 1984
The Oxford Book of War Poetry 
edited by Jon Stallworthy.
Oxford, 358 pp., £9.50, September 1984, 0 19 214125 2
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Secret Destinations 
by Charles Causley.
Macmillan, 69 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 333 38268 4
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Fast Forward 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 64 pp., £4.50, October 1984, 0 19 211967 2
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Dark Glasses 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 71 pp., £3.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2875 5
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... is perfectly achieved. The text of the poem in Jon Stallworthy’s anthology has two misprints: for ‘falling’ read ‘fading’; for ‘The plains’, ‘These plains’. In Fast Forward, Peter Porter meditates persistently on the decline of Classical culture and the threat of nuclear war. What comes of the used-up Mediterranean When rockets point like pines in tundra Towards the profaned moon ...

Every three years

Blake Morrison

3 March 1988
Fifty Poems 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 51 pp., £4.95, January 1988, 0 571 14920 0
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A Various Art 
edited by Andrew​ Crozier and Tim Longville.
Carcanet, 377 pp., £12.95, December 1987, 0 85635 698 0
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Between Leaps: Poems 1972-1985 
by Brad Leithauser.
Oxford, 81 pp., £5.95, September 1987, 0 19 282089 3
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Eldorado 
by William Scammell.
Peterloo, 71 pp., £4.50, October 1987, 0 905291 88 3
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Disbelief 
by John Ash.
Carcanet, 127 pp., £6.95, September 1987, 0 85635 695 6
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The Automatic Oracle 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 72 pp., £4.95, November 1987, 0 19 282088 5
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Voice-over 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 64 pp., £5.95, February 1988, 0 7011 3313 9
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... sense of what comprised his natural subject-matter (love, marital tension, suicide, madness and the whole thing there), his plain-but-emotional rhythms and syntax remind one of Larkin and even Andrew Motion. A more surprising influence is Eliot: ‘My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark’ has the sort of rhythmical hysteria and claustrophobic shadowiness that Hamilton has made his ...

Shoot them to be sure

Richard Gott: The Oxford History of the British Empire

25 April 2002
The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. I: The Origins of Empire 
edited by William Roger Louis and Nicholas Canny.
Oxford, 533 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924676 9
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. II: The 18th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and P.J. Marshall.
Oxford, 639 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924677 7
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. III: The 19th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and Andrew Porter.
Oxford, 774 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924678 5
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. IV: The 20th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and Judith Brown.
Oxford, 773 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924679 3
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. V: Historiography 
edited by William Roger Louis and Robin Winks.
Oxford, 731 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924680 7
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... A new history of the British Empire might be expected to concern itself with such issues as the construction of military dictatorship through the imposition of martial law; the violent seizure and settlement of land; the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples (and their culture and environment); the establishment of what is now called ‘institutional racism’; and the continuing coercion and ...

Desperately Seeking Susan

Terry Castle: Remembering Susan Sontag

17 March 2005
... Terry, don’t you loathe academics as much as I do? How can you abide it?’) – and her Considered Views on Everything (‘Yes, Terry, I do know all the lesser-known Handel operas. I told AndrewPorter he was right – they are the greatest of musical masterpieces’). I was rapt, like a hysterical spinster on her first visit to Bayreuth. Schwärmerei time for T-Ball.The Sarajevo obsession ...

Esprit de Corps

Roy Porter

21 January 1988
Granville Sharp Pattison: Anatomist and Antagonist 1791-1851 
by F.L.M. Pattison.
Canongate, 284 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 86241 077 0
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Death, Dissection and the Destitute 
by Ruth Richardson.
Routledge, 426 pp., £19.95, January 1988, 0 7102 0919 3
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... or what we might call surgery carried on by other means. Pattison moved on, but only into further trouble. Gaining the chair of anatomy at Andersons Institution, he quickly fell out with Professor Andrew Ure, best known for his later celebration of the joys of factory labour; soon he found himself accused of adultery with Ure’s visibly-pregnant wife: more mucking around with bodies, it seemed. Ure ...

Quiet Sinners

Bernard Porter: Imperial Spooks

21 March 2013
Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire 
by Calder Walton.
Harper, 411 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 0 00 745796 0
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... in Modern Britain.* Historians thought sympathetic to the intelligence services were granted privileged access to closed papers in order to produce official histories. One of them was Christopher Andrew, who employed Walton to help him with The Defence of the Realm (2009), about MI5. Suddenly, one kind of conspiracy story – official plots and cover-ups – became acceptable. So Walton can now ...
3 April 1986
The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Vol. I: People and Ideas, Vol. II: Institutions and Society 
edited by W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter and Michael Shepherd.
Tavistock, 316 pp., £19.95, November 1985, 0 422 79430 9
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Madness, Morality and Medicine: A Study of the York Retreat 1796-1914 
by Anne Digby.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £27.50, October 1985, 0 521 26067 1
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... conditions, the latter see only our developing conditioning by the therapeutic state. Anne Digby’s monograph on the history of the York Retreat, and the two volumes of essays edited by Bynum, Porter and Shepherd, pay eloquent testimony to the transformation effected in the history of psychiatry over the last twenty or thirty years. The works of Foucault, Erving Goffman, Thomas Szasz and R.D ...

Kelpers

Claude Rawson

17 June 1982
St Kilda’s Parliament 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 87 pp., £3, September 1981, 0 571 11770 8
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Airborn/Hijos del Aire 
by Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson.
Anvil, 29 pp., £1.25, April 1981, 0 85646 072 9
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The Flood 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3.95, June 1981, 0 19 211944 3
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Looking into the Deep End 
by David Sweetman.
Faber, 47 pp., £3, March 1981, 0 571 11730 9
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Independence 
by Andrew​ Motion.
Salamander, 28 pp., £5, December 1981, 0 907540 05 8
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... hear Gaelic Spoken softly like a poetry of ghosts By those who never were contorted by Hierarchies of cuisine and literacy. The photograph-poem has become an important sub-genre. Larkin, Hughes, Porter and others have practised it. There’s a sense in which the photograph does part of the poet’s work for him, freezing a charged but vanishing moment so that nuances of mood or relationship, by ...

Making sense

Denis Donoghue

4 October 1984
A Wave 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 89 pp., £4.95, August 1984, 9780856355479
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Secret Narratives 
by Andrew​ Motion.
Salamander, 46 pp., £6, March 1983, 0 907540 29 5
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Liberty Tree 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 78 pp., £4, June 1983, 0 05 711302 5
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111 Poems 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 185 pp., £5.95, April 1983, 0 85635 457 0
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New and Selected Poems 
by James Michie.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2723 6
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By the Fisheries 
by Jeremy Reed.
Cape, 79 pp., £4, March 1984, 0 224 02154 0
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Voyages 
by George Mackay Brown.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2736 8
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... to this: there is nothing in ‘A Wave’ which Ashbery’s mind has much difficulty in taking as itself. The admission of rival sentiments comes to appear merely a nuance of the mind’s habit. Andrew Motion’s way of making sense is to imagine something, then something else apparently quite different, and let the poem accommodate both imaginings with or without specifying the relation between ...
5 December 1985
Tolstoy’s Diaries 
translated by R.F. Christian.
Athlone, 755 pp., £45, October 1985, 0 485 11276 0
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Cape, 1043 pp., £30, September 1985, 0 224 02270 9
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... but something far more urgent, emotional and volatile. ‘My God! Where am I? Where am I going? And what am I now?’ That is almost exactly like Natasha’s exclamation at the death of Prince Andrew, which the translators weaken by paraphrase, finding its literalness too disconcerting. It should be: ‘Where is he and who is he now?’ Who is he now? Tolstoy’s sense of identity was so strong ...

So Much to Hate

Bernard Porter: Rudyard Bloody Kipling

25 April 2002
The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling 
by David Gilmour.
Murray, 351 pp., £22.50, March 2002, 0 7195 5539 6
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... and was to carry on hating long afterwards. One of his chief complaints about the English (of which more in a moment) was that they ‘did not know how to hate’. ‘I love him,’ he said of Andrew Bonar Law, almost the only politician he had any time for, ‘because he hates.’ The objects of his hatred were many: Liberals, socialists, Irish Home Rulers, the Irish Free State (the ‘Free ...

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