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One Cygnet Too Many

John Watts: Henry VII

26 April 2012
Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England 
by Thomas Penn.
Penguin, 448 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 0 14 104053 0
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... and removed the most dangerous alternative claimant to his throne, Edward, Earl of Warwick, the nephew of Edward IV in the male line. The king was poised to celebrate the marriage of his eldest son, Arthur, to the Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon. The splendid pageants and tournaments that accompanied the match made much of the king’s achievements. They stressed the ‘rich mount’ of his ...
23 September 1993
Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire 
by Tom Pocock.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £20, August 1993, 0 297 81308 0
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... Britain could not, or would not, hold on to the Transvaal. Disenchanted, the young adventurer decided that the time had come to make money out of Africa, like everyone else. Instead of digging for gold or diamonds, he turned to supplying ostrich feathers for fine ladies back home. Four years after hoisting the Union flag he and his wife (a ‘brick’ of a girl, not his first choice) rented their ...

Ducking and Dodging

R.W. Johnson: Agent Zigzag

19 July 2007
Agent Zigzag 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 372 pp., £14.99, January 2007, 978 0 7475 8794 1
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... says he got the idea for his book from reading Chapman’s obituary (he died, aged 83, in 1997), but he might just as easily have made Faramus the central character. Chapman was patriotic in an Arthur Daley sort of way, willing to rally to the cause but always on the qui vive for dodgy little earners, a theft here, a con trick there. He was unfaithful to any number of women, robbed people he was ...

The crematorium is a zoo

Joshua Cohen: H.G. Adler

3 March 2016
The Wall 
by H.G. Adler, translated by Peter Filkins.
Modern Library, 672 pp., £12.99, September 2015, 978 0 8129 8315 9
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... behind the curtain and acknowledge the cheers of those left behind’. The final volume of the trilogy, The Wall, was written between 1956 and 1961 and published posthumously in 1989. Its narrator, Arthur Landau, remembers the immediate aftermath of the war in ‘the city’, which is still Prague, and his émigré life in ‘the metropolis’, which is London. Arthur is a freelance scholar immersed ...

Tricky Business

Megan Vaughan: The Middle Passage

12 December 2002
The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade 
by Robert Harms.
Perseus, 466 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 1 903985 18 8
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... the country, importing and exporting goods that most people would never own, and perhaps never see. Arriving in Nantes, with its grand merchants’ mansions and its opera house, the English traveller Arthur Young found himself in a strikingly different world from the one he had been journeying through: ‘Mon Dieu! I cried to myself, do all the wastes, the deserts, the heath, ling, furz, broom and bog ...


Paul Foot

2 March 1989
The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Discrediting of a Prime Minister 
by David Leigh.
Heinemann, 271 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 434 41340 2
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A Price too High 
by Peter Rawlinson.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £16, March 1989, 0 297 79431 0
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... no one could. Well, he has not found it, or at least he has not found it in anything like the shape any of us imagined it, and having read this book, I am prepared to accept, like a reformed gold-digger on the Sierra Madre, that Wilsonia never existed: that there never was a simple, secret explanation for Wilson’s resignation. His own explanation was probably true – he had had enough. It ...

Ministry of Apparitions

Malcolm Gaskill: Magical Thinking in 1918

4 July 2019
A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination and Faith during the First World War 
by Owen Davies.
Oxford, 284 pp., £20, October 2018, 978 0 19 879455 4
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... Cotswolds in 1952. It’s a well-known story that British soldiers at Mons claimed they really did see angels – but that story, too, turns out to be unfounded. In September 1914 the Welsh writer Arthur Machen published a story called ‘The Bowmen’ in the London Evening News. In it, spectral archers from the Battle of Agincourt come to the aid of the British Expeditionary Force at Mons. To his ...

Widowers on the Prowl

Tom Shippey: Britain after Rome

17 March 2011
Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070 
by Robin Fleming.
Allen Lane, 458 pp., £25, August 2010, 978 0 7139 9064 5
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... Somerset were scavenging cremation urns from 200-year-old cemeteries to cook with. An Iron Age earthwork there was extensively refortified in the post-Roman period, causing some believers in the King Arthur legend to imagine it as the original Camelot, but their imagination will not have stretched to the notion of the Knights of the Round Table grave-robbing for pots. It’s worth pointing out that ...
10 October 1991
ThePoems of Browning. Vol. I: 1826-1840 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin.
Longman, 797 pp., £60, April 1991, 0 582 48100 7
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ThePoems of Browning. Vol. II: 1841-1846 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin .
Longman, 581 pp., £50, April 1991, 9780582063990
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... Prize 1990) speaks on these matters with authority, being herself a Victorian poet, industrious and prolific: These things are there. The garden and the tree The serpent at its root, the fruit of gold The woman in the shadow of the boughs The running water and the grassy space. They are and were there. At the old world’s rim, In the Hesperidean grove, the fruit Glowed golden on eternal boughs ...

Good Fibs

Andrew O’Hagan: Truman Capote

2 April 1998
Truman Capote: In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career 
by George Plimpton.
Picador, 498 pp., £20, February 1998, 0 330 36871 0
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... Capote regaling a dinner table with the news that he had slept with Garbo. He told another group that all her Picassos were upside down. ‘I notice something about Truman,’ says the composer ArthurGold, ‘whenever he begins to fantasise or tell lies, he looks up. His eyes go heavenward and he doesn’t look at you. Just watch, whenever his eyes go up, whatever he is telling you is not the ...

The wind comes up out of nowhere

Charles Nicholl: On the trail of Arthur​ Cravan

9 March 2006
... In the annals of French literature, Arthur Cravan is more often a colourful footnote than a sober paragraph. He is usually referred to as ‘the poet and boxer Arthur Cravan’, and this odd-seeming conjunction is often fleshed out with more disreputable terms such as ‘con man’ or ‘adventurer’. He is also described as Oscar Wilde’s nephew, which is true ...
4 September 1997
The Fu Manchu Omnibus: Vol. II 
by Sax Rohmer.
Allison and Busby, 630 pp., £9.99, June 1997, 0 7490 0222 0
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... to do the world’s dirty washing. If it posed any real threat it was as a source of cheap labour. In the late 19th century, America, not relishing the zeal with which the Chinese had joined in its gold rushes, passed a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts and there were yellow v. white riots in San Francisco. The ‘White Australia’ policy was inspired by Chinese incursions into Australian goldfields ...


Iain Sinclair: The Peruvian Corporation of London

10 October 2019
... rectitude that they were sparing them the indignities of civilisation.’ This observation brings me to the prompt for my own back-country tourism. I was in pursuit of my Scottish great-grandfather Arthur Sinclair, from Turriff in Aberdeenshire. In a chapbook, The Story of His Life and Times as Told by Himself, published in Colombo in 1900, Sinclair briskly sketches a career that had some parallels ...

Bad Dads

Zachary Leader

6 April 1995
In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 210 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 7475 1919 6
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Tallien: A Brief Romance 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 152 pp., £9.95, November 1994, 0 7145 2990 7
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Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story 
by Max Apple.
Little, Brown, 241 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 316 91241 7
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... of memory. The American writer Tobias Wolff has already published one volume of memoirs. Now, at the age of 49, he has produced a second. Who can blame him? His father was a conman and impostor: Arthur Samuels Wolff, aka Arthur Saunders Wolff III, aka Saunders Answell-Wolff III, the ‘Duke’ of Tobias’s brother Geoffrey’s memoir, The Duke of Deception (1979). As the memoirs of both Wolff ...

More about Marilyn

Michael Church

20 February 1986
Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe 
by Anthony Summers.
Gollancz, 414 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 575 03641 9
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Norma Jeane: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe 
by Fred Lawrence Guiles.
Granada, 377 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 246 12307 9
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Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton 
by C. David Heymann.
Hutchinson, 390 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 09 146010 7
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Deams that money can buy: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman 
by Jon Bradshaw.
Cape, 431 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 224 02846 4
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All Those Tomorrows 
by Mai Zetterling.
Cape, 230 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 224 01841 8
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Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady 
by Florence King.
Joseph, 278 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 7181 2611 4
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... A suicide kills two people, Maggie. That’s what it’s for.’ Thus Quentin, the tormented Prospero-figure in Arthur Miller’s autobiographical play After the Fall. Maggie replies by eating a handful of pills, and the scene then twists and turns between Quentin’s acknowledged guilt and his defiant belief that ...

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