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Leave me alone

Terry Eagleton: Terry Eagleton joins the Yeomen, 30 April 2009

What Price Liberty? How Freedom Was Won and Is Being Lost 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 480 pp., £14.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 23594 0
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... green, but the English wear red noses. They do so as a degenerate, depoliticised version of what Ben Wilson describes in this book as ‘the stubbornly independent little man … rebellious peasants, Puritans, Cromwell’s yeomen, Wilkesite rioters, Paineite radicals and trade unionists’. What Price Liberty? is an erudite, eminently readable account ...

According to A.N. Wilson

Patricia Beer, 3 December 1992

Jesus 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 269 pp., £15, September 1992, 1 85619 114 1
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... to the point of sprightliness sometimes, but without becoming facetious. Even when, for example, Wilson speaks of Jesus in the same breath and tone as he speaks of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood, he is making a serious point about the traditional techniques of rhetoric as used by St Luke, who, in this instance, drops historical names such as ...

Tony and Caroline

Ben Pimlott, 26 November 1987

Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963-67 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 592 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 09 170660 2
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... emblem. The party which Morrison and Gaitskell had fashioned in the Fifties, and which Wilson inherited, was a Keynesian, welfarist party with modest redistributive aims. Its radicalism was not directed towards the working class, whose actual existence was beginning to be doubted by sophisticated progressive opinion, influenced by theories of ...

Private Lives

Ray Monk, 22 November 1990

... edited by Michael Nedo and Michele Ranchetti, with the caption: Wittgenstein mit dem Freund Ben Richards in London. In the article I dismiss as absurd the idea that this picture proves what Steiner takes it as proving. I do so on the grounds that, having met Ben Richards, I can confidently discount the idea that he ...

Like Unruly Children in a Citizenship Class

John Barrell: A hero for Howard, 21 April 2005

The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for a Free Press 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 455 pp., £16.99, April 2005, 0 571 22470 9
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... he is now remembered. The story of the three trials is the superbly dramatic centrepiece of Ben Wilson’s fine new biography of Hone, the first for nearly a century. It tells many more stories besides: that, for example, of the brilliant investigative journalism by which Hone sought to vindicate the serving-maid Eliza Fenning, hanged for ...

Über-Tony

Ben Pimlott: Anthony Crosland, 3 September 1998

Crosland’s Future: Opportunity and Outcome 
by David Reisman.
Macmillan, 237 pp., £47.50, October 1997, 0 333 65963 5
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... calculating machines’. Attlee regarded theory as stuff and nonsense and Harold Wilson doused his food with HP Sauce to project a plain-man image. It was the people’s dominatrix who caused a turnaround. Pragmatic to the core, she took up philosophers she agreed with and allowed her instincts to be dignified as an ideology. Since ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Evolution versus Metamorphosis, 1 September 2005

... aid to survival or reproduction, or both. Once upon a time, there were two cavemen called Bill and Ben, who were rivals for the affections of a beautiful cavewoman called Beryl. (If you think this story is going to take a reactionary turn, you’re not wrong. But that’s because it belongs in the tradition of evolutionary psychology just-so stories, which ...
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different. ‘Literature’ was, as an idea, venerated by both parties, but ...

Lore and Ordure

Terence Hawkes: Jonson and digestion, 21 May 1998

The Fury of Men’s Gullets: Ben Jonson and the Digestive Canal 
by Bruce Thomas Boehrer.
Pennsylvania, 238 pp., £36.50, January 1998, 0 8122 3408 1
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... In 1616, the year in which Shakespeare died, Ben Jonson became the first English dramatist to publish a collected edition of his own plays. No doubt The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, a folio volume of more than a thousand pages, brought a sharp satisfaction to its author. The indignities of an earlier career as a bricklayer could scarcely have been more roundly redeemed ...

Literary Man

J.I.M. Stewart, 7 June 1984

Hilaire Belloc 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 398 pp., £12.95, April 1984, 0 241 11176 5
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... he recorded of himself is liable to be full of fibs is disadvantageous to a biographer, and A.N. Wilson shows himself adequately aware of the fact. But there is a further hazard. Belloc was ceaselessly sociable and loquacious, and ceaselessly – by the standards of his time – outrageous to the point of being unprintable. There has, as a result, come into ...

Say what you will about Harold

Christopher Hitchens, 2 December 1993

WilsonThe Authorised Life 
by Philip Ziegler.
Weidenfeld, 593 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 297 81276 9
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... Since it can be properly said that nothing in Harold Wilson’s political career became him like the leaving of it, there is some justice in the fact that he is now best-remembered for one photograph and for one action. The photograph shows him next to the Duke of Grafton while assuming his stall at Windsor as a Knight of the Garter, and the action was the compiling (would that be the word?) of a resignation honours list that rewarded those who – oh, dash it, I don’t know – shall we say made money rather than earned it? Anyway, in the photograph Wilson looks like nothing so much as a grinning monkey on a stick, and in the matter of the honours list he achieved the near-impossible feat of discrediting the discredited and making a laughing-stock out of something already rather disagreeably risible ...

At Miss Whitehead’s

Edward Said, 7 July 1994

The Sixties: The Last Journal, 1960-1972 
by Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 968 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 374 26554 2
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... Among major 20th-century critics who wrote in English, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) is still by far the most readable – readable anywhere and at any time. Only professionals are likely to find his style, and even his methods, entirely too informal and amateurish – absence of footnotes, personal tone etc. But I can testify to being able to read him with pleasure and for no particular reason at home, on a bus, in an office, a hospital waiting-room, a hotel ...

Sterling and Strings

Peter Davies: Harold Wilson and Vietnam, 20 November 2008

... In opposition, Harold Wilson spoke out against American involvement in Vietnam. In May 1954, during his Bevanite phase, he declared that ‘not a man, not a gun, must be sent from this country to defend French colonisation in Indo-China … we must not join or in any way encourage an anti-Communist crusade in Asia under the leadership of the Americans or anyone else ...

Diary

Wilson Firth: A Psychiatrist’s Story, 2 September 2004

... dramatically in the early 1990s following the publicity surrounding the Silcock and Clunis cases. (Ben Silcock climbed into the lions’ den at London Zoo; Christopher Clunis killed Jonathan Zito in a London Underground station.) The subsequent inquiry, the Ritchie Report, had a profound effect on mental health care: procedures became more formalised, tight ...

Resentment

John Sutherland, 21 March 1991

Francesca 
by Roger Scruton.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 236 pp., £13.95, February 1991, 9781856190480
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Slave of the Passions 
by Deirdre Wilson.
Picador, 251 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 330 31788 1
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The Invisible Worm 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1991, 1 85619 041 2
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The Secret Pilgrim 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 335 pp., £14.95, January 1991, 0 340 54381 7
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... reader stimulated, mildly infuriated, and seriously baffled. ‘Final exams were over.’ Deirdre Wilson’s first sentence snaps at the reader. Anyone who doesn’t know from personal experience what finals are should probably go no further. This novel is not for the unlettered. Slave of the Passions ponders the great question whether there is life after ...

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