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Vlad the Impaler

Inga Clendinnen: Hairy Humbert

10 August 2000
Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings 
edited by Brian Boyd and Michael Pyle.
Allen Lane, 783 pp., £25, March 2000, 0 7139 9380 4
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Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius 
by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates.
Zoland, 372 pp., £18, October 1999, 1 58195 009 8
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... Now we are being offered two large books seeking to uncover rather less opportunistic linkages between the lepidopterist and the writer. Nabokov’s Butterflies comes with impeccable credentials: BrianBoyd, Nabokov’s biographer, has composed it in association with the lepidopterist Robert Pyle; the translations from Russian are by Dmitri Nabokov. Nonetheless, doubt rises early. We are ...

Darwin Won’t Help

Terry Eagleton: Evocriticism

24 September 2009
On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction 
by Brian Boyd.
Harvard, 540 pp., £25.95, May 2009, 978 0 674 03357 3
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... Modernism is thus the new form of realism. Humanism prizes pedigree, provenance, heritage and tradition; evolutionary science seems to offer struggle, disruption, waste and chance in their place. BrianBoyd’s On the Origin of Stories, which presents itself as a work of ‘evocriticism’, might well be a straw in the wind blowing contemporary criticism back from Culture to Nature. Given the ...
14 May 1992
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... course of this otherwise tenacious, intricately argued, judicious account of Nabokov’s life in the States, and, post-Lolita, in Montreux. Disposing of Andrew Field, his predecessor in the field, BrianBoyd cites his insolent, perfunctory response to one of Nabokov’s factual corrections. Told an event had taken place in July and not on ‘a wet autumnal day’, Field emended the phrase to ‘a ...

Dear Poochums

Michael Wood: Letters to Véra

22 October 2014
Letters to Véra 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd.
Penguin, 798 pp., £30, September 2014, 978 0 14 119223 9
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... Nabokov’s favourite quotations from Pushkin, which appears in a letter of 1926: ‘They say that misfortune is a good school. Yes, true. But happiness is the best university.’ Olga Voronina and BrianBoyd offer a fuller version of the aphorism in a note. This attractive argument is severely tested by Letters to Véra, at least on an initial reading. How many instances can we take of someone else ...

Episodes

Wystan Curnow

19 March 2015
... Paris, to be-     come an actor. Flashback: enjoying new powers   Magnus makes twenty-year old Lestat a Premium Stake- holder Vampire (PSV), bloods him and then he goes into the fire.   With BrianBoyd who knows the story, Lestat makes his     Mother Gabrielle a vampire. Lestat encounters   Armand’s coven. Lestat makes a tidy sum, a killing. Lestat gives Renaud’s Theater to four ...

Buttoned

Michael Ignatieff

20 December 1990
Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 607 pp., £20, November 1990, 0 7011 3700 2
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... doesn’t help us to track down the genesis of the work. Take the issue of cruelty in Nabokov’s fiction. His depiction of suffering always makes cold shivers of pleasure run up my spine. What does Boyd make of this lepidopteral coldness? Given his subject’s superb contempt for the ‘Viennese Quack’ and all those who travel in the ‘third-class carriage of his thought’, psychoanalytical ...

Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown

21 March 1996
The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov.
Knopf, 659 pp., $35, October 1995, 0 394 58615 8
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... comes from a French writer invented by Nabokov: ‘Comme un fou se croit Dieu, nous nous croyons mortels.’ To believe that one’s soul dies is just as delusional as to believe that one is God. BrianBoyd, in his splendid two-volume biography, links this story with another, ‘Signs and Symbols’, written in 1948. An aged couple try to visit their hopelessly insane son in an asylum to give him a ...

After-Lives

John Sutherland

5 November 1992
Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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Trollope 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... defended by Stephen Spender against the intrusive Hugh David. There has recently been the quarrel between Nabokov’s biographers – the publishing rascal Andrew Field and friend of the family, BrianBoyd. Should Diane Middlebrook have had access to Anne Sexton’s psychiatric records? Did Lawrence Durrell commit incest with his daughter, and if he did should the public know about it? The ...
1 October 1987
A Friend from England 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 205 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 224 02443 4
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The New Confessions 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 241 12383 6
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The Colour of Blood 
by Brian​ Moore.
Cape, 182 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 224 02513 9
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... is a woman to live – meanwhile? A Friend from England is much the most morally subtle and technically adroit articulation of the question that Anita Brookner has so far produced. In William Boyd’s The New Confessions a crucial part is played by Rousseau’s old ones, and the presence of its precursor is not altogether to the novel’s advantage. The revelations are made by John James Todd ...

Painting the map red

William Boyd

5 September 1985
The Randlords: The Men who made South Africa 
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
Weidenfeld, 314 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 297 78437 4
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... of his life. If one wants to learn about Neville Pickering, his first private secretary and the great love of his life (Rhodes, in his second will, left his estate to Pickering), one must turn to Brian Roberts’s Cecil Rhodes and the Princess, where, for the first and only time, Pickering’s early life and background are accurately delineated. Other murky areas – Rhodes’s dealings with ...

Diary

Daniel Finn: Ireland’s Election

17 March 2011
... Four years ago, when Fianna Fáil was returned for a third consecutive stint in office, electoral pundits could barely find enough superlatives for the role played by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen in the party’s triumph. Ahern, they said, was a ‘political tsunami’, and Cowen, if anything, even more formidable. This time around, neither Ahern nor Cowen was standing, rightly fearing ...

Diary

Julian Barnes: Burning Letters

7 July 1988
... that we’re just writers at work on our next book, that we’re sure X’s latest is jolly good even though we haven’t yet got round to it, and that Liverpool are the best club side in Europe, Brian, we can’t help being impinged upon, being made to realise that writing, alas, isn’t just a seamless embrace between writer and reader. The other day, for instance, I turned up the following ...
9 November 1989
The Blind Victorian: Henry Fawcett and British Liberalism 
edited by Lawrence Goldman.
Cambridge, 199 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 521 35032 8
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... against Home Rule for Ireland. Goldman’s book originated in a conference at Fawcett’s old Cambridge college in 1984. After a well-balanced and informative introduction by Goldman, Collini (with Boyd Hilton as respondent) explains the relationship between Fawcett and his first biographer, and shows how integral the concept of ‘manliness’ was to their affinity and to their faith in political ...

Diary

Julian Barnes: On the Booker

12 November 1987
... Still, the mistake, then as now, is to look at the books themselves. When literary editors pen those overnight pieces on the Booker short-list and lament the omissions – where was McEwan? Where was Boyd? Where was Amis? And the other Amis? – they are examining the candidates (not all of whom they can possibly have read) rather than the judges. If I were Mr Ron Pollard of Ladbrokes (whose odds have ...
23 January 1986
Now the war is over: A Social History of Britain 1945-51 
by Paul Addison.
BBC/Cape, 223 pp., £10.95, September 1985, 0 563 20407 9
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England First and Last 
by Anthony Bailey.
Faber, 212 pp., £12.50, October 1985, 0 571 13587 0
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A World Still to Win: The Reconstruction of the Post-War Working Class 
by Trevor Blackwell and Jeremy Seabrook.
Faber, 189 pp., £4.50, October 1985, 0 571 13701 6
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The Issue of War: States, Societies and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941-1945 
by Christopher Thorne.
Hamish Hamilton, 364 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 241 10239 1
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The Hiroshima Maidens 
by Rodney Barker.
Viking, 240 pp., £9.95, July 1985, 0 670 80609 9
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Faces of Hiroshima: A Report 
by Anne Chisholm.
Cape, 182 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 224 02831 6
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End of Empire 
by Brain Lapping.
Granada, 560 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 246 11969 1
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Outposts 
by Simon Winchester.
Hodder, 317 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 340 33772 9
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... injustice, expand the economy and create a fuller and more spacious life for all’. Labour’s victory in 1945 brought opportunity to high-minded persons from more than one political tradition. Boyd Orr the medical reformer and Julian Huxley the socially-conscious scientist helped to set up Unesco. William Beveridge, a Liberal, saw his Welfare State largely enacted; Creech Jones, chairman of the ...

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