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Umpteens

Christopher Ricks, 22 November 1990

Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications 
edited by Adrian Room.
Bloomsbury, 354 pp., £17.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0521 7
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Unauthorised Versions: Poems and their Parodies 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 446 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14122 6
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The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 407 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 14470 5
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... an occasional session of sweet silent thought, or even to the consulting of a concordance. Robert Browning, Luria, 1846 – I dedicate this last attempt for the present at Dramatic Poetry to a Great Dramatic Poet: ‘Wishing what I write may be read by his light’: if a phrase originally addressed, by not the least worthy of his contemporaries, to ...

Favourite Subjects

J.I.M. Stewart, 17 September 1981

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 
edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien.
Allen and Unwin, 463 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 04 826005 3
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Tolkien and the Silmarils 
by Randel Helms.
Thames and Hudson, 104 pp., £5.50, September 1981, 0 500 01264 4
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... novel’. And so with individual writers and artists. He deplores ‘the shallow vulgarity of Browning’; meets Walter de la Mare but records, ‘we had little to say’; judges Robert Graves to be an Ass; declares it ‘possible to dislike Eliot with some intensity’; refers to ‘greasy Epstein’, and to his admirer W.H. Auden as belonging ...

Waving

Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography 
by Frances Spalding.
Faber, 331 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 571 15207 4
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... Lear-and-Thurber-derived drawings, or a serious and in many ways profound literary artist. Christopher Ricks wrote: ‘The first question to ask about the poems of Stevie Smith is, can she possibly be as ingenuous as she sounds?’ Towards the end of this essay, having demonstrated with his usual prestidigitation and allusiveness Stevie ...

Is it always my fault?

Denis Donoghue: T.S. Eliot, 25 January 2007

T.S. Eliot 
by Craig Raine.
Oxford, 202 pp., £12.99, January 2007, 978 0 19 530993 5
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... and ‘Evidence in the Eliot Case’ (1996) – this last featuring a notably unkind commentary on Christopher Ricks’s editing of Eliot’s Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-17. In the new book, as in these essays, Raine assumes that his readers are likely to be ‘somewhat impure and apt to confuse issues’. It is my impression that he remained ...

A Review of Grigson’s Verse

Graham Hough, 7 August 1980

History of Him 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 96 pp., £4.50, June 1980, 0 436 18841 4
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... and art historian – it is as a sympathetic critic of some of the quieter poets (Clare, Barnes, Christopher Smart) and an acrid critic of many others, including most of his contemporaries, that Grigson is first thought of. Not Mr Grigson the poet, his eye in a fine frenzy rolling, but Mr Grigson the critic, his eye beadily turned on pretension, inflation ...

Toad in the Hole

Geoffrey Wall: Tristan Corbière, 16 July 1998

These Jaundiced Loves: A Translation of Tristan Corbière’s ‘Les Amours Jaunes’ 
by Christopher Pilling.
Peterloo, 395 pp., £14.95, April 1997, 1 871471 55 9
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... has gone unheeded, for he is back again, almost as good as new, in a parallel-text translation by Christopher Pilling. These translations are a labour of love: heroically complete, decorously literal and slightly awkward. So much depends, in Corbière, on a recklessness that expresses itself in the twisting and hammering of poetic form. Among recent ...

High Punctuation

Christopher Ricks, 14 May 1992

But I digress: The Exploitation of Parentheses in English Printed Verse 
by John Lennard.
Oxford, 324 pp., £35, November 1991, 0 19 811247 5
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... differently-minded critics to want to shut their ears to the poets’ words about it. If Byron and Browning (on whom Lennard is acutely provocative) were reachable by ouija board, it would be perverse of us to refuse to hear whether they would assent to an interpretation of their work – with oui and ja (the etymology after all) – or whether we should find ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... continue until the last person who remembers it has expired. Of William Wordsworth’s desertion, Browning wrote that he did it ‘just for a handful of silver’ and ‘just for a ribbon to stick in his coat’. That was probably unfair to Wordsworth and would be quite inadequate as a condemnation or explanation of Chambers. Of his own renunciation, Chambers ...

Hard Labour

Frank Kermode: Marvell beneath the Notes, 23 October 2003

The Poems of Andrew Marvell 
edited by Nigel Smith.
Longman, 468 pp., £50, January 2003, 0 582 07770 2
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... fallible. For instance, he insisted on modernising spelling and punctuation; but why modernise Browning, and why meddle with Marvell’s punctuation, which is important to his rhetoric and contributes to his ambiguity? Most important still, Bateson hoped his editors could work on a received text, but now, editorial standards being higher, they feel obliged ...

Beastliness

John Mullan: Eric Griffiths, 23 May 2019

If Not Critical 
by Eric Griffiths, edited by Freya Johnston.
Oxford, 248 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 880529 8
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The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry 
by Eric Griffiths.
Oxford, 351 pp., £55, July 2018, 978 0 19 882701 6
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... it makes on the listener. It is literary criticism ‘to the moment’. Like his PhD supervisor, Christopher Ricks, Griffiths is above all an apostle of close reading. He treats the passages he discusses as morally and psychologically instructive as well as semantically subtle. He attends to small details of syntax or diction, but he is also concerned with ...

Received Accents

Peter Robinson, 20 February 1986

Collected Poems 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 351 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 19 211974 5
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Selected and New Poems: 1939-84 
by J.C. Hall.
Secker, 87 pp., £3.95, September 1985, 0 436 19052 4
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Burning the knife: New and Selected Poems 
by Robin Magowan.
Scarecrow Press, 114 pp., £13.50, September 1985, 0 8108 1777 2
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Englishmen: A Poem 
by Christopher Hope.
Heinemann, 41 pp., £4.95, September 1985, 0 434 34661 6
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Selected Poems: 1954-1982 
by John Fuller.
Secker, 175 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 16754 9
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Writing Home 
by Hugo Williams.
Oxford, 70 pp., £3.95, September 1985, 0 19 211970 2
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... Which else would have been passed by! because it is too busy trying to see urinals as mosques. Christopher Hope’s poem Englishmen has the advantage of a subject other than the inside of the poet’s own head. Hogge, Owen, Mrs Oribi and Mr Silvero represent aspects of English settler life in South Africa. The first two are ‘mysterious ...

A Cousin of Colonel Heneage

Robert Crawford: Was Eliot a Swell?, 18 April 2019

The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume VIII: 1936-38 
edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden.
Faber, 1100 pp., £50, January 2019, 978 0 571 31638 0
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... these prodigious gatherings, the poetry looks svelte. Yet the 2015 Faber edition of the Poems by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue itself runs to nearly two thousand densely annotated pages. This, too, is a breathtaking achievement. Very few people will read through all these thousands of pages, and their publication risks making Eliot seem more daunting than ...

Matters of Taste

Peter Graham, 4 December 1986

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen 
by Harold McGee.
Allen and Unwin, 684 pp., £20, September 1986, 9780043060032
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The French Menu Cookbook 
by Richard Olney.
Dorling Kindersley, 294 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 86318 181 3
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Out to Lunch 
by Paul Levy.
Chatto, 240 pp., £10.95, November 1986, 0 7011 3091 1
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The Good Food Guide 1987 
edited by Drew Smith.
Consumers’ Association/Hodder, 725 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 340 39600 8
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... has dark and light meat, why sauces thicken, why pastry dough needs to rest, why bread rises, what browning does to foods, and countless other alchemical aspects of the kitchen. Possibly because his training straddles two disciplines, McGee is quite prepared to admit, on occasion, the nescience of science. Apparently we still have only a sketchy idea of how ...

Two Sharp Teeth

Philip Ball: Dracula Studies, 25 October 2018

Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote ‘Dracula’ 
by David J. Skal.
Norton, 672 pp., £15.99, October 2017, 978 1 63149 386 7
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The Cambridge Companion to ‘Dracula’ 
edited by Roger Luckhurst.
Cambridge, 219 pp., £17.99, November 2017, 978 1 316 60708 4
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The Vampire: A New History 
by Nick Groom.
Yale, 287 pp., £16.99, October 2018, 978 0 300 23223 3
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... man. What we know of his frustrations, fantasies and fears we know from his stories. Dracula, Christopher Frayling writes in his preface to the Penguin edition, ‘was probably transgressing something – but the critics weren’t quite sure exactly what’. The author probably wasn’t sure either. All Stoker seems to have wanted to do was to write a ...

Fine Chances

Michael Wood, 5 June 1986

Literary Criticism 
by Henry James, edited by Leon Edel.
Cambridge, 1500 pp., £30, July 1985, 0 521 30100 9
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Henry James: The Writer and his Work 
by Tony Tanner.
Massachusetts, 142 pp., £16.95, November 1985, 0 87023 492 7
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... to authors much lived with: acts of gratitude, however tough his assessments may be. Balzac, Browning, Hawthorne, Emerson, Flaubert, Maupassant, Stevenson all come in for this treatment, are covered, to use a recurring image of James’s, by the critic’s generous wings, sheltered in the imagination’s irony. The irony may help us in a current critical ...

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