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Lyrics and Ironies

Christopher Ricks, 4 December 1986

The Alluring Problem: An Essay on Irony 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 178 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 19 212253 3
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Czeslaw Milosz and the Insufficiency of Lyric 
by Donald Davie.
Cambridge, 76 pp., £15, September 1986, 0 521 32264 2
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... themselves than as furnishing the perfect polemical points de repère; over the years the poems of Christopher Middleton, of J.H. Prynne, and of C.H. Sisson, have all found themselves not so much constituting the grounds of Davie’s argument as figuring in it. But Milosz is too stubborn and faceted to be functionalised, even in the most high-minded way, and ...

Ruling Imbecilities

Andrew Roberts, 7 November 1991

The Enemy’s Country: Words, Contexture and Other Circumstances of Language 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 153 pp., £19.95, August 1991, 0 19 811216 5
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... Hill’s acerbic satire on contemporary Britain was most unlike the arch public lyrics that Ted Hughes has published since his elevation to that role. The Sunday Correspondent finally folded just over two weeks later. There was, as far as I know, no causal connection between the two events, but the circumstance has a certain ironic appropriateness in the ...

Madd Men

Mark Kishlansky: Gerrard Winstanley, 17 February 2011

The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley 
by Thomas Corns, Ann Hughes and David Loewenstein.
Oxford, 1065 pp., £189, December 2009, 978 0 19 957606 7
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... the editors, David Loewenstein and Thomas Corns, both professors of English, and a historian, Ann Hughes, have brought to bear on them deep learning about textual and editorial matters. This is everything one could ask for in a scholarly edition. There may be room to question the inclusion of The True Levellers Standard Advanced or A Declaration from the Poor ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... offences,’ the choir sang, doing Psalm 39, ‘and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.’ Ted Hughes read the bit from Ecclesiasticus about now praising famous men. Where these orders of service used to be religious brochures offering blasts of Christian devotion, they are now ‘celebrations’ of the life, posthumous animations of the career, and ...

On Not Being Sylvia Plath

Colm Tóibín: Thom Gunn on the Move, 13 September 2018

Selected Poems 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2017, 978 0 571 32769 0
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... of the poets – Charles Tomlinson, or David Gascoyne, or Robert Conquest, or John Holloway, or Christopher Middleton, or Geoffrey Hill – stood for a world that was fully England. Looking at the list of poets was like having one’s Irish nose pushed up against the polished glass of a posh window in some imaginary Big House. But it was clear to me that ...

About Myself

Liam McIlvanney: James Hogg, 18 November 2004

The Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg 
by Karl Miller.
Faber, 401 pp., £25, August 2003, 0 571 21816 4
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Altrive Tales 
by James Hogg, edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 293 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 7486 1893 7
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... The author of the Noctes was John Wilson, who constructed dialogues between his own alter ego (‘Christopher North’) and that of Hogg (‘the Shepherd’). The Shepherd gets the best lines – better, some have suggested, than anything Hogg ever wrote – but he is also made to look a ‘boozing buffoon’. He says things like, ‘Hoots, man – I dinna ...

Mirror Images

Christopher Andrew, 3 April 1986

World of Secrets: The Uses and Limits of Intelligence 
by Walter Laqueur.
Weidenfeld, 404 pp., £25, November 1985, 0 297 78745 4
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... time to denounce publicly those journalists who had dared to print the name of the head of MI6, Christopher Curwen. The heads of the CIA and the KGB, William Casey and Victor Chebrikov, are of course public figures. But that, as Mr Ingham would say, is not the point. What the point is remains obscure. In 1932 the novelist Compton Mackenzie was tried for a ...

Triumph of the Termites

Tom Nairn: Gordon Brown, 8 April 2010

The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour 
by Andrew Rawnsley.
Viking, 802 pp., £25, March 2010, 978 0 670 91851 5
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What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown?: How the Dream Job Turned Sour 
edited by Colin Hughes.
Guardian, 294 pp., £8.99, January 2010, 978 0 85265 219 0
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Broonland: The Last Days of Gordon Brown 
by Christopher Harvie.
Verso, 206 pp., £8.99, February 2010, 978 1 84467 439 8
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... dithering photo of the prime minister fronts What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown? The cover of Christopher Harvie’s book features a cartoon from the Independent: an apocalyptic lightning flash strikes and anoints David Cameron, while Brown and Alistair Darling flee London as Parliament quakes against the background of a setting sun. Andrew Rawnsley’s ...

Major and Minor

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1985

The Oxford Companion to English Literature 
edited by Margaret Drabble.
Oxford, 1155 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 19 866130 4
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... wordage as Day-Lewis and a lot less than Maugham. From Australia we have Patrick White but not Christopher Brennan or A.D. Hope. Elsewhere one notes the ample presence of D. Lessing and the absence of D. Jacobson; his near-namesake Roman Jakobson is in, and said to be still alive, though alas he is not. Why Auerbach and not Curtius or Spitzer? Why the ...

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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... that the identity of the arch-Thatcherite is unmasked, ‘a Thatcherite before Thatcher’. Ted Hughes, none other. The argument for this judgment does not enforce conviction: ‘His reaction against the civil decencies of Movement verse and identification with what he elsewhere terms “the iron blood of Calvin” make him a Thatcherite before ...

Mary, Mary

Christopher Hitchens, 8 April 1993

Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover 
by Anthony Summers.
Gollancz, 576 pp., £18.99, March 1993, 0 575 04236 2
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... authoritarian corruption. In his rather wonderful new essay ‘The Culture of Complaint’, Robert Hughes addresses the radical counterpart of this ‘culture war’ and marvels that after the 1989 revolution: ‘The world changes more deeply, widely, thrillingly than at any moment since 1917, perhaps since 1848, and the American academic left keeps fretting ...

Putting on the Plum

Christopher Tayler: Richard Flanagan, 31 October 2002

Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish 
by Richard Flanagan.
Atlantic, 404 pp., £16.99, June 2002, 1 84354 021 5
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... some of the sources used by orthodox contemporary histories of the Transportation System. Robert Hughes’s discussion of the Port Arthur penal colony could almost be a description of Jorgensen’s chronicle – although Hughes’s tone, predictably, is rather less admiring than Gould’s: To scrutinise the punishment ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

Stevie 
by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Heinemann, 378 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 434 44105 8
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... never met her, Stevie Smith and her work are draped in Palmers Greenery. Would a biographer of Hughes call him Ted? It is not easy to write a forceful narrative about a woman who never changed her house, her job or her companion. From the age of three, when her father ran away to sea – prompted, one poem suggests, by a baleful look shot by the poet from ...

Yesterday

Frank Kermode, 27 July 1989

The Pleasures of Peace: Art and Imagination in Post-War Britain 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Faber, 367 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 13722 9
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... had their high-culture connections, if only through such lofty sponsors as Wilfred Mellers and Christopher Ricks. And other reasons will doubtless be adduced as to why they are all relevant to the theme of this book. Still, as the Introduction remarks, ‘many things had to go if this book were not to be an impenetrable thicket of names and ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann, 7 January 1999

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, William Plomer and Lehmann himself. Through Spender he met Christopher Isherwood. The friendship with Spender from the very first seemed edgy, uncertain and uneasy, but durable for all that. Isherwood he loved, but he was tolerated, rather than loved, in return. Spender and Isherwood were spending much of their time in ...

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