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Christopher Ricks

17 June 1982
From the Land of Shadows 
by Clive James.
Cape, 294 pp., £7.95, April 1982, 0 224 02021 8
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... He is stuck on himself. It isn’t all that easy to see why. He is, after all, only a literary journalist.’ Clive James hardily dispatches someone who is a television celebrity as well as a journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge. These book reviews, some of which appeared in this journal, don’t amount to much, and there would be no point in lavishing a corrugated attention upon them as if they constituted ...

Amigos

Christopher Ricks

2 August 1984
The Faber Book of Parodies 
edited by Simon Brett.
Faber, 383 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 571 13125 5
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Lilibet: An Account in Verse of the Early Years of the Queen until the Time of her Accession 
by Her Majesty.
Blond and Briggs, 95 pp., £6.95, May 1984, 0 85634 157 6
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... Congratulatory Ode ...’, but it is the purr of mutual congratulation which is deafening. ‘Parody is frequently welcomed by its victims, who recognise it as a compliment, however backhanded.’ Christopher Reid touches on all this, not backhandedly but caressingly, in his ‘Letter to Myself’ of Clive James: Dear Clive, I’ve meant to scribble you a letter For some time now. I know you like to get ...
8 November 1979
Field Work 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 64 pp., £3, June 1979, 0 571 11433 4
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... Those of us who have never swallowed an oyster have presumably never lived life to the full. The Augustan poet was not merely mocking the heroic when he said that the man must have had a palate coated o’er with brass who first risked the living morsel down his throat. Seamus Heaney offers ‘Oysters’ (‘Alive and violated’) as his opening. Opened at once are the oyster, the mouth, the meal and ...

Chronicities

Christopher Ricks

21 November 1985
Gentlemen in England 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 02 411165 1
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... A.N. Wilson is something of an anachronism, and it was timely of him to make anachronism the nub of his new novel about the old days, Gentlemen in England. The title itself, in the England of 1985 where the new right spits even more zealously than the old left on the grave of the gentlemanly ideal, pushes anachronism and dislocation to the point of oxymoron. Gentlemen in England: there has not been ...
24 November 1988
T.S. Eliot and Prejudice 
by Christopher Ricks.
Faber, 290 pp., £15, November 1988, 0 571 15254 6
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... T.S. Eliot and Prejudice. Keats and Embarrassment. The parallel between the title of ChristopherRicks’s new book and that of his earlier study of Keats is not accidental. In each case he takes a state of mind which is usually held to be disadvantageous, humanly and artistically speaking, and offers ...
20 September 1984
The Force of Poetry 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 447 pp., £19.50, September 1984, 0 19 811722 1
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... This is,’ as Professor Ricks says, in his rather baroque manner, ‘a gathering of essays, not a march of chapters’; each essay ‘attends to an aspect, feature, or resource of the language manifested in poetry’. The book is ...

Rectum

Christopher Ricks

18 October 1984
Tough guys don’t dance 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 231 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7181 2454 5
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... Someone has it in for Timothy Madden. Warned by a cop that the cops may be about to take an interest in his stashed cache of marijuana, Madden goes to exhume it. He finds instead a head. Blond, it doesn’t bear gazing upon, but it does have some resemblance both to Madden’s wife Patty, who recently upped and left him, and to Jessica Pond, a new consolatory excitement of his. The next time Madden ...

Errata

Christopher Ricks

2 December 1982
T.S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage 
edited by Michael Grant.
Routledge, 408 pp., £25, July 1982, 0 7100 9226 1
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... These ‘Critical Heritage’ volumes on T. S. Eliot get off to a bad start, and persevere. The chosen items are ‘printed verbatim’, ‘apart from the silent correction of spelling errors and other minutiae’. Why then preserve ‘elegaic’ and For Launcelot Andrewes? Did F.L. Lucas really write, unremarked, that Eliot may have been indebted to something called ‘Childe Harold to the Dark Tower ...

A House and its Heads

Christopher Ricks

7 August 1980
Setting the World on Fire 
by Angus Wilson.
Secker, 296 pp., £6.50, July 1980, 9780436576041
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... An ambitious novel about ambition and ambitions, Setting the World on Fire is in two minds. It embodies the minds in two brothers, Piers Mosson and Tom Mosson: the one with his head in the clouds, fated to become a red-carpet knight of the theatre, sure of his direction and of his directing; the other, with his feet on the ground, ready, steady, and going to be a lawyer. Each has sense and sensibility ...

Death for Elsie

Christopher Ricks

7 August 1986
Found in the Street 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Heinemann, 277 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 9780434335244
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Private Papers 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 214 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 7011 2987 5
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... Patricia Highsmith has been praised by Graham Greene in the good old way as ‘a writer who has created a world of her own’. She can be even better than that – when she takes a world and makes it not only her own but ours. She lurks in the murk where you have to peer to check if this is an – or the – underworld. In her seething city-settings, paranoia may be the saving of you, and yet paranoia ...

Diary

Christopher Ricks: Thoughts of Beckett at News of His Death

25 January 1990
... Thoughts of Beckett at news of his death. The unforgettable Hardy title has been knocking. ‘Thoughts of Phena at News of Her Death’. It had previously come to mind at news of another death, Philip Larkin’s, because of his once pinpointing essentially the birth of his own art: the moment when he stopped condescending to Hardy’s. ‘As regards his verse I shared Lytton Strachey’s verdict that ...

Misgivings

Adam Phillips: Christopher Ricks

22 July 2010
True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound 
by Christopher Ricks.
Yale, 258 pp., £16.99, February 2010, 978 0 300 13429 2
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... In his first book, Milton’s Grand Style, ChristopherRicks showed us that Milton wanted his readers to be attentive to the fact that when our ‘first parents’ fell, their language fell with them. Paradise Lost could only have been written in the language ...

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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... seemed with Davie’s instanced poets, as with all of ours at times, that they matter less in 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 ...

Provincialism

Denis Donoghue: Karlin’s collection of Victorian verse

4 June 1998
The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse 
edited by Danny Karlin.
Allen Lane, 851 pp., £25, October 1997, 9780713990492
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... with other anthologies of English verse of the same period (Victoria’s reign 1837-1901) and of the 19th century as a whole. His major precursors are Quiller-Couch, Yeats, Auden, George MacBeth, ChristopherRicks and Ian Fletcher. I don’t intend a Shopper’s Guide, but I’ll start with two small complaints. Unlike Fletcher, Karlin doesn’t give explanatory notes, except for a few dialect words and ...
31 October 1996
Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-17 
by T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks.
Faber, 428 pp., £30, September 1996, 0 571 17895 2
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... these, excised from the notebook and given by Eliot to Ezra Pound, were later discovered among the Pound papers). Valerie Eliot has now allowed the entire notebook to be published, superbly edited by ChristopherRicks, whose T.S. Eliot and Prejudice is still the most acute and fine-grained investigation of the vexed question of the place of prejudice in Eliot’s writing. It is impossible to over-praise ...

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