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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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... 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 a Brown-noser now and then, and – well – who ...

Recyclings

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 a portent ...

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 ...

The Mouth, the Meal and the Book

Christopher Ricks, 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 the book ...

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 “the gloom is not even relieved by a little elegance of diction ...

Citizens

Christopher Ricks, 19 November 1981

Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 
by Marilyn Butler.
Oxford, 213 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 19 219144 6
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... Authors are not the solitaries of the Romantic myth, but citizens.’ The spirit of Marilyn Butler’s excellent book on the Romantics is itself that of citizenship: of belonging to a civilised community, cultural and intellectual, which one helps to sustain and is sustained by, and which makes possible the truest duties, rights and privileges. Rewards, too, and the rewards of this radiating and radiant book are great ...

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 Came’? Yes he did, actually ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 does have, too, a hideously masochistic alluring power ...

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 ...

Donald Davie and the English

Christopher Ricks, 22 May 1980

Trying to Explain 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 85635 343 4
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... Since Byron and Landor, no Englishman appears to have profited much from living abroad.’ So said an American who rightly believed himself to be profiting from living abroad, T.S. Eliot in England in 1918, honouring the American who had likewise profited and who had then become – as Eliot would – an Englishman: Henry James. ‘The fact of being everywhere a foreigner was probably an assistance to his native wit ...

Donne’s Will to Power

Christopher Ricks, 18 June 1981

John Donne: Life, Mind and Art 
by John Carey.
Faber, 303 pp., £9.50, May 1981, 0 571 11636 1
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... Donne’s powers are, for John Carey, a matter of power, the poems being ‘the most enduring exhibition of the will to power the English Renaissance produced’. The praises of Donne in this critical work of amazing flair and obduracy are single-minded: Donne is here valued, supremely, for the power and tenacity of his ego, for his imaginative energy, for his desire to dominate or his rage for supremacy, and for the obsession with which he registered the contrarieties and contradictions of life ‘in all their urgent discord ...

Playing with terror

Christopher Ricks, 21 January 1982

The Comfort of Strangers 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 134 pp., £5.95, October 1981, 0 224 01931 7
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... Ian McEwan’s tale is as economical as a shudder. It never itself shudders, which is one reason why it makes you do so. By staying cool in the face of the murderous madness which it contemplates, it precipitates an icy sweat. What it does even with equanimity is not to display it. A characteristic McEwan sentence is one of which it might be said (here in Venice revisited) that the law allows it and the court awards it ...

Dark Tom

Christopher Ricks, 1 December 1983

Beyond the Pale: Sir Oswald Mosley 1933-1980 
by Nicholas Mosley.
Secker, 323 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 436 28852 4
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Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley 1896-1933 
by Nicholas Mosley.
Fontana, 274 pp., £2.50, October 1983, 0 00 636644 9
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... The human craving to believe in something is pathetic, when not tragic; and always, at the same time, comic.’ The life of Sir Oswald Mosley was pathetic, tragic and comic, and his son’s humane deliberated biography is itself a notable contribution to ‘The Literature of Fascism’ which T.S. Eliot was judging with that sentence in 1928. In 1928 Oswald Mosley was still an up-and-coming Labour MP ...

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