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Can there be such a thing as music criticism?

John Deathridge, 20 February 1986

Music and Civilisation: Essays in Honour of Paul Henry Lang 
edited by Edmond Strainchamps, Maria Rika Maniates and Christopher Hatch.
Norton, 499 pp., £35, March 1985, 0 393 01677 3
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The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger 1901-1914 
edited by Kay Dreyfus.
Macmillan, 542 pp., £25, December 1985, 0 333 38085 1
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Musicology 
by Joseph Kerman.
Collins/Fontana, 255 pp., £10.95, March 1985, 0 00 197170 0
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... Musicologists are notorious both in and outside academic circles for their arcane habits of mind and their usually enraptured view of the mediocre and obscure. Paul Henry Lang – doyen of American musicology and the author of the magisterial Music in Western Civilisation – was never slow to point this out: ‘A scholar who, like a Hindu ascetic immersed in self-contemplation, confines himself to his narrow field of specialisation, loses the larger view ...

Tiff and Dither

Michael Wood, 2 January 1997

Diaries. Vol. I: 1939-60 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Methuen, 1048 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 413 69680 4
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... make art out of self-effacement. This at least is one of the suggestions of the first volume of Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, a whingeing, inward-bound mammoth of a book, where the author laboriously chronicles and inspects his every moment for changes in the moral and spiritual weather. Well, it can’t be his every moment, but it feels like it. Here ...

Belgravia Cockney

Christopher Tayler: On being a le Carré bore, 25 January 2007

The Mission Song 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 339 pp., £17.99, September 2006, 9780340921968
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... to miss the spiritedly melodramatic understatement of his 1960s novels, in which anonymous men hatch nightmarish schemes while moaning about government-issue radiators, and the darkness is invariably laid on extra-thick. In one respect, the end of the Cold War and the shift from mutually assured destruction to asymmetric conflict ‘impacted’, as one of ...

Posthumous Gentleman

Michael Dobson: Kit Marlowe’s Schooldays, 19 August 2004

The World of Christopher Marlowe 
by David Riggs.
Faber, 411 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 571 22159 9
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Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground 
by Roy Kendall.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 453 pp., $75, January 2004, 0 8386 3974 7
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Tamburlaine Must Die 
by Louise Welsh.
Canongate, 149 pp., £9.99, July 2004, 1 84195 532 9
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe 
by Rodney Bolt.
HarperCollins, 388 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 00 712123 7
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... lords, how fare you? NAVARRE: My lord, they say That all the Protestants are massacred! This is Christopher Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris, a play free of amateur pageants but featuring 19 onstage killings, most of them stabbings (one of an admiral whom we have already seen being shot, and another, a regicide, using an envenomed dagger). There is also ...

A Plan and a Man

Neal Ascherson: Remembering Malaya, 20 February 2014

Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain’s My Lai 
by Christopher Hale.
History Press, 432 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 7524 8701 4
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... when a Scots Guards platoon executed 24 perfectly harmless Chinese plantation workers. Instead, Christopher Hale – a journalist with long experience reporting from Germany and South-East Asia – has put together a massive history of the British presence on the Malay peninsula. He tries to explain the outbreak of the jungle guerrilla war which began in ...

Hatching, Splitting, Doubling

James Lasdun: Smooching the Swan, 21 August 2003

Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self 
by Marina Warner.
Oxford, 264 pp., £19.99, October 2002, 0 19 818726 2
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... chapter is typically intricate. Its congener is a report on Taino Indian beliefs, produced for Christopher Columbus by Ramón Pané, a Catalan friar on the island of Hispaniola. This short document, itself a case study in metamorphosis, survives only in an Italian translation incorporated into a biography of Columbus written by his son. It was drawn on by ...

Ten Days that Shook Me

Alan Bennett, 15 September 1988

... a visit arranged by the Great Britain-USSR Society. My colleagues were the novelists Paul Bailey, Christopher Hope and Timothy Mo (who also writes for Boxing News), the poet Craig Raine (who doesn’t) and the playwright Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame. I had many misgivings about the trip, particularly in regard to creature comforts. I wondered, for ...

Witchiness

Marina Warner: Baba Yaga, 27 August 2009

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... to a metaphysical belief system that maps onto a culture’s history and ethics. But, to borrow Christopher Warnes’s contrast between ontology and irreverence in his Magical Realism and the Postcolonial Novel,* the approach of contemporary retellers of myths, including Ugrešić, makes clear that the readers they have in mind aren’t concerned with ...

All he does is write his novel

Christian Lorentzen: Updike, 5 June 2014

Updike 
by Adam Begley.
Harper, 558 pp., £25, April 2014, 978 0 06 189645 3
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... His arrival at Harvard brought on homesickness and haemorrhoids. He roomed for three years with Christopher Lasch, later the social historian who wrote The Culture of Narcissism (of which Updike was arguably an exemplar; certainly many of his characters were, particularly Harry Angstrom). Begley quotes Lasch’s letters home about his ...

Taking Sides

John Mullan: On the high road with Bonnie Prince Charlie, 22 January 2004

The ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising 
by Christopher Duffy.
Cassell, 639 pp., £20, March 2003, 0 304 35525 9
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Samuel Johnson in Historical Context 
edited by J.C.D. Clark and Howard Erskine-Hill.
Palgrave, 336 pp., £55, December 2001, 0 333 80447 3
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... state and without most of their artillery, which was still being dragged through Colney Hatch. Though many of the Hanoverian troops fought hard, they included a large number of raw recruits, unable to display the necessary discipline of moving in formation in response to changing orders. Their greater firepower was never properly exploited, and the ...

Tell us, Solly

Tim Radford: Solly Zuckerman, 20 September 2001

Solly Zuckerman: A Scientist out of the Ordinary 
by John Peyton.
Murray, 252 pp., £22.50, May 2001, 9780719562839
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... imagination full rein. ‘I suppose they’d look at each other, wait a while before opening the hatch, and then lower their landing steps. The leader would stick his head out and step down onto the moon’s surface, still talking to HQ. ‘Saying what?’ asked Macmillan. There was a laugh as I said ‘Oh, I suppose his first words would be ...

Different Speeds, Same Furies

Perry Anderson: Powell v. Proust, 19 July 2018

Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 509 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 241 14383 4
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... to her relationship with the subject, a close friend whom for many years she knew and admired – Christopher Sykes on Waugh is the nearest parallel? In such cases, affection can shape the compass of a biography, personal knowledge lighting up but also limiting what can be said. Perhaps there are traces of that here; but, on the whole, in the warmth and grace ...

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