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Purloined Author

Claude Rawson, 5 February 1981

Writing and Reading in Henry James 
by Susanne Kappeler.
Macmillan, 242 pp., £15, January 1981, 0 333 29104 2
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... The starting-point for this study is Roland Barthes’s theoretical aphorism that the reader is properly the “writer” or “producer” of his text.’ By the end, it appears that the original author has changed places and become ‘the reader of his text’, while the critics go on writing it for him. And not necessarily a better reader than you or I or Ms Kappeler: ‘there is nothing in [James’s] prefaces apart from some trivial biographical data of little interest, that we as readers should not be able to trace on our own ...

Dear God

Claude Rawson, 4 December 1980

Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Methuen, 147 pp., £8.95, September 1980, 0 416 73980 6
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... Imagine – if you can – God reading this poem.’ So begins this brief, stylish book, citing Herbert’s ‘Dialogue’ (‘Sweetest Saviour, of my soul …’) and asking afterwards: ‘Is God pleased with what he reads?’ Professor Nuttall’s point is that such a question would have seemed perfectly natural in the 17th century. Many of Herbert’s poems are prayers or dialogues with God ...

Epireading

Claude Rawson, 4 March 1982

Ferocious Alphabets 
by Denis Donoghue.
Faber, 211 pp., £8.95, October 1981, 0 571 11809 7
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... Denis Donoghue begins, a little self-indulgently, by reprinting six short BBC talks on ‘Words’. The excuse is that such radio talks offer a simple if incomplete model for Donoghue’s conception of literary discourse: as an address to an invisible audience, or dialogue for ever aborted by the absence of a second party. Print, unlike radio, is silent ...
... Since I am about to comment on other people’s published reactions to Martin Amis’s novel Other People, it seems right to state in summary form my own feelings on the main matters that divided the reviewers. I thought it a remarkable work, highly readable and enjoyable, not incomprehensible or unduly difficult. I have probably not fully solved the ‘mystery’, or totally mastered the intricacies of the story’s movement between Hell and the real world ...

Kelpers

Claude Rawson, 17 June 1982

St Kilda’s Parliament 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 87 pp., £3, September 1981, 0 571 11770 8
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Airborn/Hijos del Aire 
by Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson.
Anvil, 29 pp., £1.25, April 1981, 0 85646 072 9
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The Flood 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3.95, June 1981, 0 19 211944 3
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Looking into the Deep End 
by David Sweetman.
Faber, 47 pp., £3, March 1981, 0 571 11730 9
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Independence 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 28 pp., £5, December 1981, 0 907540 05 8
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... The title poem of St Kilda’s Parliament is about a local institution ‘quite unlike Westminster’, a gathering ‘by interested parties to discuss the day’s work and any other issues that needed to be talked over’: On either side of a rock-paved lane, Two files of men are standing barefooted, Bearded, waistcoated, each with a tam-o’-shanter On his head, and most with a set half-smile That comes from their companionship with rock, With soft mists, with rain, with roaring gales, And from a diet of solan goose and eggs, A diet of dulse and sloke and sea-tangle, And ignorance of what a pig, a bee, a rat, Or rabbit look like, although they remember The three apples brought here by a traveller Five years ago, and have discussed them since ...

Moving Pictures

Claude Rawson, 16 July 1981

English Subtitles 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 56 pp., £3.50, March 1981, 0 19 211942 7
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Unplayed Music 
by Carol Rumens.
Secker, 53 pp., £4.50, February 1981, 9780436439001
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Close Relatives 
by Vicki Feaver.
Secker, 64 pp., £4.50, February 1981, 0 436 15185 5
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... Peter Porter’s imagination tends towards the epigram, but not quite in the popular sense which suggests brief, pithy encapsulations of wit or wisdom: Believe me, Flaccus, the epigram is more than just a cracker-motto or an inch of frivolous joking to fill up a column. When, in 1972, he published the selection of translations called After Martial, he tended to avoid ‘the two-line squibs ...

Lordly Accents

Claude Rawson, 18 February 1982

Acts of Implication 
by Irvin Ehrenpreis.
California, 158 pp., £9, June 1981, 0 520 04047 3
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... In Fielding’s Journey from this World to the Next the author comes upon Shakespeare in Elysium, standing between the actors Betterton and Booth, who are disputing about the exact emphasis of a line from Othello. Shakespeare is very lofty about it all: ‘it is so long since I wrote the line, I have forgot my meaning,’ but if any of their conjectures is right, ‘it doth me very little honour ...

Wild Horses

Claude Rawson, 1 April 1983

‘The Bronze Horseman’ and Other Poems 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by D.M. Thomas.
Penguin, 261 pp., £2.95, September 1982, 0 14 042309 5
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Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study 
by A.D.P. Briggs.
Croom Helm, 257 pp., £14.95, November 1982, 0 7099 0688 9
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‘Choiseul and Talleyrand’: A Historical Novella and Other Poems, with New Verse Translations of Alexander Pushkin 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 88 pp., £5.25, July 1982, 0 370 30924 3
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Mozart and Salieri: The Little Tragedies 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Antony Wood.
Angel, 94 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 02 6
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I have come to greet you 
by Afanasy Fet, translated by James Greene.
Angel, 71 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 03 4
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Uncollected Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 81 pp., £4.95, September 1982, 0 7195 3969 2
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Travelling without a Valid Ticket 
by Howard Sergeant.
Rivelin, 14 pp., £1, May 1982, 0 904524 39 6
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... The Bronze Horseman of Pushkin’s famous poem is Falconet’s equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg. It was ordered by Catherine the Great (Petro primo Catharina secunda). Modelled on the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, it was meant to evoke the wise emperor extending a main protectrice. Joseph de Maistre commented that one doesn’t know whether this hand protects or threatens ...

Little People

Claude Rawson, 15 September 1983

The Borrowers Avenged 
by Mary Norton.
Kestrel, 285 pp., £5.50, October 1982, 0 7226 5804 4
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... When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest,’ said Dr Johnson of Gulliver’s Travels. This might do for a put-down of Swift, whom Johnson disliked, perhaps from a sense of likeness. But big men and little men have old folkloric origins, so the idea in itself was not new: as more than one character says in Mary Norton’s Borrower books, ‘our ancestors spoke openly about “the little people” ...

Catastrophe

Claude Rawson, 1 October 1981

The Sinking of the Titanic 
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Carcanet, 98 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 85635 372 8
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Paul Celan: Poems 
translated by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 85635 313 2
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Talk about the Last Poet 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 78 pp., £4.50, July 1981, 0 370 30434 9
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... Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote The Sinking of the Titanic in German. From information supplied in the poem, which in its present form is much preoccupied with the process of its composition, he began writing it in Havana in 1969, and completed it in Berlin in 1977: the poem is thus a close contemporary of Doctorow’s Ragtime, with which it shares several features of its subject-matter, including the historical period ...

War and Pax

Claude Rawson, 2 July 1981

War Music. An Account of Books 16 to 19 of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ 
by Christopher Logue.
Cape, 83 pp., £3.95, May 1981, 0 224 01534 6
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Ode to the Dodo. Poems from 1953 to 1978 
by Christopher Logue.
Cape, 176 pp., £6.95, May 1981, 0 224 01892 2
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Under the North Star 
by Ted Hughes and Leonard Baskin.
Faber, 47 pp., £5.95, April 1981, 9780571117215
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Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe 
by Ekbert Faas.
Black Swallow Press, 229 pp., June 1983, 0 87685 459 5
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Myth in the Poetry of Ted Hughes 
by Stuart Hirschberg.
Wolfhound, 239 pp., £8.50, April 1981, 0 905473 50 7
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Ted Hughes: A Critical Study 
by Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts.
Faber, 288 pp., £9.50, April 1981, 0 571 11701 5
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... Christopher Logue’s War Music is not ‘a translation in the accepted sense’. It’s not clear why, having said this, he should invoke Johnson’s remark that a translation’s merit should be judged by ‘its effect as an English poem’, since Johnson was talking about translations, whereas Logue’s poem is a variety of ‘poetical imitation’ and belongs to a perfectly good tradition of English poems based on or played off against an older (often Classical) original ...

Southern Comfort

Claude Rawson, 16 April 1981

Jefferson Davis gets his citizenship back 
by Robert Penn Warren.
Kentucky/Transatlantic Book Service, 114 pp., £4.85, December 1980, 0 8131 1445 4
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Being here: Poetry 1977-1980 
by Robert Penn Warren.
Secker, 109 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 436 36650 9
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Ways of light: Poems 1972-1980 
by Richard Eberhart.
Oxford, 68 pp., £5.95, January 1981, 9780195027372
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... In 1979 Robert Penn Warren – novelist, critic, and dean of American poets – returned to his native Todd County, Kentucky, to attend ceremonies in honor of another native son – Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, whose United States citizenship had just been restored, ninety years after his death, by a special act of Congress.’ The scene is set for a fine old feast of Southern Nostalgia, a versatile literary property whose manifestations range from memorable poignancies of anguished belonging, self-division and loss, to a vulgar stereotype of vaguely dyspeptic graciousness, all mint-julep and magnolia and nagging resentful memories of old gallantries downtrodden ...

Writing to rule

Claude Rawson, 18 September 1980

Boileau and the Nature of Neo-Classicism 
by George Pocock.
Cambridge, 215 pp., £12.50, June 1980, 0 521 22772 0
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‘The Rape of the Lock’ and its Illustrations 1714-1896 
by Robert Halsband.
Oxford, 160 pp., £11.50, July 1980, 0 19 812098 2
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... Was there such a thing as ‘Neo-Classicism’, outside the special sense of the term which art historians apply to a later period than the one over which students of literature lose so much of their composure? It seems to have existed sufficiently strongly in French studies to have produced a body of revisionist denials. The term ‘Neo-Classic’ has largely dropped out of the corridors of Englitbiz, usually to be replaced by ‘Augustan’, though one of the most loudly ballyhooed non-events in recent English studies has been an attempt to dislodge ‘Augustan’ too, on the grounds that some 18th-century authors took a dim view of Augustus Caesar ...

Poet Squab

Claude Rawson, 3 March 1988

John Dryden and His World 
by James Anderson Winn..
Yale, 651 pp., £19.95, November 1987, 0 300 02994 2
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John Dryden 
edited by Keith Walker.
Oxford, 967 pp., £22.50, January 1987, 0 19 254192 7
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... There is an anonymous portrait of Dryden, ‘dated 1657 but probably 1662’, which shows a full-fed figure with plump alert eyes, comfortable and predatory. He seems poised between repletion and dyspepsia, like a bewigged Nigel Lawson, arrested for all time at the moment of incipient eructation. James Winn says: ‘His short, squat figure later led his enemies to call him “Poet Squab”, and the plump birdlike face in this picture justifies the nickname ...

Blistering Attacks

Claude Rawson, 6 November 1980

The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Oxford, 454 pp., £8.50, September 1980, 0 19 214110 4
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... You wouldn’t guess it from Mr Grigson’s anthology, but satire was once a deadly activity. It literally killed, or was believed to, which sometimes had the same result. Robert Elliott’s classic study of The Power of Satire tells us that poems were used as weapons of war in pre-Islamic Arabia, and it is not only there, or in the curses of primitive tribesmen remote from our literary tradition, that this ‘power’ showed itself ...

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