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New Ways of Killing Your Father

Colm Tóibín, 18 November 1993

Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History 
by R.F. Foster.
Allen Lane, 305 pp., £22.50, October 1993, 0 7139 9095 3
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... In 1969, two years after my father died, my mother, my sisters and I went to Wexford for the launch of a new history of the 1798 Rising, The Year of Liberty by Thomas Pakenham. The Rising was important for us: from our housing estate we could see Vinegar Hill where ‘our side’, the rebels, had made their last stand. From early childhood I knew certain things (I hesitate to say ‘facts’) about the Rising: how the English had muskets whereas we just had pikes, how the English poured boiling tar on the scalps of the Irish and then, when the tar had dried, peeled it off ...

The South

Colm Tóibín, 4 August 1994

One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... Even in the morning in that year the two-hour hotels were in bloom. The city was full of desire. It was hot. I stayed for a while in a narrow street near the Flamingo Park and went out some days to swim at Copacabana. It was that time between the death of Elizabeth Bishop and the appearance of the first biography and this volume of letters, when the ordinary reader on this side of the Atlantic knew very little about her ...

Urning

Colm Tóibín: The revolutionary Edward Carpenter, 29 January 2009

Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love 
by Sheila Rowbotham.
Verso, 565 pp., £24.99, October 2008, 978 1 84467 295 0
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... On or about December 1910,’ Virginia Woolf noted, ‘human character changed.’ It was hard in or about March 1977 in Barcelona not to feel that human character had changed again, or had changed back, or might change more. Franco was less than 18 months dead, and many of the sights and images in the city were puzzling. One day, as I stood watching a newly formed Communist group march by, I saw in the middle of the marchers a barman whom I had grown to love for his winning smile and general meekness ...

How to be a wife

Colm Tóibín: The Discretion of Jackie Kennedy, 6 June 2002

Janet & Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 
by Jan Pottker.
St Martin’s, 381 pp., $24.95, October 2001, 0 312 26607 3
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Mrs Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 389 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 297 64333 9
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... On 29 January 1884 Henry James noted a story which he had heard from Gertrude Tennant. It struck him ‘as a dramatic and pretty subject’. Young Lord Stafford, it seemed, was in love with Lady Grosvenor, whom he had known before her marriage, but had now no expectation of being able to marry as her husband was alive and robust. ‘Yielding to family pressure,’ as James put it, ‘he offered his hand to a young, charming, innocent girl, the daughter of Lord Rosslyn ...

Avoid the Orient

Colm Tóibín: The Ghastly Paul Bowles, 4 January 2007

Paul Bowles: A Life 
by Virginia Spencer Carr.
Peter Owen, 431 pp., £19.95, July 2005, 0 7206 1254 3
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... Long before the sin of Orientalism was discovered, Paul Bowles had frequently been guilty of it, in word, in thought and in deed. In his first stories, for example, the natives are shining examples of naked otherness, created partly to refresh our view concerning the mixture of simplicity, guile and sexual beauty available in remote places. The white heroes, on the other hand, are neurotic and complex ...

In His Pink Negligée

Colm Tóibín: The Ruthless Truman Capote, 21 April 2005

The Complete Stories 
by Truman Capote.
Random House, 400 pp., $24.95, September 2004, 0 679 64310 9
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Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote 
edited by Gerald Clarke.
Random House, 487 pp., $27.95, September 2004, 0 375 50133 9
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... He was world-weary from the beginning. Nowhere was safe. Before he was 25 he declared New York to be a ‘giant snake pit’, Los Angeles to be ‘quel hole’. Naples was ‘crooked’, London ‘a dreary place’. Even Paris, ‘a divine city’, could be ‘colder than a nun’s cunt’. Once he had passed the quarter century he hit on Rome: ‘a beautiful city, really – though inhabited by a quarrelsome and cynical race ...

At St Peter’s

Colm Tóibín: The Dangers of a Priestly Education, 1 December 2005

The Ferns Report 
by Francis Murphy, Helen Buckley and Laraine Joyce.
Government Publications, 271 pp., €6, October 2005, 0 7557 7299 7
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... Everybody was afraid of Dr Sherwood. My mother was afraid of him at meetings of Pax Romana, the lay Catholic discussion group in Enniscorthy, our town, because he had a way of glaring at women members when they spoke. He didn’t, it seemed, like women speaking. At St Peter’s College, the seminary and boarding-school where I went at the age of 15 in 1970, he was dean of the seminary, but he had once been dean of discipline of the boarding-school, and had a fearsome reputation as a merciless wielder of the strap ...

Rinse it in dead champagne

Colm Tóibín: The women who invented beauty, 5 February 2004

War Paint: Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry 
by Lindy Woodhead.
Virago, 498 pp., £20, April 2003, 1 86049 974 0
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Diana Vreeland 
by Eleanor Dwight.
HarperCollins, 308 pp., £30, December 2002, 0 688 16738 1
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... The women who invented beauty came from far away. They lied about their ages and their origins and the source of their magic; their secrets were known only to certain chemists and secretaries and the maids and butlers who lived in fear of them, who survived long enough to tell and tell again the shocking truth, for example, that Elizabeth Arden, one of the world’s richest women, lined the inside of her shoes with newspaper, or that Helena Rubinstein’s lawyer chose ‘the budget option’ at the funeral parlour after her death until wiser counsel prevailed, or that Diana Vreeland’s hair was so hard that once, when her maid bumped into it with a tray, ‘it clinked ...

The Art of Being Found Out

Colm Tóibín: The need to be revealed, 20 March 2008

... On 23 January 1894, Henry James entered in his notebook two stories told to him by Lady Gregory, whom he had met first in Rome 15 years earlier. She had given one of them to him, he wrote, as a plot, and ‘saw more in it than, I confess, I do myself’. ‘At any rate,’ he went on, ‘Lady G.’s story was that of an Irish squire who discovered his wife in an intrigue ...

The Stubbornness of Lorenzo Lotto

Colm Tóibín: Lorenzo Lotto, 8 April 2010

... Lorenzo Lotto was born in Venice around 1483. He belonged to the same world, therefore, as Titian and Giorgione. Despite the fact that he was a native of the city, however, which they were not, he never became a fully fledged Venetian as they did. By 1503 his name is recorded in legal documents in Treviso as a painter; he also worked in the towns of Recanati and Jesi ...

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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... There were two​ anthologies of modern poetry in our house when I was a teenager and they both offered glimpses of the world outside that were more intense, more useful, than anything on television or on albums or in ordinary books. One was The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, edited by Kenneth Allott. It had been published first in 1950, with a second edition in 1962 ...

Mann v. Mann

Colm Tóibín: The Brother Problem, 3 November 2011

House of Exile: War, Love and Literature, from Berlin to Los Angeles 
by Evelyn Juers.
Allen Lane, 400 pp., £25, May 2011, 978 1 84614 461 5
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... The imposing house on Stockton Street in Princeton where Thomas Mann lived between 1938 and 1941 is these days owned by the Catholic Church. The main room is large enough for a congregation to assemble, and now contains pews and an altar. At either end of this room there are two beautiful smaller rooms with walls of glass, one made for summer light and the other designed for the winter ...

A Man of No Mind

Colm Tóibín: The Passion of Roger Casement, 13 September 2012

The Dream of the Celt 
by Mario Vargas Llosa and Edith Grossman.
Faber, 404 pp., £18.99, June 2012, 978 0 571 27571 7
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... In his book King Leopold’s Ghost, Adam Hochschild describes the stretch of the Congo River as it approaches the sea: Much of the Congo River basin, we now know, lies on a plateau in the African interior. From the western rim of this plateau, nearly a thousand feet high, the river descends to sea level in a mere 220 miles. During this tumultuous descent, the river squeezes through narrow canyons, boils up in waves 40 feet high, and tumbles over 32 separate cataracts ...

More a Voyeur

Colm Tóibín: Elton Took Me Hostage, 19 December 2019

Me 
by Elton John.
Macmillan, 376 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 1 5098 5331 1
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... Elton​ John was born Reg Dwight in 1947 in the north-west London suburb of Pinner. His mother was a nightmare, his father a bully. He was a boy who did not start thinking about sex until he was 21. While he shared an interest in football with his father – they both supported Watford – his father didn’t approve of his taste in music. From early on, Reg loved shopping and acquiring things ...

Falling in love with Lucian

Colm Tóibín: Lucian Freud’s Outer Being, 10 October 2019

The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth, 1922-68 
by William Feaver.
Bloomsbury, 680 pp., £35, September 2019, 978 1 4088 5093 0
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... Lucian Freud’s​ mother, Lucie, brought her three sons from Berlin to London in September 1933 when Lucian was almost 11. She was soon followed by her husband, Ernst, an architect and the youngest son of Sigmund Freud. Over the next five or six years, more members of the family, including Sigmund himself, came to England, where their papers were organised by Marie Bonaparte, who put in a good word with the Duke of Kent ...

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