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... To his closest friends, after Elizabeth Barrett’s death, Browning repeatedly spoke of the present as a country of exile. He wrote to Isa Blagden in July 1867 of taking ‘the three loveliest women in London’ to hear the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein (who ‘played divinely’): they all pet me, you must know, and yet, when I handed them into their carriage again, I made an excuse about wanting to go elsewhere, rather than accompany them further ...

Joinedupwritingwithavengeance

Danny Karlin, 7 January 1993

Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West 
by M.B. Parkes.
Scolar, 327 pp., £55, September 1992, 0 85967 742 7
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... The history of punctuation is bound up with the most important shift in the theory of writing to have taken place in our culture. The written word began as a record of speech, a priority of voice over text which held sway in the ancient world and was literally (i.e. graphically) enforced. Reading meant reading aloud; texts were the libretti of performances so there was no need for elaborate pointing ...

Persimmon, Magnolia, Maple

Danny Karlin: Julie Otsuka, 3 April 2003

When the Emperor Was Divine 
by Julie Otsuka.
Viking, 160 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 0 670 91263 8
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... Julie Otsuka’s novella When the Emperor Was Divine tells, in discontinuous sections and different narrative modes, the story of a Japanese-American family split up in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor – the father detained in military camps, the mother and two children interned in the Utah desert. The first part of the story – from Roosevelt’s issuing of Executive Order 9066 to the family’s leaving their home in Berkeley, California – is told, with superb assurance, through the eyes of the mother ...

Write to me

Danny Karlin, 11 January 1990

The Brownings’ Correspondence. Vol. VII: March-October 1843 
edited by Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson.
Athlone, 429 pp., £60, December 1989, 0 485 30027 3
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... My dear Lady Olliffe,’ Robert Browning wrote in March 1877: I have just been reading my old friend Miss Martineau’s protest against the publication – and indeed, retention – of all correspondence. Here, now, is a sample of mine: be assured I shall never demand it again, from any apprehension that hereafter the friendliness in it may be at variance with whatever feeling I please to entertain thirty years hence ...

Diary

Danny Karlin: A Night at Greenham, 2 August 1984

... The phone rings at 10.15. It’s Mary, from Campaign Atom: the Cruise convoy’s been sighted, fifteen miles from Greenham. It’s on its way back. Everyone on the network who wants to go down, go now. My heart sinks. So does Pat’s, when I tell her. We both have exam papers to mark, and meetings the next day; and the memory of a fruitless watch for the convoy three nights ago, at a roundabout on the Oxford ring-road, sours the prospect ...

Home-breaking

Danny Karlin, 23 May 1991

The Clopton Hercules 
by Duncan Sprott.
Faber, 220 pp., £13.99, January 1991, 9780571144082
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Life of a Drum 
by Carlo Gebler.
Hamish Hamilton, 173 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 241 13074 3
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Seventh Heaven 
by Alice Hoffman.
Virago, 256 pp., £12.99, February 1991, 1 85381 283 8
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A Home at the End of the World 
by Michael Cunningham.
Hamish Hamilton, 343 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 241 12909 5
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A place I’ve never been 
by David Leavitt.
Viking, 194 pp., £12.99, February 1991, 0 670 82196 9
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... Duncan Sprott’s The Clopton Hercules is an interesting book, powerfully written, and certainly (indeed, remorselessly) clever: but one-tracked, and self-satisfied. It takes a traditional target, the bizarrerie of upper middle-class Victorian sexual behaviour, and blasts away at it with satirical vigour and relish: but the more points are scored, the more pointless the exercise begins to seem ...

Diary

Danny Karlin: The Boss at Wembley, 1 August 1985

... The Boss paused twice for reflection in the course of his last Wembley concert, on 6 July – twice in three and a half hours of an otherwise relentless exuberance. We all fell silent, gazing at the tiny figure holding the microphone, or at his huge video doubles, projected onto screens standing to either side of the forty-foot-high speakers. The sound, travelling across the arena, lagged fractionally behind the image, whose lips moved out of synch with the words we heard ...

Post-War Memories

Danny Karlin, 19 December 1985

‘The Good War’: An Oral History of World War Two 
by Studs Terkel.
Hamish Hamilton, 589 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 241 11493 4
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Truth, Dare or Promise: Girls Growing up in the Fifties 
edited by Liz Heron.
Virago, 248 pp., £4.95, June 1985, 0 86068 596 9
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... In my first year as a graduate student, I lived in a terrace house in York Street, Cambridge – a shabby, friendly part of town which had not yet been ‘improved’. (True, the previous owners had built an ‘extension’, but it was very ramshackle, and they left the main drain in the middle of the kitchen floor.) One of my next-door neighbours was Mrs A ...

Antinomian Chic

Danny Karlin, 2 June 1988

Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists 
edited by Brian Wallis.
New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York/MIT Press, 431 pp., £13.50, January 1988, 9780262231282
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Empire of the Senseless 
by Kathy Acker.
Picador, 227 pp., £10.95, May 1988, 0 330 30192 6
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The Western Lands 
by William Burroughs.
Picador, 258 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 330 29805 4
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... Kathy Acker, wild and woolly avatar of William Burroughs, is also one of the Blasted Allegorists, contemporary American artists whose self-important and talent-free doodles about Life, the Universe and Everything are hyped by Brian Wallis in his Introduction, a piece of writing conceivably worse than the pieces it introduces: For the writers in this book, these critical forms, such as interviews, monologues, jokes, dream narratives and parables, oppose the imposed narrative structure, the unquestioned hierarchy of characters, and the easy closure of much conventional – or even modernist – literature ...
Ransom 
by Jay McInerney.
Cape, 279 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 224 02355 1
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Bright Lights, Big City 
by Jay McInerney.
Flamingo/Fontana, 182 pp., £2.75, April 1986, 0 00 654173 9
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... Lee Van Cleef! I remember him in A Fistful of Dollars, where he had the respectable native occupation of bounty hunter, and a gun (with a natty set of attachments) which came in a flap-down case. Now he is ‘starring’ in a late-night series (Mondays on Central) so awful that the TV Times is ashamed to give any programme details except its title. It’s called The Master, and Mr Van Cleef plays a ninja warrior – an adept of the black Japanese arts of espionage and assassination – who tours America righting wrongs in the company of a fresh-faced American side-kid ...

It ain’t him, babe

Danny Karlin, 5 February 1987

No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan 
by Robert Shelton.
New English Library, 573 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 450 04843 8
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... Portraits require sitters. Portraits of the famous, which often seem designed for target practice, require the sitters to be sitting ducks as well. But Bob Dylan can’t stand sitting. Try playing chess with him: ‘His knees bounce up against the table so much you think you are at a séance. The pieces keep jumping around the board. But he beats me every time ...

Mary Swann’s Way

Danny Karlin, 27 September 1990

Jane Fairfax 
by Joan Aiken.
Gollancz, 252 pp., £12.95, September 1990, 0 575 04889 1
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Lady’s Maid 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 536 pp., £13.95, July 1990, 0 7011 3574 3
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Mary Swann 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 313 pp., £12.99, August 1990, 1 872180 02 7
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... Jane Austen’s work seems, at first, hospitable to that literary parasite, pastiche: there isn’t much of it, so ersatz continuations or alternative narratives must satisfy the hunger for more; at the same time, the passionate familiarity which many Jane Austen readers have with her novels (demonstrated in Kipling’s wonderful story ‘The Janeites’) ensures a ready frame of reference for the imitator ...

Prolonging her absence

Danny Karlin, 8 March 1990

The Wimbledon Poisoner 
by Nigel Williams.
Faber, 307 pp., £12.99, March 1990, 0 571 14242 7
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The Other Occupant 
by Peter Benson.
Macmillan, 168 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 333 52509 4
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Possession 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 511 pp., £13.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3260 4
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... Henry Farr is – or, as it turns out, is not – the ‘Wimbledon Poisoner’ of Nigel Williams’s title. He is a Pooterish solicitor, middling and muddling his way through life; the plot concerns his repeated farcical failure to murder his awful wife, bumping off (he thinks) other innocent people instead. Then, as the plot unravels and a real poisoner shows his hand, Henry discovers that his wife is not so awful after all ...

Recurring Women

Danny Karlin: Emily Dickinson, 24 August 2000

The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition 
edited by R.W. Franklin.
Harvard, 1654 pp., £83.50, October 1998, 9780674676220
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The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition 
edited by R.W. Franklin.
Harvard, 692 pp., £19.95, September 1999, 0 674 67624 6
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Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception 
by Domhnall Mitchell.
Massachusetts, 352 pp., £31.95, March 2000, 1 55849 226 7
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... Publication – is the Auction Of the Mind of Man – (#788) Editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry is a problem which continues to vex literary scholars and textual critics; meanwhile the publication, or dissemination, of Dickinson goes on apace. A trivial instance: the giant puppet of the ‘Belle of Amherst’, dressed in that distinctive ghost-white dress, which features in the movie Being John Malkovich ...

Tennyson’s Text

Danny Karlin, 12 November 1987

The Poems of Tennyson 
edited by Christopher Ricks.
Longman, 662 pp., £40, May 1987, 0 582 49239 4
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Tennyson’s ‘Maud’: A Definitive Edition 
edited by Susan Shatto.
Athlone, 296 pp., £28, August 1986, 0 485 11294 9
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The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Vol.2: 1851-1870 
edited by Cecil Lang and Edgar Shannon.
Oxford, 585 pp., £40, May 1987, 0 19 812691 3
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The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse 
edited by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 654 pp., £15.95, June 1987, 0 19 214154 6
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... Writing in 1842 to his friend Alfred Domett, who had emigrated to New Zealand, Robert Browning enclosed ‘Tennyson’s new vol. and, alas, the old with it – that is what he calls old’. Browning was referring to the two-volume Poems of 1842, whose first volume consisted of heavily revised versions of poems published in 1830 and 1832. ‘You will see, and groan!’ Browning went on ...

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