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David Nokes on the duality of Defoe

David Nokes, 19 April 1990

Daniel Defoe: His Life 
by Paula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 671 pp., £20.50, November 1989, 0 8018 3785 5
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... In many ways, Paula Backscheider has written a highly appropriate life of Defoe. Fat, fact-filled and repetitious, her book offers a meandering narrative of merchant adventures and spying, opportunism and piety, taking us from fire and plague to bankruptcy via the battlefield of Sedgemoor, Newgate prison and the pillory. It is, in other words, much like a novel by Defoe ...
... Two of the finest works of post-war Sicilian fiction were published in Italy in 1958: Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard and Leonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, a collection of three (in subsequent editions four) stories dealing with themes from Sicily’s history and experience of foreign intervention which had also interested Lampedusa ...
The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age 
by Gertrude Himmelfarb.
Faber, 595 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 571 13177 8
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... Divine authority and empirical observation are, by definition, rarely in accord, but they do at least agree on this: that the poor are always with us. Chastity may have gone the way of all flesh, and obedience may have been banished from the marriage service, but poverty – grinding, inexorable, ineradicable – remains: not a state voluntarily embraced on the road to salvation, but a condition unavoidably endured with little prospect of relief ...
... is mountainous or flat, these images often have a striking resemblance to compositions by Caspar David Friedrich. Working out there in nature, then, Long is a performer in the open-air theatre of the sublime. But is this aspect of his work its main distinction? There are two possible extreme interpretations of the relationship between Long’s outdoor and ...

Short Cuts

David Runciman: Shuffling Off into Obscurity, 4 May 2016

... David Laws​ ’s memoir of his time in government ends with everything in tatters: he has lost his seemingly safe seat, his party has gone from being a full partner in government to having the same number of MPs as the Democratic Unionists, his leader is shell-shocked and barely able to appear in public without breaking down ...

Brown and Friends

David Runciman, 3 January 2008

... Party in Scotland. Balls’s wife, Yvette Cooper, sits with him in cabinet. Miliband’s brother, David, is foreign secretary. Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives: the Brown government is a family affair, and it marks a shift to ever more intimate political relationships at the centre of power, even compared to the days when Tony Blair was ruling the ...

Yarak

David Morley, 30 November 2017

... Note: ‘Yarak’ is an eastern term for when a hunting bird’s training, weight and mental focus all come together in the field. Three sentences of this poem are adapted from Raptors of California by Hans Peeters and Pam Peeters ...

Look…

David Runciman: How the coalition was formed, 16 December 2010

22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition 
by David Laws.
Biteback, 335 pp., £9.99, November 2010, 978 1 84954 080 3
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... Australians), they seem to have been unembarrassable. Yet that’s not how it worked over here. David Laws’s 22 Days in May, which recounts the negotiations that preceded the formation of the coalition government from the inside, explains how it happened that in our case the winners actually ended up winning. Hardly surprisingly, it’s not that Lib Dem ...

Power Pictures

David Wilson, 7 November 1991

... On the page at the back of a book, a space where I drew my mother: yellow jumper, squiggle of hair, smile weak as the smack she dealt. It made me laugh. Other boys with fathers were violently whacked. I almost envied their toughness and punishment. I painted a policeman, a crazy tower of blue. Mother said, if I was lost I must ask one directions. At school, I twitched, fuddled by English and my eleven-times table ...
Breaking the Mould 
by Ian Bradley.
Martin Robertson, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1981, 0 85520 469 9
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... Evan Luard’s Socialism Without the State, John Horam’s calls for ‘market socialism’ and David Owen’s evocation of the co-operative, decentralist element in the British socialist tradition exemplified a widespread mood, with which the old Right of the Labour Party had no more in common than had the Left. It was not as new a mood as he seems to ...

The Road to Independence

David Caute, 21 November 1985

Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe 
by Terence Ranger.
James Currey, 377 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 85255 000 6
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Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe 
by David Lan.
James Currey, 244 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 0 85255 200 9
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... Perhaps Tomorrow (1981), deserves to have been included in Ranger’s bibliography as well as David Lan’s. Our post-Independence historiography obviously runs some risk of an inverted snobbery towards non-kosher white Rhodesian sources (though Ranger has elsewhere drawn extensively on the records of district commissioners). Ranger has concluded from ...

The Politics of Now

David Runciman: The Last World Cup, 21 June 2018

The Fall of the House of Fifa 
by David Conn.
Yellow Jersey, 336 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 0 224 10045 8
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... power, some moments now look like straws in the wind. In late November 2010 the English FA sent David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham to Fifa headquarters in Zurich to lobby on its behalf before the vote for the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Two old Etonians and an alumnus of Chingford County High ...

Two Poems

David Craig, 23 June 2005

... Parallel Texts Under each leaflet of a bracken frond The spores are as neatly herring-boned As filaments in a moth’s antenna Or vanes on a pigeon’s quill. I wrote these images on a bramble leaf. The ink dried slowly, glistening in relief, Black juice on chlorophyll. I could have gone on writing But the green page was full. Conjunction A seed on a parachute lingers in air, White node of spun-glass fibres Nearly too slight to fall ...
... populate me animate sensitively the spirit of dwelling behind the big blue harbour storage tanks I would have children in animal masks appearing round lampposts and knowing the names of the boats coming in I desire fishermen come home to sand-floored cottages distant factory boats moored level with the breakwater wall my life has been a series of sailors’ knots tightened and loosed stronger than floodtides and briefly lingering traceries across my palm where the blood knot and perfection loop have slipped through my fingers I have hung out the laundry in front of the house on the Sabbath and had it back through the letterbox I have had it with all but the ship in a bottle the scene becomes sooner or later the heaped rigging unfurled with a yank on a string and the whole salty tale set down and forgotten between lace curtain and window ...

Savage Rush

David Trotter: The Tube, 21 October 2010

Underground Writing: The London Tube from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf 
by David Welsh.
Liverpool, 306 pp., £70, May 2010, 978 1 84631 223 6
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... as an occasion for otherwise elusive experience. It came to represent the modern in general, as David Welsh ably demonstrates in two immense chapters, one on utopian fantasy from the turn of the 20th century, the other on the inevitable ensuing sourness. In Anticipations (1902), H.G. Wells imagined the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘black and ...

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