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David Nokes on the duality of Defoe

David Nokes, 19 April 1990

Daniel Defoe: His Life 
byPaula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 671 pp., £20.50, November 1989, 0 8018 3785 5
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... battlefield of Sedgemoor, Newgate prison and the pillory. It is, in other words, much like a novel by Defoe. The one essential difference is that at the heart of all Defoe’s novels there is a voice, the beguilingly candid tones of a first-person narrator skilfully blending puritan confessional with con-man’s patter to impose a rhetorical identity upon the ...
The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age 
byGertrude 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 ...
... history (like Sciascia’s at the time) were closer to the optimistic interpretation put forward by Rosario Romeo in Il Risorgimento in Sicilia? Later still, in an article on the poet Lucio Piccolo, Sciascia accused Lampedusa of tampering with historical events: between Piccolo and Lampedusa (who were first cousins), he concluded, ‘there is the difference ...
... A catalogue preface, whether rhapsodic, investigative, polemical or explicative, is also meant to be a piece of advocacy. This creates a problem over writing a preface about Richard Long. He has too many admirers. A quarter of a century has passed since he began to gain an international reputation at about the time he left art school, and this reputation has steadily grown upwards and outwards ...

Short Cuts

David Runciman: Shuffling Off into Obscurity, 5 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

... on the advice of a small group of people he thinks he can trust. In Brown’s case, these tend to be men who once worked as juniors in his office, having been hand-picked at a very young age. Douglas Alexander became Brown’s researcher and speechwriter when he was in his early twenties. So did Ed Miliband. Ed Balls joined Brown when he was only 27, after a ...


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

22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition 
byDavid Laws.
Biteback, 335 pp., £9.99, November 2010, 978 1 84954 080 3
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... of losers. The reason for going with the losers is that they need more propping up, so it should be possible to screw bigger concessions from them. The more tenuous the coalition, the greater the opportunities for extortion. Propriety and embarrassment v. power and blackmail – which is it to be? Well, this is ...
Breaking the Mould 
byIan Bradley.
Martin Robertson, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1981, 0 85520 469 9
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... no doubt. Even instant historians have to get their books printed; and Mr Bradley’s would not be in the bookshops yet if he had dealt with the final stages of his story in as much detail as the earlier ones. All the same, the effect is curiously lop-sided: lop-sided, moreover, in a way which obscures much of the real significance of the events which Mr ...

The Politics of Now

David Runciman: The Last World Cup, 21 June 2018

The Fall of the House of Fifa 
byDavid 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 ...


David Morley, 30 November 2017

... come together in the field. Three sentences of this poem are adapted from Raptors of California by Hans Peeters and Pam ...

Deal of the Century

David Thomson: As Ovitz Tells It, 7 March 2019

Who Is Michael Ovitz? 
byMichael Ovitz.
W.H. Allen, 372 pp., £20, September 2018, 978 0 7535 5336 7
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... By my count​ , of the 37 photographs of Michael Ovitz in this book there are 19 in which his mouth stays shut – while he’s smiling. That isn’t intended as a hostile remark. His mouth stayed closed when he smiled because he was concentrating. You may not have heard of him, but for maybe a decade and a half starting in the mid-1970s no one in the motion picture business was more focused than Michael Ovitz ...

Power Pictures

David Wilson, 7 November 1991

... 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. The harder I thought, the denser the fog. So I did not ask the way. I truanted, sick, day after ...

The Road to Independence

David Caute, 21 November 1985

Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe 
byTerence 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 
byDavid Lan.
James Currey, 244 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 0 85255 200 9
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... fief of his – Ranger constantly illuminates Rhodesia’s tortuous passage to majority rule by comparison with two contrasting ‘models’ of decolonisation: Kenya (conservative) and Mozambique (a luta continua). Ranger asks why the ruthless mass-expulsion of blacks from Rhodesia’s ‘European’ lands in the late Forties did not produce an armed ...

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 ...

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