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We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... present instalment, Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, covers the narrow gap from 1957 to 1959. David Kynaston tells the story in his own measured words, and he also tells it in the often loud and uninhibited words of others – authors, newspapers, diarists, eminent politicians, Mass Observation respondents. Man, it seems, is an indignant animal. Kynaston ...

Fast Water off the Bow-Wave

Jeremy Harding: George Oppen, 21 June 2018

21 Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by David B. Hobbs.
New Directions, 48 pp., £7.99, September 2017, 978 0 8112 2691 2
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... It included a short, boisterous preface by Pound. Reviewing it for Poetry in 1934, William Carlos Williams called it a blueprint for ‘a new construction’, undertaken with an ‘irreducible minimum’ of means. The icy charm of those poems, 31 in all, one per page, along with their brevity and occasionally their flat refusal to make sense, asked much of ...

Why Goldwyn Wore Jodhpurs

David Thomson, 22 June 2000

The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper 
by Dominick Dunne.
Crown, 218 pp., £17.99, October 1999, 0 609 60388 4
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Gary Cooper Off Camera: A Daughter Remembers 
by Maria Cooper Janis.
Abrams, 176 pp., £22, November 1999, 0 8109 4130 9
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... always a bit of a snob, and once chucked out of Andover, was impressed that Dunne had been to Williams College. He invited the nobody kid to a party at his home in the Holmby Hills. Dunne knew he was out of his element there, but he took it all in: Judy Garland and Sinatra singing ‘impromptu’ with a hired piano player. All the stars. ‘Before the ...

Words washed clean

David Trotter, 5 December 1991

From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature 
by Richard Ruland and Malcolm Bradbury.
Routledge, 381 pp., £35, August 1991, 0 415 01341 0
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... the death of one child and abduction of another, to behave like a cross between Margaret Mead and David Attenborough. It is quite untrue to suggest that she averted her eyes from the realities of the ‘wilderness’; and equally untrue to suggest that her faith encouraged her to do so. It was precisely her conviction that providence works in mysterious ways ...

Even My Hair Feels Drunk

Adam Mars-Jones: Joy Williams, 2 February 2017

The Visiting Privilege 
by Joy Williams.
Tuskar Rock, 490 pp., £16.99, November 2016, 978 1 78125 746 3
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Ninety-Nine Stories of God 
by Joy Williams.
Tin House, 220 pp., £16.95, July 2016, 978 1 941040 35 5
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... Hard to imagine​ a brisker, bleaker opening than this one from the title story of Joy Williams’s 2004 collection, Honoured Guest: She had been having a rough time of it and thought about suicide sometimes, but suicide was so corny in the eleventh grade and you had to be careful about this because two of her classmates had committed suicide the year before and between them they left 24 suicide notes and had become just a joke ...

Literature and the Left

Marilyn Butler, 18 August 1983

English Literature in History: 1730-80: An Equal, Wide Survey 
edited by Raymond Williams, by John Barrell.
Hutchinson, 228 pp., £13.50, March 1983, 0 09 149820 1
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English Literature in History: 1350-1400: Medieval Readers and Writers 
edited by Raymond Williams, by Janet Coleman.
Hutchinson, 337 pp., £12, July 1981, 0 09 144100 5
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English Literature in History: 1780-1830: Pastoral and Politics 
edited by Raymond Williams, by Roger Sales.
Hutchinson, 247 pp., £13.50, March 1983, 0 09 149830 9
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The Cambridge Guide to English Literature 
by Michael Stapleton.
Cambridge/Newnes Books, 992 pp., £15, April 1983, 9780521256476
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... It is a surprise to find Raymond Williams, in the year of his retirement as Professor of Drama at Cambridge, editing a series called ‘Literature in History’. In a writing career that almost spans the post-war period, he has established himself as this country’s leading critic within academic English of the very concept of ‘Literature ...

Making It Up

Raphael Samuel, 4 July 1996

Raymond Williams 
by Fred Inglis.
Routledge, 333 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 415 08960 3
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... This biography opens with a vivid chapter on Raymond Williams’s funeral. Entitled ‘Prologue, in Memoriam’, it transports the reader to Clodock Church, ‘a plain little building’ in the foothills of the Black Mountains. It is a comfortless day, Fred Inglis tells us. ‘The light fell crooked and the road fell wrong ...

Full of Glory

John Mullan: The Inklings, 19 November 2015

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings 
by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.
Farrar, Straus, 644 pp., £11.20, June 2015, 978 0 374 15409 7
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... all others. It was founded in Oxford by Edward Lean, the younger brother of the film director David Lean, and was dedicated to the reading and discussion of creative work in progress. When Lean graduated, Lewis took it over. The group was for men only. (Dorothy L. Sayers, a keen Christian and an admirer of Lewis, was excluded.) At first, meetings were ...

The Red and the Green

Raymond Williams, 3 February 1983

Socialism and Survival 
by Rudolf Bahro, translated by David Fernbach.
Heretic Books, 160 pp., £6.95, December 1982, 9780946097029
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Capitalist Democracy in Britain 
by Ralph Miliband.
Oxford, 76 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 19 827445 9
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Socialist Register 1982 
edited by Martin Eve and David Musson.
Merlin, 314 pp., £8.50, November 1982, 9780850362923
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... Some very important changes in socialist ideas are now beginning to come through in Europe. Yet at the surface of politics they are invisible in Britain, even though there are those here who have contributed to them. Where they have become visible at the surface, as most notably in the rise of the Green Party in the German Federal Republic, they are still commonly interpreted as a local ‘ecological’ variation, without long-term effect on the main body of socialist institutions and ideas ...

Respectful Perversion

John Pemble: Gilbert and Sullivan, 16 June 2011

Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody 
by Carolyn Williams.
Columbia, 454 pp., £24, January 2011, 978 0 231 14804 7
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... racism of the type that depicted Africans as cartoon cannibals. Rehabilitation was slow. In 1986 David Eden argued in a psychoanalytical study that the cruelty was sadomasochism of an infantile, and therefore less than sinister, kind. Gilbert, like his characters, inhabited a pre-genital universe somewhere between fairyland and nightmare. Accusations of ...

Letting it get out

Bernard Williams, 18 October 1984

Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation 
by Sissela Bok.
Oxford, 332 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 19 217733 8
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The Secrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today 
edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel.
Heinemann, 166 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 9780435839390
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... It is often said that the British are obsessively interested in secrecy. It is less often said how deep and peculiar this obsession is, and how much more there is to it than the well-known fact that British authorities are exceptionally secretive. Our interest is in secrecy as much as in secrets: it is the process, the practices and irregularities of keeping and revealing secrets, that concerns us ...

Fear and Loathing in Limehouse

Richard Holme, 3 September 1987

Campaign! The Selling of the Prime Minister 
by Rodney Tyler.
Grafton, 251 pp., £6.95, July 1987, 0 246 13277 9
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Battle for Power 
by Des Wilson.
Sphere, 326 pp., £4.99, July 1987, 0 7221 9074 3
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David Owen: Personally Speaking 
by Kenneth Harris.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 297 79206 7
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... One of the principal problems of the warring generals was an inability to agree on strategy. At David Owen’s insistence, the Alliance’s election objectives were limited to achieving the balance of power. This had the apparent advantage of modest realism, but there were more substantial disadvantages. The first of these – as I can report by taking a ...

It’s not about cheering us up

David Simpson: Terry Eagleton, 3 April 2003

Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic 
by Terry Eagleton.
Blackwell, 328 pp., £55, August 2002, 0 631 23359 8
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... and disdaining democracy. However, Eagleton does return with approval to the arguments of Raymond Williams’s Modern Tragedy (1966). There, Williams (whom Eagleton once notoriously deemed a ‘left Leavisite’) told us that most theories of tragedy have been little more than ideology, that tragedy does indeed occur in the ...

Constable’s Plenty

John Barrell, 15 August 1991

Constable 
by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams.
Tate Gallery, 544 pp., £45, June 1991, 1 85437 071 5
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Romatic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition 
by Jonathan Bate.
Routledge, 131 pp., £8.99, May 1991, 0 415 06116 4
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... of the work of a British artist. It is also one of the dullest. Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams have resisted the tendency of the last fifteen years or so by which the catalogues of major exhibitions have often been presented as major interpretative studies of the artist and his times. Constable is a catalogue, nothing more. It maximises our ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine, 3 December 1981

The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... and royals (Princess Marina, Queen Victoria Eugénie, the Princess Royal). Vera Brittain, Ivy Williams (‘the first woman to be called to the English bar’) and Rachel Crowdy (she ‘belonged to a generation when women had to possess very obvious strength of character if they were to attain recognition’) are the only women who might be described as ...

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