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Leases of Lifelessness

Denis Donoghue, 7 October 1993

Beckett’s Dying Words 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 218 pp., £17.50, July 1993, 0 19 812358 2
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... I doubt Ricks’s general notion here and wonder how it survived his transcription of Samuel Johnson’s reply to Miss Seward: ‘The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horror of annihilation consists.’ Or Swift’s ‘Thoughts on Various ...

Their Affair and Our Affair

R.W. Johnson, 23 April 1987

The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus 
by Jean-Denis Bredin, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman.
Sidgwick, 628 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 283 99443 6
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Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France 
by Zeev Sternhell, translated by David Maisel.
California, 416 pp., £38.25, December 1986, 0 520 05207 2
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... John Weightman, reviewing Jean-Denis Bredin’s monumental work in the Observer, wrote of the Dreyfus Affair that ‘it was perhaps a good thing for France that the abscess burst when it did, because this brought tensions out into the open and revealed the “undeclared civil war” which would need to be resolved in the 20th century ...

The Devilish God

David Wheatley: T.S. Eliot, 1 November 2001

Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot 
by Denis Donoghue.
Yale, 326 pp., £17.95, January 2001, 0 300 08329 7
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Adam’s Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature 
by Denis Donoghue.
Notre Dame, 178 pp., £21.50, May 2001, 0 268 02009 4
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... With the catcalls from the terraces grown so strident, how much longer can Chairman Tom cling on? Denis Donoghue was an admirer of Eliot’s before Paulin was born, and brings the fruit of many decades’ reading and rumination to Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot. Donoghue begins by invoking his own 1990 memoir, Warrenpoint, which he had hoped to ...

What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking

Jackson Lears: #Russiagate, 4 January 2018

... rival factions in the intelligence community: the ‘tree of smoke’ that, for the novelist Denis Johnson, symbolised CIA operations in Vietnam. I inhaled that smoke myself in 1969-70, when I was a cryptographer with a Top Secret clearance on a US navy ship that carried missiles armed with nuclear warheads – the existence of which the navy ...

In Pyjamas

R.W. Johnson: Bill Deedes’s Decency, 17 November 2005

Dear Bill: A Memoir 
by W.F. Deedes.
Macmillan, 451 pp., £14.99, July 2005, 9781405052665
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... the Thatcher years than one might have hoped. Shrewdly, he believes the letters were a boon to Denis Thatcher because they portrayed him as a pantomime buffoon, making it all but impossible for the press to see him as the steady and powerfully right-wing influence on his wife that he was. At 92 Deedes has become an almost iconic figure. His modesty, good ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe, 10 May 2001

The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... and dull in the experimental novel Coe turns into entertainment. He is writing a biography of B.S. Johnson – whom he admires – but he writes more like Pamela Hansford Johnson. He has established for himself a set of stylistic conventions – conversational smooth prose, non-sequential narrative, the use of interpolated ...

Do you like him?

Ian Jack: Ken Livingstone, 10 May 2012

You Can’t Say That: Memoirs 
by Ken Livingstone.
Faber, 710 pp., £9.99, April 2012, 978 0 571 28041 4
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... is much the more difficult to imagine as a child. Nobody, surely, can have that problem with Boris Johnson. The mind’s eye sees Boris as one of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, a bouncy fellow demanding his tea and laying plans ‘to be/the next Prime Minister but three’. But the mind’s eye can be wrong – Johnson’s ...

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

Literary Education: A Revaluation 
by James Gribble.
Cambridge, 182 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 521 25315 2
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Reconstructing Literature 
edited by Laurence Lerner.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 631 13323 2
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Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory 
by Geoffrey Thurley.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 33436 1
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... like Frank Kermode and Tony Tanner, or Francophiles like Stephen Heath and Stephen Bann. Samuel Johnson had moral principles, but nothing like a theory of literature: he didn’t need one. The force of English common sense is that it leaves you free to deal with the things that matter. Till recently, Johnsonian sentiments have prevailed: supported, if ...

Father! Father! Burning Bright

Alan Bennett, 9 December 1999

... of a passing ice-cream van playing the opening bars of the ‘Blue Danube’. ‘He is dying, Denis. Will you exist now? Will that satisfy you?’ She was crying. ‘I’ll make it right, Joyce,’ said Midgley. ‘I’ll be there when he goes. I’ll hold his hand.’ He held hers, still in its orange gauntlet. ‘If I let him down now he’d stay with ...
... into official statistics about immigration. Undoubtedly, though, for the man on the metro to Saint-Denis who finds (as one easily can) that his is the only white face left in his coach by the time the train gets to the terminus, the crucial fact is skin colour, not whether his fellow passengers are Harkis, Antillais or even tourists. (Out in Saint-...

At the Skunk Works

R.W. Johnson, 23 February 1995

Fool’s Gold: The Story of North Sea Oil 
by Christopher Harvie.
Hamish Hamilton, 408 pp., £18.99, October 1994, 0 241 13352 1
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... from the sale of the old BNOC. Her back-handed account is all the more remarkable in view of Denis Healey’s observations on the depths of the first Thatcher recession of 1980-81: ‘It would have been impossible for Britain to have survived these disasters without North Sea oil ... During Mrs Thatcher’s first nine years it brought the Treasury £62 ...

Geek Romance

Philip Connors: Junot Díaz, 20 March 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 
by Junot Díaz.
Faber, 340 pp., £12.99, February 2008, 978 0 571 17955 8
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... writers casting about for inspiration in the 1990s, two books showed the way. The first was Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son (1992), a collection of autobiographical stories revolving around the misadventures of a character known mostly as Fuckhead. It mined Johnson’s life during his years as a drug addict in ...

Bevan’s Boy

R.W. Johnson, 24 March 1994

Michael Foot 
by Mervyn Jones.
Gollancz, 570 pp., £20, March 1994, 0 575 05197 3
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... it. The real question about Foot’s leadership is whether he shouldn’t have ceded place to Denis Healey a few months before the 1983 election. The polls suggest this would have produced a dead heat with the Tories as Alliance voters defected back to Labour en masse. Here Jones is far too kind and tries to throw the blame on the Shadow Cabinet for not ...

Diary

R.W. Johnson: World Cup Diary, 22 July 2010

... R.W. Johnson’s article in this issue is taken from some of his blog posts during the South Africa 2010 World Cup. More of his posts, and those of some other LRB contributors, can be found at lrb.co.uk/blog/world-cup-2010/6 June. South Africa is being worked up by an endless media barrage into a state of great excitement and expectancy about the World Cup ...

Masters

Christopher Ricks, 3 May 1984

Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age: Vol III. Dean Swift 
by Irvin Ehrenpreis.
Methuen, 1066 pp., £40, December 1983, 0 416 85400 1
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Swift’s Tory Politics 
by F.P. Lock.
Duckworth, 189 pp., £18, November 1983, 0 7156 1755 9
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Jonathan Swift: Political Writer 
by J.A. Downie.
Routledge, 391 pp., £25, March 1984, 0 7100 9645 3
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The Character of Swift’s Satire 
edited by Claude Rawson.
Associated University Presses, 343 pp., £22.50, April 1984, 0 87413 209 6
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... point to the frequency of such reversals in Swift; in his dealings with Esther Johnson and Mrs Dingley, even while ‘establishing for himself a fantasy family in which he might act father, brother, lover or husband as he chose’, Swift ‘was also reversing the old relationship which once made him dependent upon two women’. Reversing is ...

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