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18 November 1993
Benjamin Constant: A Biography 
by Dennis Wood.
Routledge, 321 pp., £40, June 1993, 0 415 01937 0
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Isabelle de Charrière (Belle de Zuylen): A Biography 
by C.P Courtney.
Voltaire Foundation, 810 pp., £49, August 1993, 0 7294 0439 0
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... to know who could have done justice to the upper-class intellectual-bohemian melodrama played out in and around Coppet – perhaps Goethe’s troubling novel The Elective Affinities comes closest. DennisWood ends the chapter in which he records the incidents of 1808-9 with the death of Constant’s father in 1812, and an entry in Constant’s diary that followed it: ‘Worked. My father would have ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’

4 July 2019
... than Norman blood”?’ The film suggests that Lord Tennyson was not only far from the mark but off the wall. It’s true that coronets are not everything. There is also money, but that’s it. Dennis Price as Louis, a distant relative of the aristocrats all played by Alec Guinness (eight roles plus another cameo in a flashback), doesn’t at first take his mother’s fantasies seriously. She ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Touch of Evil’

29 July 2015
Touch of Evil 
directed by Orson Welles.
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... unbroken first take memorably discussed in The Player and imitated all over the place; Marlene Dietrich’s presence as the sour, weary owner of a nightclub and ultimately the conscience of the film; Dennis Weaver’s incarnation of the crazy night man at the desert motel, a prefiguration of Anthony Perkins in Psycho and every other damaged person who ever had to look after a register and hand out keys ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Mulholland Drive’

19 November 2015
Mulholland Drive 
directed by David Lynch.
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... mixed wreckage from the waking day, and partly because this is David Lynch’s particular choice of wreckage, full of ambition, danger and ambiguity. The city is ‘mysterious and apparitional’, as Dennis Lim says in his excellent new book on Lynch, and never more so than in this film.* Luis Buñuel is the great artist of the unflagged dream, the one you recognise for what it is when the character ...

Humming along

Michael Wood: The Amazing Thomas Pynchon

4 January 2007
Against the Day 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 1085 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 224 08095 4
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... whimsy myself, and a first glance at Thomas Pynchon’s new novel had me worried. I could scarcely be surprised by the funny names or the animals, since Pynchon’s early fiction had people called Dennis Flange, Rachel Owlglass and Emory Bortz, and in Mason & Dixon there is a considerable speaking role for Vaucanson’s mechanical duck. But here on page 1 is a group of boy adventurers called the ...

The Paranoid Elite

Michael Wood: DeLillo

22 April 2010
Point Omega 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 117 pp., £14.99, March 2010, 978 0 330 51238 1
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... us to let them go. Jessie’s mother, separated from Elster, has sent her to California to get her away from a boyfriend in New York. We don’t learn anything about him except that he may be called Dennis, and that he rings the mother up repeatedly, never leaving a message. Is he a stalker, a killer? A knife is found in the desert after Jessie has disappeared, but nothing else, no body. When Finley ...
16 December 1993
Alexander Pope: A Critical Edition 
edited by Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 706 pp., £11.95, July 1993, 0 19 281346 3
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Essays on Pope 
by Pat Rogers.
Cambridge, 273 pp., £30, September 1993, 0 521 41869 0
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... richly illustrate his assertions, such as the following lines from the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot: Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill; I wish’d the man a dinner, and sate still: Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret; I never answer’d, I was not in debt; If want provok’d, or madness made them print, I wag’d no war with Bedlam or the Mint. Most readers will recognise the importance of ...
19 May 1988
by Shusaku Endo, translated by Van Gessel.
Peter Owen, 237 pp., £11.95, April 1988, 0 7206 0682 9
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Hell Screen, Cogwheels, A Fool’s Life 
by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
Eridanos, 145 pp., £13.95, March 1988, 0 941419 02 9
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Singular Rebellion 
by Saiichi Maruya, translated by Dennis​ Keene.
Deutsch, 412 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 233 98202 7
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... existential tale (‘unstory’ might be the appropriate literary category), the cogwheels are not only precursors of pain but also harbingers of insanity and messengers of death. He walks through a wood, sees a concrete foundation where a house used to stand, meets an odd-looking man on a bicycle, comes across the dead body of a mole-banal encounters made sinister by his disordered mind: That ...

I want my wings

Andrew O’Hagan: The Last Tycoons

3 March 2016
West of Eden: An American Place 
by Jean Stein.
Cape, 334 pp., £20, February 2016, 978 0 224 10246 9
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... It is a book about Hollywood that has the authority of the smartest girl at the party. Stein speaks to the butlers and the chauffeurs, the studio wives, the bit-part players, to the Arthur Miller, Dennis Hopper and Gore Vidal part of the universe, and none of them lets her down, or lets her off. It is a wild compendium of stories about what it is to be a child in a world of childish adults, and her ...
20 November 1986
News from Nowhere 
by David Caute.
Hamish Hamilton, 403 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 241 11920 0
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by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 469 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 241 11948 0
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Ticket to Ride 
by Dennis​ Potter.
Faber, 202 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 9780571145232
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... the primary role of ‘theory’ and the vanguard part to be played by ‘student unrest’ in building the bridge from theory to action. As New Left Review, having recently sawn off its liberal dead wood, declared in July 1968, it was the ‘production and circulation of theory’ in the French universities that had led ‘to the greatest mass upsurge seen in Europe for thirty years’. Theory was ...
15 July 1982
Christopher Brennan: A Critical Biography 
by Axel Clark.
Melbourne, 358 pp., £20, May 1980, 0 522 84182 1
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... fact, if he had got there and stayed there, but literary history does not wholly consist of complete achievements, and anyway the incomplete achievements are often the more instructive. From C.J. Dennis, who knew exactly what he was up to and in The Sentimental Bloke did it to perfection, there is much enjoyment to be gained, but little edification about how the Australian lyric poet is to go about ...

Damaged Beasts

James Wood: Peter Carey’s ‘Theft’

8 June 2006
Theft: A Love Story 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 269 pp., £16.99, June 2006, 0 571 23147 0
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... arriving at life class with blood still on my hands. For what was I judged to be but a kind of raging pig? I had not read Berenson or Nietzsche or Kierkegaard but still I argued. Forgive me, Dennis Flaherty, I had no right to knock you down. I had no right to speak. I knew nothing, had seen sweet fucking all, had never been to Florence or Siena or Paris, never studied art history. At lunch ...

Pork Chops

John Bayley

25 April 1991
Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life 
by Robert Bernard Martin.
HarperCollins, 448 pp., £18, April 1991, 0 00 217662 9
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... worst efforts, like ‘Harry Ploughman’ or the ‘Echo’ poem. Charles Lock, who wrote a thoughtful study of Hopkins as a decadent poet in Essays in Criticism, quotes in another context Dennis Taylor’s judgment that Hopkins’s mode of poetry reveals the creative vitality latent in speech, where Hardy formalises its banality and obsolescence. Speech patterns are more important than ...

Land of Pure Delight

Dinah Birch: Anglicising the Holy Land

20 April 2006
The Holy Land in English Culture 1799-1917: Palestine and the Question of Orientalism 
by Eitan Bar-Yosef.
Oxford, 319 pp., £50, October 2005, 0 19 926116 4
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... Bunyan had suggested – that England and the Holy Land were not the separate places that history and politics might imply: The fields from Islington to Marybone To Primrose Hill and Saint Johns Wood: Were builded over with pillars of gold, And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood. Blake’s short poem ‘Jerusalem’, peculiarly celebrated as the most English of visions, thinks of Christ among the ...


James Wood: These Etonians

4 July 2019
... very establishment … You don’t have a relative in Maggie Thatcher’s cabinet?’ It was 1984. He was after political disgrace, looking for a turncoat Hurd, a Pym, a Raison, a Jopling. What was a Wood? We had no family connections, to Eton or anywhere else much. The only reason I was at the school was my mother’s madly aspirant zeal, her Scottish petit-bourgeois tirelessness. My older brother ...

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