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The pleasure of not being there

Peter Brooks, 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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... in and around Coppet – perhaps Goethe’s troubling novel The Elective Affinities comes closest. Dennis Wood 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 been pleased with my book.’ A sad line, since Juste ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Touch of Evil’, 29 July 2015

Touch of Evil 
directed by Orson Welles.
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... 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 (Welles writes in the memo of the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, 4 July 2019

... 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 married beneath her rank, and had to live in Clapham rather ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Mulholland Drive’, 19 November 2015

Mulholland Drive 
directed by David Lynch.
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... 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 wakes up but not before, as happens repeatedly in The ...

Every one values Mr Pope

James Winn, 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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... 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 antithesis and balance in these lines, but Rogers sees ...

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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... 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 Chums of Chance, heroes of a series of jolly books with ...

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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... 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 gets a phone call from someone who doesn’t talk, is that ...

Singular Rebellions

Walter Nash, 19 May 1988

Scandal 
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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... 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 something was aiming at me began to make me with each step more ...

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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... 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 book feels political, a meditation on the moral ...

Fiction and the Poverty of Theory

John Sutherland, 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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O-Zone 
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 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 the new locomotive of history. But this put us on this side ...

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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... 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 break at William Anglis’s wholesale butchery, I read ...

Australia’s Nineties

Clive James, 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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... 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 squaring his personal upbringing with the cultural ...

Diary

James Wood: These Etonians, 4 July 2019

... 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 and I were both effectively scholarship boys. He was the real ...

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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... 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 English, rather than picturing the English as pilgrims to ...

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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... 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 Hopkins’s theories of inscape, instress and so on, which did ...

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