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The event that doesn’t occur

Michael Wood, 4 April 1985

The Man from the USSR, and Other Plays 
by Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Dmitri Nabokov.
Weidenfeld, 342 pp., £20, February 1985, 0 297 78596 6
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... fact that the published texts (Lectures on Literature, Lectures on Russian Literature, Lectures on Don Quixote) represent scripts and drafts rather than the things themselves. Nabokov’s lectures, like his cramped and prickly prefaces, mainly serve to highlight the marvels of his fiction, where the pedestrian takes to the air, and his often domineering ...

Keep talking

Julian Loose, 26 March 1992

by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 172 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 14 014232 0
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... his recent Virtual Reality, explained the idea of ‘cybersex’: how someday we will be able to don sensor suits, plug into the telecommunications network and ‘reach out and touch someone’ in ways entirely unforeseen by Alexander Graham Bell. Speculating about the impact of such artificial erotic experience, Rheingold turned to an already up and-running ...


Ian Gilmour: Our Ignominious Government, 23 May 1996

... as the great man himself; surprisingly, Auden uses a seven-line stanza instead of the eight of Don Juan. Auden and MacNeice’s ‘Last Will and Testament’ which ends the book contains the lines:                     and for our intelligent island pray That to her virtuous beauties by all poets sung She add at last an honest foreign ...

Dry Eyes

John Bayley, 5 December 1991

Jump and Other Stories 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £13.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1020 2
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Wilderness Tips 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 247 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 7475 1019 9
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... the countryside, and masked by the lush deceitful green of waving trees’. ‘Franklin my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ the heroine’s comically sophisticated boyfriend used to remark in high school, and they used to intone together a cosy little chant: ‘No pins, no pads, no odour, no chafing.’ But as a successful designer he will die in his thirties ...

Being there

Ian Hamilton, 7 October 1993

Up at Oxford 
by Ved Mehta.
Murray, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 0 7195 5287 7
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... Irish writing is boring,’ said one. ‘What about Yeats?’ replied the other. ‘I don’t like poetry.’ ‘And Beckett?’ ‘Pointless drivel.’ My God, he thought, so this was what father had warned him to expect: such self-confidence, such nerveless poise. At another table, ‘Jasper and Roger were soon engaged in a rather abstruse yet ...

Cutting it short

John Bayley, 3 November 1983

Alexander Pushkin: Complete Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny, translated by Walter Arndt.
Stanford, 545 pp., $38.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1142 9
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The Other Pushkin: A Study of Alexander Pushkin’s Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny.
Stanford, 386 pp., $32.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1143 7
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... felt that his art had done its mysterious job and that it was not for him to press it further. Don Juan comes to an end because Byron cannot keep up the pressure and think up further adventures to which his imagination can really respond, and so he loses interest. Evgeny Onegin does not end in this sense at all. In it Pushkin tells us that when he began ...

Lumpy, Semi-Dorky, Slouchy, Smarmy

John Lanchester, 23 August 2001

Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous 
by Don Foster.
Macmillan, 340 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 333 78170 8
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... that she had only been doing her job. Autres temps, autres moeurs. This terrific story is told by Don Foster halfway through Author Unknown. Foster is the inheritor or professionaliser of the common-sense insight acted on by Alice Kelly: the fact that writing can give a clue to its author’s identity. Foster, a good example of the contemporary academic as ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... British historians were discussing a recent work on Dutch history, written by a one-time Cambridge don long since departed to the States. It had been acclaimed by reviewers as a bravura performance. It had been translated into all the right European languages. It had – deservedly – sold. But the trio were unimpressed. It was not, they muttered among ...

Poles Apart

John Sutherland, 5 May 1983

Give us this day 
by Janusz Glowacki, translated by Konrad Brodzinski.
Deutsch, 121 pp., £6.95, March 1983, 0 233 97518 7
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In Search of Love and Beauty 
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Murray, 227 pp., £8.50, April 1983, 0 7195 4062 3
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by Sally Emerson.
Joseph, 174 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 7181 2134 1
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Flying to Nowhere 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 89 pp., £4.95, March 1983, 0 907540 27 9
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Some prefer nettles 
by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated by Edward Seidensticker.
Secker, 155 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 436 51603 9
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The Makioka Sisters 
by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated by Edward Seidensticker.
Secker, 530 pp., £9.95, March 1983, 0 330 28046 5
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‘The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi’ and ‘Arrowroot’ 
by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated by Anthony Chambers.
Secker, 199 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 436 51602 0
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... life. They remain, like their favourite resort, the Old Vienna restaurant, fixed in foreign forms, smart and irrelevant. The novel, after circling aimlessly over thirty years of their aimless lives, concludes with Regi, alone and senile, blowing out the candles on her 84th birthday cake. As elsewhere, Jhabvala contrives poignant effects out of the ...

The Wrong Stuff

Christopher Hitchens, 1 April 1983

The Purple Decades 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 396 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 224 02944 4
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... exorbitant kind, has been the thing ever since. Was Wolfe just having fun at the expense of the smart set? He certainly worked hard at coining his phrase. The words ‘Radical Chic’ appear eight times, capitalised, in the first nine pages. The effect-producing stuff about Manhattan celebrities works only if you know them. What Wolfe did, really, was not ...

Unwritten Masterpiece

Barbara Everett: Dryden’s ‘Hamlet’, 4 January 2001

... of his own temperament, how many silences went into being so formidably articulate. Biographers don’t forget the history of himself that Dryden was to have given John Aubrey, but that he never gave. Dryden adapted Shakespeare, out of confidence and from a sense of necessity. I have chosen Hamlet as a point of comparison between them – a ...

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 480 pp., £25.95, April 2009, 978 0 674 03319 1
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... the casual reader as an interdisciplinary bombshell, but the fact is that literary historians don’t write about creative writing, and creative writers don’t write literary histories, so any secondary discourse about creative writing has been confined, as McGurl observes, to ‘the domain of literary ...

The night that I didn’t get drunk

Claude Rawson, 7 May 1987

Boswell: The English Experiment 1785-1789 
edited by Irma Lustig and Frederick Pottle.
Heinemann, 332 pp., £30, February 1987, 0 434 08130 2
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The Converse of the Pen: Acts of Intimacy in the 18th-Century Familiar Letter 
by Bruce Redford.
Chicago, 252 pp., £21.25, January 1987, 0 226 70678 8
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Printing Technology, Letters and Samuel Johnson 
by Alvin Kernan.
Princeton, 357 pp., £19.70, February 1987, 0 691 06692 2
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... of the audience. He engineered an elaborate conversational manoeuvre designed to trick Lord Raw-don, an aristocratic kinsman of the lady, into acknowledging a family connection with her. He was very pleased with his ‘great address’ and the fact that it ‘had a fine effect’ when he told her about it. A day or two later, however, he was less ...

Gielgud’s Achievements

Alan Bennett, 20 December 1979

An Actor and his Time 
by John Gielgud.
Sidgwick, 253 pp., £8.95
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... nor his enterprise. He has come a long way. As a juvenile his ‘ambition was to be frightfully smart and West End, wear beautifully-cut suits lounging on sofas in French-window comedies’. Fifty years later ‘I was asked to put suppositories up my bottom under the bedclothes and play a scene in the lavatory which I confess I found somewhat ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1990, 24 January 1991

... Prague. I suppose revolutions always attract the wrong people. When I was at Oxford in 1956 some smart Balliol undergraduates felt that the Hungarian Uprising would benefit from their presence. They sent round an appeal for funds, pointing out that a contingent was going from Cambridge, so it was important that Oxford should not be unrepresented, history for ...

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