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The Big Man

Alex de Waal: The Rwandan Genocide

3 November 2016
From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda 1990-94 
by André Guichaoua, translated by Don Webster.
Wisconsin, 424 pp., £73.95, October 2015, 978 0 299 29820 3
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... Did​ the Rwanda genocide happen because a few army officers and politicians, squabbling over whom they should appoint as leader, casually used mass murder as a means of obtaining a temporary consensus? The idea that the largest mass murder of the last 25 years came about through banal politicking is perhaps even more disturbing than the notion that it was the enactment of a grand ideological project ...

Success

Marilyn Butler

18 November 1982
The Trouble of an Index: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. XII 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 166 pp., £15, May 1982, 0 7195 3885 8
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Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 404 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 0 7195 3974 9
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Byron 
by Frederic Raphael.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £8.95, July 1982, 0 500 01278 4
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Byron’s Political and Cultural Influence in 19th-Century Europe: A Symposium 
edited by Paul Graham Trueblood.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £15, April 1981, 0 333 29389 4
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Byron and Joyce through Homer 
by Hermione de Almeida.
Macmillan, 233 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 333 30072 6
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Byron: A Poet Before His Public 
by Philip Martin.
Cambridge, 253 pp., £18.50, July 1982, 0 521 24186 3
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... of the supporting cast did not have to be told so speedily. One of the most intriguing affairs to emerge from the Letters and Journals is Byron’s flirtation in 1813 with Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, who was beautiful, new-married, and virtuous. While she and Byron played billiards under the nose of her husband, and passed increasingly passionate notes to one another in books, Byron was keeping ...
15 May 1980
‘A heart for every fate’: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. 10, 1822-1823 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 239 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 0 7195 3670 7
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... more merit in his self-denial. He is your only poet ... Perhaps. But during the period of these letters the other poet in Byron kept on ‘scribbling’ (it was his favourite description) away at Don Juan, and completed seven cantos (10-16), not to mention ‘The Age of Bronze’ and ‘The Island’. If the reader detects a certain loss of Byron’s accustomed brio in these letters, he should ...

Umpteens

Christopher Ricks

22 November 1990
Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications 
edited by Adrian Room.
Bloomsbury, 354 pp., £17.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0521 7
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Unauthorised Versions: Poems and their Parodies 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 446 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14122 6
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The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 407 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 14470 5
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... ungovernable temper’, ‘irascible’) and ask instead please for what Room does not supply, a simple identification of the praiser of Shakespeare, upon whose words the whole dedication turns: John Webster, in the note ‘To the Reader’ before The White Devil. Browning’s Elizabethanised play has its affinities with Webster: moreover, it was canny of him to emend Webster’s prefatory words so as to ...

Into the Underworld

Iain Sinclair: The Hackney Underworld

22 January 2015
... to the surface in a state of perfect preservation, seventy years after the accident that killed him. She found her interactions with Lyttle challenging. ‘How come you have a small nose?’ ‘Jews don’t have blue eyes.’ On and on he went, trying to interrogate her on her sexual preferences. Russo recalled legends of lovers who descended into the depths to reclaim partners enraptured by the ...

Ticket to Milford Haven

David Edgar: Shaw’s Surprises

21 September 2006
Bernard Shaw: A Life 
by A.M. Gibbs.
Florida, 554 pp., £30.50, December 2005, 0 8130 2859 0
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... idea: that great drama is an escape from and not a development of pulp drama (so that, for example, ‘Shakespear survives by what he has in common with Ibsen, and not by what he has in common with Webster’). In polemical theatre, this misconception leads to the notion that the sugar of entertainment can somehow be sucked off the pill of propaganda (or, as T.S. Eliot put it, ‘if the audience gets ...
18 August 1983
Homosexuality in Renaissance England 
by Alan Bray.
Gay Men’s Press, 149 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 907040 16 0
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Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare 
by Linda Bamber.
Stanford, 211 pp., $18.50, June 1982, 0 8047 1126 7
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Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare 
by Lisa Jardine.
Harvester, 202 pp., £18.95, June 1983, 0 7108 0436 9
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... Emilia that ‘this Lodovico is a proper man’, displays her ‘sensual drive’, thus qualifying audience sympathy for her even as she nears death. She is, in fact, only slightly less guilty than Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, a woman ‘lower in her sexual drive than “a beast that wants discourse of reason” ’. Both characters become acceptable, as opposed to ‘surreally-threatening’, or ...

Death in Greece

Marilyn Butler

17 September 1981
Byron’s Letter and Journals. Vol. XI: For Freedom’s Battle 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 243 pp., £11.50, April 1981, 0 7195 3792 4
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Byron: The Complete Poetical Works 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 464 pp., £35, October 1980, 0 19 811890 2
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Red Shelley 
by Paul Foot.
Sidgwick, 293 pp., £12.95, May 1981, 0 283 98679 4
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Ugo Foscolo, Poet of Exile 
by Glauco Cambon.
Princeton, 360 pp., £15, September 1980, 0 691 06424 5
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... which covered the episode in 1813 when Byron was having an affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, and contemplating (over a game of billiards) the seduction of the chaste Lady Frances Wedder-burn Webster, while he confided in Lady Melbourne, suavest of older women, about both. The love of women hardly bothers Byron in his last months. His messages even to Teresa Guiccioli, the last attachment, are ...
7 March 1991
The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... if he thought something second-rate. At one editorial conference a writer put up an idea with some enthusiasm, and Godfrey Smith asked: ‘What do you think about that, Francis?’ He replied: ‘I don’t know. I was asleep.’ There was never anything on his desk. He had a gesture, forbidding to an outside contributor, of sweeping imaginary flotsam from its surface with the little finger of his ...

Don’t abandon​ me

Colm Tóibín: Borges and the Maids

11 May 2006
Borges: A Life 
by Edwin Williamson.
Penguin, 416 pp., £9.99, August 2005, 0 14 024657 6
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... as Williamson puts it. The ironies and absurdities of this were not lost on him. In the months after his father’s death he wrote one of his great serious spoofs, ‘Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote’, a meditation, using a straight face and no ‘fine writing or purple patches’, on the idea of rewriting as an inspired enterprise, and on the concept of the writer as a force of culture ...

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