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Punch-up at the Poetry Reading

Joanna Kavenna: Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, 7 May 1998

The Monkey's Mask 
by Dorothy Porter.
Serpent’s Tail, 264 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 1 85242 549 0
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... as Marlowe’s revelations floor the decadent rich. The Monkey’s Mask, by the Australian poet Dorothy Porter, takes the transformation of the detective genre a stage further, by writing it in verse. Her detective heroine, Jill Fitzpatrick, is a gay, working-class former cop, who narrates in a hyperactive free-form skitter: Always this  I’ll ring ...

The Shape of Absence

Hilary Mantel: The Bondwoman’s Narrative, 8 August 2002

The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel 
by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates.
Virago, 338 pp., £10.99, May 2002, 1 86049 013 1
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... have been in an attic in New Jersey. Then it was bought by the black historian and bibliographer Dorothy Porter Wesley; after her death, it came to auction and to Gates. The catalogue description said that it was ‘uncertain’ that the MS was the work of a black person, but the fact that Wesley had acquired it suggested to Gates that she had a strong ...

Did he puff his crimes to please a bloodthirsty readership?

Bernard Porter: How bad was Stanley?, 5 April 2007

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer 
by Tim Jeal.
Faber, 570 pp., £25, March 2007, 978 0 571 22102 8
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... Stanley was, after all, often deceived. Jeal thinks he was deceived by his eventual wife, Dorothy (née Tennant), who comes out of this book very badly: resembling ‘a great actress’ who feigned love for him (she really loved Sir Alfred Lyall, but he was married), then wickedly took control of him – never giving him peace to write, forbidding him ...

Prinney, Boney, Boot

Roy Porter, 20 March 1986

The English Satirical Print 1600-1832 
edited by Michael Duffy.
Chadwyck-Healey, February 1986
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... cartoonist, Goya. Thanks to the pioneering researches of a handful of historians – above all, M. Dorothy George and Herbert Atherton – the basic documentation of the rise of the political print is fairly secure.† The history is, however, full of ambiguity. On the one hand, graphic satire figured ever larger in the arsenal of the fourth estate. In peak ...

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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... implies? Should not future editions include entries on May McKisack (an expert Medievalist), on Dorothy George (who pioneered the scholarly study of cartoons), on Phyllis Deane, the economic historian, and indeed on Natalie Zemon Davis? And, while I am labouring this particular point, should women’s history really be catalogued – as it is here – as ...

Your hat sucks

Gill Partington: UbuWeb, 1 April 2021

Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics and Poetics of UbuWeb 
by Kenneth Goldsmith.
Columbia, 328 pp., £20, July 2020, 978 0 231 18695 7
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... 1925, Kurt Schwitters was met first with gales of laughter and then with tears of admiration. Bern Porter, a physicist turned outsider artist, spent the war helping to build the atomic bomb, before turning his back on his career and devoting the rest of his often isolated existence to creating what he called ‘founds’. He rearranged news clippings, magazine ...

Capital W, Capital W

Michael Wood: Women writers, 19 August 1999

Women Writers at Work 
edited by George Plimpton.
Harvill, 381 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 1 86046 586 2
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Just as I Thought 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 332 pp., £8.99, August 1999, 1 86049 696 2
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... the writers have been brought together ‘over what, in some cases, would be their dead bodies’. Dorothy Parker, for instance, says she is ‘a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex ... But when we paraded through the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lamp-posts to try to get our equality – dear child, we didn’t foresee those ...

Bad John

Alan Bennett: John Osborne, 3 December 1981

A Better Class of Person 
by John Osborne.
Faber, 285 pp., £7.95, November 1981, 0 571 11785 6
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... a sigh of relief at this autobiography, since it was something, to quote another John’s spoof of Dorothy L. Sayers, ‘to be read behind closed doors’. Though without necessarily taking Orton’s other piece of advice – namely, to ‘have a good shit while reading it’. Osborne, like Orton, had a bleak childhood (or would like us to think so). Both had ...


Jenny Diski: Happiness, 23 September 2010

... one running out on them, I’ll just tell them about that pair of Jimmy Choo boots I saw on Net-a-Porter. All they have to do to feel better is to buy them for me. Trust in abundance, guys. Am I beginning to get the hang of this happiness project? Truth number four is ‘You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.’ This is not just unfathomable but ...

The Politics of Translation

Marina Warner: Translate this!, 11 October 2018

This Little Art 
by Kate Briggs.
Fitzcarraldo, 365 pp., £12.99, September 2017, 978 1 910695 45 6
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Translation as Transhumance 
by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz.
Les Fugitives, 150 pp., £10, November 2017, 978 0 9930093 3 4
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Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto 
by Mark Polizzotti.
MIT, 168 pp., £17.99, May 2018, 978 0 262 03799 0
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The 100 Best Novels in Translation 
by Boyd Tonkin.
Galileo, 304 pp., £14.99, June 2018, 978 1 903385 67 8
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The Work of Literary Translation 
by Clive Scott.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £75, June 2018, 978 1 108 42682 4
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... an obsessive labour, a way of life’. Her artless title is taken from a letter Helen Lowe-Porter wrote to Thomas Mann after she became his English translator. She was, she said later, an ‘unknown instrument … which … must … serve him to change the garment of his art into a better one which might clothe her for the marketplace until times ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2012, 3 January 2013

... of buildings – barns, a dovecote, a farm – that have grown up over the years. In People Dorothy, the lady of the manor, expressly disclaims any pretensions to metaphor her house might have. ‘England with all its faults. A country house with all its shortcomings – the one is not the other.’ In this perfect house such a disclaimer would be much ...


Ronald Bryden, 10 December 1987

The Life of Kenneth Tynan 
by Kathleen Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 407 pp., £16.95, September 1987, 9780297790822
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... his undergraduate writing, part of a generalised admiration for the world of the New Yorker, Cole Porter musicals and the Algonquin Round Table. I don’t mock the progression. My own was identical. Films implanted his obsession with stardom, the making and wearing of those golden masks with which his favourite performers ...

You better not tell me you forgot

Terry Castle: How to Spot Members of the Tribe, 27 September 2012

All We Know: Three Lives 
by Lisa Cohen.
Farrar Straus, 429 pp., £22.50, July 2012, 978 0 374 17649 5
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... magic. Here it must be that arresting phrase, the right to play. Like Beaton, the Sitwells, Cole Porter, Nancy Cunard, Noël Coward, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Lady Diana Cooper and countless other hedonistic Jazz Age types, Murphy, de Acosta and Garland took the right to play for granted, as well they might. Puritanism was an anachronism and in some ...

Seductress Extraordinaire

Terry Castle: The vampiric Mercedes de Acosta, 24 June 2004

‘That Furious Lesbian’: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta 
by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 210 pp., £16.95, June 2004, 0 8093 2579 9
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Women in Turmoil: Six Plays 
by Mercedes de Acosta, edited by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 252 pp., £26.95, June 2003, 0 8093 2509 8
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... the lead role, a set design by Norman Bel Geddes, and luminaries such as Arthur Rubenstein, Cole Porter, Ivor Novello, Dorothy Parker and Mrs Vincent Astor in attendance on opening night. It closed after a few snaggle-toothed performances. In Jacob Slovak (1923), the one de Acosta play to have some success (John Gielgud ...

Father! Father! Burning Bright

Alan Bennett, 9 December 1999

... try there,’ said the fat man. Midgley sat on. ‘Hello,’ said the young man brightly. ‘Dorothy? You’re a grandma.’ He looked at Midgley while he was talking, but without seeing him. ‘A grandma,’ he shouted. ‘Yes!’ There was a pause. ‘Guess,’ said the young man and listened. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Girl. Seven and a half ...

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