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Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

... are snitches. What did the local liquor store owner in Woody Creek, Colorado, know about Hunter Thompson? The make of his car and that he was going to appear on the Today show. The main snitch in Ray Bradbury’s file was the actor and screenwriter Martin Berkeley, a former Communist Party member who gave around 160 names to the House Committee on ...

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 ...

Grateful Dead

John Barrell, 22 April 1993

The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 790 pp., £80, January 1993, 0 19 865211 9
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... There is a brief life of Butchell in the first Dictionary of National Biography; it was written by Thompson Cooper, who had an eye for such characters, and who contributed over 1400 biographies, more than anyone else to the original dictionary. Cooper made no claims for Butchell’s importance as a physician, or as an innovator in the history of ...

‘I love you, defiant witch!’

Michael Newton: Charles Williams, 8 September 2016

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling 
by Grevel Lindop.
Oxford, 493 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 0 19 928415 3
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... of poets – she and her husband, Wilfred Meynell, also nurtured the talent of the wayward Francis Thompson. Meynell found the meanings ‘crowded’ in Williams’s early poems; it’s a relief she was spared the later ones. With his taste for ritual and belonging, it’s something of a surprise that Williams didn’t join Meynell in the Catholic ...

They roared with laughter

Amber Medland: Nella Larsen, 6 May 2021

Passing 
by Nella Larsen.
Macmillan, 160 pp., £10.99, June 2020, 978 1 5290 4028 9
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... apricot frock’ in Quicksand (the character was based on the Black actress and model Anita Thompson, who was so beautiful that Coco Chanel gave her dresses). When Larsen was found dead in her apartment in 1964, she was wearing a black sweater over a plain blue dress and black socks. The socks, in particular, would have appalled her younger self. What ...

You’ve got it or you haven’t

Iain Sinclair, 25 February 1993

Inside the Firm: The Untold Story of the Krays’ Reign of Terror 
by Tony Lambrianou and Carol Clerk.
Pan, 256 pp., £4.99, October 1992, 0 330 32284 2
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Gangland: London’s Underworld 
by James Morton.
Little, Brown, 349 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 356 20889 3
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Nipper: The Story of Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read 
by Leonard Read and James Morton.
Warner, 318 pp., £5.99, September 1992, 0 7515 0001 1
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Smash and Grab: Gangsters in the London Underworld 
by Robert Murphy.
Faber, 182 pp., £15.99, February 1993, 0 571 15442 5
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... but they kept a decent arsenal: ‘shotguns galore, three rifles and half a dozen handguns, a Thompson sub-machinegun, a couple of grenades and numerous knives and swords’. All the trimmings for a good night out. There was nothing casual about the way the gangs dressed for history. They were as serious as the America-obsessed Parisian hoods of ...

The Lady in the Van

Alan Bennett, 26 October 1989

... must have been like all that hot afternoon. She then tells me about a programme on Francis Thompson she’d heard on the wireless, how he had tried to become a priest but had felt he had failed in his vocation, and had become a tramp. Then, unusually, she told me a little of her own life, and how she tried to become a nun on two occasions, had ...

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