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Gatsby of the Boulevards

Hermione Lee: Morton Fullerton, 8 March 2001

Mysteries of Paris: The Quest for Morton Fullerton 
by Marion Mainwaring.
New England, 327 pp., £23, March 2001, 1 58465 008 7
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... In the spring of 1907, a few weeks after Edith Wharton had met Morton Fullerton in Paris, she described him to a mutual friend as ‘very intelligent, but slightly mysterious, I think’. Eight years later, by which time her passionate affair with Fullerton was long over, Henry James, in one of his last letters to her, confirmed her first thoughts about the man who had fascinated them both ...

Self-Made Man

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Edith Wharton’s Domestic Arrangements, 5 April 2007

Edith Wharton 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 853 pp., £25, February 2007, 978 0 7011 6665 6
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... Edith Wharton’s ‘background’ – the word is her own – has always seemed improbable for a future novelist. Persistent rumours that she was not the daughter of George Frederic Jones but the illegitimate offspring of a Scottish peer or an English tutor clearly attest to a sense that there was something otherwise inexplicable about this ambitious daughter of Old New York ...

A Little ‘Foreign’

P.N. Furbank: Iris Origo, 27 June 2002

Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Murray, 351 pp., £22, October 2000, 0 7195 5672 4
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... colony – the Berensons, the Actons, Janet Ross, Vernon Lee, with their house-guests such as Edith Wharton and Percy Lubbock – that Iris spent her girlhood. It was a society with a raging appetite for gossip, and before long Sybil had become almost their favourite subject: her dazzling wardrobe, her hypochondria, her high-pitched chatter and ...

About Myself

Liam McIlvanney: James Hogg, 18 November 2004

The Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg 
by Karl Miller.
Faber, 401 pp., £25, August 2003, 0 571 21816 4
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Altrive Tales 
by James Hogg, edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 293 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 7486 1893 7
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... On a winter’s evening in 1803, James Hogg turned up for dinner at the home of Walter Scott. The man his host liked to call ‘the honest grunter’ was shown into the drawing-room, where a pregnant Mrs Scott was resting on a sofa. Unsure of the protocol in these toney surroundings, and deciding to take his cue from the hostess, Hogg flopped onto an adjoining sofa, smirching the chintz with his dung-spattered boots ...

Being two is half the fun

John Bayley, 4 July 1985

Multiple Personality and the Disintegration of Literary Character 
by Jeremy Hawthorn.
Edward Arnold, 146 pp., £15, May 1983, 0 7131 6398 4
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Doubles: Studies in Literary History 
by Karl Miller.
Oxford, 488 pp., £19.50, June 1985, 9780198128410
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The Doubleman 
by C.J. Koch.
Chatto, 326 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 9780701129453
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... say, Dostoevsky’s Mr Golyadkin in The Double. Miller’s book has an atmosphere at once like Scott and like Proust, full of marvels, full of shrewdness and of humour, its perspective all-embracing. For one thing, it redefines and reinstates the concept of escapism. Hawthorn’s shorter book is more avowedly clinical in its approach, often equally ...

Little Viper

Lorna Scott Fox: Mario Vargas Llosa, 17 September 1998

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto 
by Maria Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman.
Faber, 259 pp., £15.99, July 1998, 0 571 19309 9
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... Some time in 1970 or 1971, I was picking boring books at random off my employer’s shelf – I was an au pair in Barcelona – when I opened a novel that had me laughing, and transfixed, by the bottom of the first page. My ignorance meant that I was one of the few people to discover One Hundred Years of Solitude without all that baggage of pleasures foretold ...

Great Fun

John Bayley, 22 January 1987

Gossip 
by Patricia Meyer Spacks.
Chicago, 287 pp., £9.25, November 1986, 0 226 76844 9
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The Bonus of Laughter 
by Alan Pryce-Jones.
Hamish Hamilton, 263 pp., £12.95, January 1987, 0 241 11903 0
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... exemplified in The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is the ideal person to be talked about, and Nick Carraway, Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator, come to New York from the Middle West, can both identify with Gatsby as a figure of mystery and charm, and also consider him objectively as a focus for speculation. Gossip and speculation go together. Anthony Powell’s ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John Williams Made it Work, 19 December 2019

The Man who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, ‘Stoner’ and the Writing Life 
by Charles Shields.
Texas, 305 pp., £23.99, October 2018, 978 1 4773 1736 5
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Nothing but the Night 
by John Williams.
NYRB, 144 pp., $14.95, February 2019, 978 1 68137 307 2
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... Thomas Wolfe and T.S. Eliot and – judging by the appearance of ‘ceaselessly’ here – F. Scott Fitzgerald:This was the thing that drew men and women together: not the meeting of minds nor of spirits, not the conjunction of bodies in the dark insanity of copulation – none of these. It was the tenuous need to create a bond, a tie more fragile than ...

Risky Business

Elaine Showalter, 22 September 1994

Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography 
by Linda Wagner-Martin.
Rutgers, 201 pp., $22.95, July 1994, 0 8135 2092 4
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... neglect, ‘did some good’, and acknowledges that R.W.B. Lewis’s extraordinary biography of Edith Wharton, the first to take her seriously as a major writer, ‘remains a good book’, her readings of male biographers and critics are generally harsh. She minimises the impact of discreditable information in biographies of men, arguing that ‘only ...

At the V&A

Marina Warner: ‘Hollywood Costume’, 20 December 2012

... as it sounded so familiar, but it turns out the music was specially commissioned, from Julian Scott.) Montages of film clips play throughout on further screens, concocting essence of Hollywood in several flavours: romance, western, fantasy, history, sci-fi, thriller, noir. But the same costumes look very different on screen; the face, the gestures, and ...

Convenient Death of a Hero

Arnold Rattenbury, 8 May 1997

Beyond the Frontier: the Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944 
by E.P. Thompson.
Merlin/Stanford, 120 pp., £12.95, December 1996, 0 85036 457 4
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... a characteristic military balls-up.’ Early in April a new wireless operator, Sergeant Kenneth Scott, was parachuted in to join Frank, while Scott’s code-book was dropped to a wholly different unit ‘somewhere in Thrace’ – and this at a time when the unit’s headquarters were being transferred from Cairo to Bari ...

He had it all

Alex Harvey: Fitzgerald’s Decade, 5 July 2018

Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald 
by David S. Brown.
Harvard, 424 pp., £21.95, May 2017, 978 0 674 50482 0
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‘I’d Die for You’ and Other Lost Stories 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Scribner, 384 pp., £9.99, April 2018, 978 1 4711 6473 6
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... Scott Fitzgerald​ spent his declining years in ‘a hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement’. Hollywood, he complained in 1940, was ‘a dump, in the human sense of the word. Everywhere there is … either corruption or indifference.’ He used to wear a dark topcoat and homburg; ‘his outfit and pallor,’ his secretary Frances Kroll recalled, ‘were alien to the style and warmth of Southern California – as if he were not at home here, had just stopped off and was dressed to leave on the next train ...

Ediepus

Michael Neve, 18 November 1982

Edie: An American Biography 
by Jean Stein and George Plimpton.
Cape, 455 pp., £9.95, October 1982, 0 224 02068 4
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Baby Driver: A Story About Myself 
by Jan Kerouac.
Deutsch, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 233 97487 3
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... and discussions with those many souls acquainted with the Sedgwick family, and especially with Edith Minturn Sedgwick, or ‘Edie’ (1943-1971). The result is a long, dull and scary book, where the sense of dullness is actually part of the editorial skill: the skill at making conversations memorable even when they talk of the inevitable slide ...

Of the Mule Breed

David Bromwich: Robert Southey, 21 May 1998

Robert Southey: A Life 
by Mark Storey.
Oxford, 405 pp., £25, April 1997, 0 19 811246 7
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... and possessions was solemnised by Southey and Coleridge in joint marriage to a pair of sisters, Edith and Sarah Fricker – a lucky shot for Southey, very much less so for Coleridge. The commune that never took shape is now embalmed in a few poems and the Platonic heat of a frank correspondence; but the friends worked steadily in Bristol in 1795, from an ...

The Road to West Egg

Thomas Powers, 4 July 2013

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by Sarah Churchwell.
Virago, 306 pp., £16.99, June 2013, 978 1 84408 766 2
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The Great Gatsby 
directed by Baz Luhrmann.
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... when you’re young. ‘I want to be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived,’ Scott Fitzgerald said to his friend Edmund Wilson when they were just out of college, ‘don’t you?’ Wilson was the son of a lawyer, a bit chilly, a prodigious reader steeped in Plato and Dante. He thought Fitzgerald’s remark foolish – just what you might ...

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