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Revenge!

Francis Spufford, 4 July 1996

Why Things Bite Back: New Technology and the Revenge Effect 
by Edward Tenner.
Fourth Estate, 360 pp., £18.99, June 1996, 1 85702 560 1
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... washing-powder only replaces the algal blooms in the Adriatic Sea with mats of floating slime. But Edward Tenner’s book is dedicated, half-successfully, to subtler propositions about the contrariness of stuff. His argument, you could say, turns on the implicit difference between Sod’s Law (everything goes wrong) and ...

Great Thoughts

E.S. Turner, 7 May 1981

The Macmillan Treasury of Relevant Quotations 
edited by Edward Murphy.
Macmillan, 658 pp., £3.95, August 1980, 0 333 30038 6
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... and an obscurely naughty joke he is said to have passed on about the female pudenda. At heart, Mr Murphy seems to be a serious-minded man and he concentrates on the writings of the great and not-so-great philosophers. Like Roget, he is too keen on grouping his material under abstract headings: the section on Self is followed by ...

Squidging about

Caroline Murphy: Camilla and the sex-motherers, 22 January 2004

Camilla: An Intimate Portrait 
by Rebecca Tyrrel.
Short Books, 244 pp., £14.99, October 2003, 1 904095 53 4
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... Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Even better, her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was Edward VII’s official mistress. It may be more than mere chance that the role of maîtresse-en-titre to the Prince of Wales runs in the family. Tyrrel says that, as a child, Camilla not only knew about her ancestor’s liaison but regarded the story as ...

Leases of Lifelessness

Denis Donoghue, 7 October 1993

Beckett’s Dying Words 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 218 pp., £17.50, July 1993, 0 19 812358 2
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... ease is worded by quotations from Dante Spenser, Milton, Shakespeare, Swift, Hardy, Housman and Edward Thomas. But none of the quotations is evidence that their authors maintained a conviction in favour of oblivion; above it all, no such desire runs. The passages Ricks quotes are imaginings, voicings of a mood, not the last will and testament of any of ...

Uncrownable King and Queen

Christopher Sykes, 7 February 1980

The Windsor Story 
by J. Bryan and Charles Murphy.
Granada, 602 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 246 11323 5
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... with much literary ignorance. They confuse two very different masters – Lewis Carroll with Edward Lear – and ascribe that ridiculous but famous play What Every Woman Knows to James Bourke! On the credit side, they show real understanding of the man’s character, especially in his later years, and commendably recognise one of the finest deeds of his ...

Meltdown

Anthony Thwaite, 26 October 1989

Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath 
by Anne Stevenson.
Viking, 413 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 670 81854 2
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... by authorial complaints against Olwyn Hughes, Ted Hughes and the Estate (e.g. David Holbrook, Edward Butscher) or have come to nothing (e.g. Lois Ames, Harriet Rosenstein). Most of the book-length literary criticism is unimpressive. There isn’t much to choose, for example, between Margaret Dickie Uroff (‘As they developed, Plath came to locate herself ...

The Devil upon Two Sticks

Charles Nicholl: Samuel Foote, 23 May 2013

Mr Foote’s Other Leg: Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London 
by Ian Kelly.
Picador, 462 pp., £18.99, October 2012, 978 0 330 51783 6
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... among his fans Dr Johnson (‘For a broad laugh I must confess the scoundrel has no fellow’) and Edward Gibbon, who told his sister in a letter: ‘When I am tired of the Roman Empire I can laugh away an evening at Foote’s theatre.’ Yet he died, said Garrick, excusing himself from the funeral, ‘very little regretted even by his nearest ...

The Playboy of West 29th Street

Colm Tóibín: Yeats’s Father in Exile, 25 January 2018

... Butler Yeats, which had been transcribed, then typed, then donated to the library by William M. Murphy, John Butler Yeats’s biographer. And now I looked up from the Yeats letters to find a man looking at me. It struck me immediately who he was. He was William M. Murphy himself, the author of Prodigal Father, the ...

Diary

Richard Usborne: On Cutting P.G. Wodehouse, 4 October 1984

... man, retrieved his helmet safely from the shrubbery. For the Wodehouse archive he is assembling, Edward Cazalet, grandson of the 99-year-old widowed Lady Wodehouse, recently bought, for £175, a short ts. letter from Wodehouse to a Mr Slater, dated 2 July 1953. Mr Slater had asked Wodehouse where Market Blandings was, the station for the Castle, with Jno ...

Irangate

Edward Said, 7 May 1987

The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey 
by Salman Rushdie.
Picador, 171 pp., £2.95, January 1987, 0 330 29990 5
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Turning the Tide: US Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace 
by Noam Chomsky.
Pluto, 298 pp., £5.95, September 1986, 0 7453 0184 3
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... policy-maker have come to the fore. There are the passive functionaries – men like Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East; he travels here and there but because he is a career Arabist his influence is nil. More ominous are the ideological over-achievers, typified by Richard Perle in Defence, Elliot Abrams in State, whose ...

Regular Terrors

Alison Light: Window-Smashing Suffragettes, 25 January 2007

Rebel Girls: Their Fight for the Vote 
by Jill Liddington.
Virago, 402 pp., £14.99, May 2006, 1 84408 168 0
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... lamp would be burning, and we would talk about politics, Labour questions, Emerson, Ruskin, Edward Carpenter, right into the night.’ Nellie Gawthorpe was another who thrived in this atmosphere. Brought up in the working-class respectability of a red-brick terrace in north Leeds, she was transformed by the discussions held at her local Pupil ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2011, 5 January 2012

... Fenton tells me of a memorial service he’s been to at St Marylebone Parish Church for Maurice Murphy, the principal trumpet of the LSO, who did the opening trumpet solo in the music for Star Wars. The service due to kick off at 11.30, George arrives with ten minutes to spare only to find the church already full, the congregation seated, silent and ...

Who to Be

Colm Tóibín: Beckett’s Letters, 6 August 2009

The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-40 
edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck.
Cambridge, 782 pp., £30, February 2009, 978 0 521 86793 1
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... plays and novels, and it was he who found Beckett a publisher in London for his first novel, Murphy, after it had been rejected by several firms. Like Yeats and his brother the poet, and the playwrights Shaw, Synge and O’Casey, Beckett was a Dublin Protestant. The fact that he played no part in the development of the Abbey Theatre, and did not write ...

Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... in a forest of blossoming talent, rare genius, great hopes, great dreams under Victoria Regina, Edward VII, George V. ‘Mr Yeates. Did you really know all those people?’ ‘Why not? And more!’ ‘The whole Irish Renaissance?’ Lennox hooted, his mocking O encircled his rotted teeth. ‘There never was such a thing!’ ‘But you recorded it!’ ‘We ...

On the imagining of conspiracy

Christopher Hitchens, 7 November 1991

Harlot’s Ghost 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 1122 pp., £15.99, October 1991, 0 7181 2934 2
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A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs 
by Theodore Draper.
Hill and Wang, 690 pp., $27.95, June 1991, 0 8090 9613 7
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... and crime. Yet this gruff, stupid masculine world is set on its ears by one courtesan. ‘Modene Murphy’, who is Mailer’s greatest failure of characterisation here, is perhaps such a failure because she has to do so much duty. In the novel as in life, she has to supply the carnal link between JFK, Frank Sinatra and the mob leader Sam Giancana. (Ben ...

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