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Bang, Bang, Smash, Smash

Rosemary Hill: Beatrix Potter, 22 February 2007

Beatrix PotterA Life in Nature 
by Linda Lear.
Allen Lane, 584 pp., £25, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9560 2
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... How amusing Aunt Harriet is, she is more like a weasel than ever.’ From an early age Beatrix Potter, a pretty, if disconcertingly observant child, saw the similarities between humans and other species: the childlike bravado of rabbits, the self-interest of certain cats and the unmistakeable resemblance of a middle-aged woman in a panic to a duck in a bonnet and shawl ...

Zero Grazing

John Ryle, 5 November 1992

To Blight with Plague: Studies in a Literary Theme 
by Barbara Fass Leavy.
New York, 237 pp., £27.95, August 1992, 0 8147 5059 1
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Epidemics and Ideas: Essays on the Historical Perception of Pestilence 
edited by Terence Ranger and Paul Slack.
Cambridge, 346 pp., £35, April 1992, 9780521402767
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The Fourth Horseman: A Short History of Epidemics, Plagues and Other Scourges 
by Andrew Nikiforuk.
Fourth Estate, 200 pp., £14.99, April 1992, 1 85702 051 0
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In Time of Plague: The History and Social Consequences of Lethal Epidemic Disease 
edited by Arien Mack.
New York, 272 pp., $35, November 1991, 0 8147 5467 8
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Miasmas and Disease: Public Health and the Environment in the Pre-Industrial Age 
by Carlo Cipolla, translated by Elizabeth Potter.
Yale, 101 pp., £16.95, March 1992, 0 300 04806 8
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International Journal of STD and Aids. Vol. II, Supplement I: Aids and the Epidemics of History 
edited by Harry Rolin, Richard Creese and Ronald Mann.
Royal Society of Medicine, January 2000, 0 00 956462 4
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Monopolies of Loss 
by Adam Mars-Jones.
Faber, 250 pp., £5.99, September 1992, 0 571 16691 1
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Aids in Africa: Its Present and Future Impact 
edited by Tony Barrett and Piers Blaikie.
Belhaven, 193 pp., £35, January 1992, 1 85293 115 9
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... Seventy-four years ago a viral pandemic began in America, most likely on a pig farm in Iowa. Fifteen months later it had killed over eighteen million people, 1 per cent of the world’s population, as many as died in two world wars, almost ten times as many as have died in a decade of Aids. The virus, transmitted by airborne mucus and saliva, spread via coughs and sneezes ...

Anything but Staffordshire

Rosemary Hill, 18 September 1997

Rare Spirit: A Life of William De Morgan 1839-1917 
by Mark Hamilton.
Constable, 236 pp., £22.50, September 1997, 0 09 474670 2
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... rediscovered as a great Victorian ceramist. Appropriately, the technique in which he excelled as a potter, lustre, is one that has itself been several times lost, rediscovered and discarded again by different civilisations. It requires a mixture of artistry and chemistry for which De Morgan was ideally suited. He was born in 1839, one of the seven delicate ...


Ruth Scurr: A.S. Byatt, 10 August 2000

The Biographer's Tale 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £14.99, June 2000, 0 7011 6945 1
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... Still Life is the second in a trilogy of predominantly realist novels about the extended Potter family. It details the cerebral and romantic struggles of the clever middle-class sisters Frederica and Stephanie, educated at Cambridge in the 1950s. In contrast, The Biographer’s Tale is a lush celebration of allusive and imaginative metaphor: rich ...

In an Ocean of Elizabeths

Terry Eagleton: Rochester, 23 October 2014

Blazing Star: The Life and Times of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 
by Alexander Larman.
Head of Zeus, 387 pp., £25, July 2014, 978 1 78185 109 8
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... well disposed to transgression. Having fallen in love with a 15-year-old aspiring actor called Elizabeth Malet, but being uncertain of her father’s consent to their marriage, he abducted the young woman, a crime that could be punished by execution. The king had Rochester committed to the Tower, and restored him to favour only after the young nobleman had ...

Voldemort or Stalin?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Shostakovich, 1 December 2011

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets 
by Wendy Lesser.
Yale, 350 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 300 16933 1
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 
by Judith Kuhn.
Ashgate, 296 pp., £65, February 2010, 978 0 7546 6406 2
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... under his signature. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a small flood of memoirs – of which Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (1994) was the most notable – and published correspondence and interviews with his friends showed him full of acid-tongued contempt for the stupidities of Soviet bureaucracy. Even the famously patriotic ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Hunger Games’, 17 December 2015

... published in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and by 2012 their sales had broken the record set by the Harry Potter books. The four movies – strange how three keeps becoming four in the film world – appeared in 2012, 2013, 2014, and last month. The Roman themes are everywhere and that’s what the games are about, except that the people just get the circus, no ...

Purgatory be damned

Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Dissolution of the Monasteries, 17 July 2008

The Last Office: 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery 
by Geoffrey Moorhouse.
Weidenfeld, 283 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 297 85089 2
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... penumbra of monastery buildings, complete enough to lend themselves for a scene or two in Harry Potter movies. Durham houses the tomb of early medieval Europe’s greatest historian, Bede, and that of another Anglo-Saxon monk, Cuthbert, probably a more effective bishop of Durham in death than in life. Cuthbert was also the name of the 16th-century bishop ...

Mostly Middle

Michael Hofmann: Elizabeth Bishop, 8 September 2011

by Elizabeth Bishop.
Chatto, 352 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 7011 8628 9
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... the triple-decker cake with the solitary little sugar bride on top – for his description of Elizabeth Bishop: she is ‘the poets’ poets’ poet’. It sounds farcical, but it’s strictly true, and there’s as little getting round it as there is improving on it. As I begin, therefore, I feel stirrings of a wholly impersonal desire maybe to pan ...

The Beautiful Undead

Jenny Turner: Vegetarian Vampires, 26 March 2009

directed by Catherine Hardwick.
November 2008
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Breaking Dawn 
by Stephenie Meyer.
Atom, 757 pp., £12.99, August 2008, 978 1 905654 28 4
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... has hitched a ride on the Mr Darcy plotline, but without bothering to give her heroine any of Elizabeth Bennet’s spirit – raising a reprise of the Bridget question, why would a man of any style or substance fall for a lummox like her? To which Meyer offers two answers, one conventional and one less so: because she’s the avatar of the audience, which ...

Big Head

John Sutherland, 23 April 1987

Thackeray’s Universe: Shifting Worlds of Imagination and Reality 
by Catherine Peters.
Faber, 292 pp., £12.95, January 1987, 0 571 14711 9
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... Lancaster wrote a stream of nautical novels. Frank Barrett (1848-1926) was a successful potter when, in the early 1880s, his kiln collapsed, destroying two years’ work. He was persuaded in this crisis to become a novelist, and went on to write (very profitably) some fifty romances. William Alexander (1826-94) was an Aberdeenshire ploughman when an ...

Come along, Alcibiades

John Bayley, 25 January 1996

Terence Rattigan: A Biography 
by Geoffrey Wansell.
Fourth Estate, 428 pp., £20, October 1995, 1 85702 201 7
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... French, made the piece a tremendous success. The new King George VI went to see it with Queen Elizabeth shortly after their accession; and a few months later old Queen Mary – a true Aunt Edna type – came, too. That evening a slight hush fell on the house when Rex Harrison described Diana the man-eater as ‘a bitch’, but the old lady laughed ...

Their Way

José Harris: On the Origin of Altruism, 12 March 2009

The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain 
by Thomas Dixon.
British Academy, 420 pp., £60, May 2008, 978 0 19 726426 3
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... John Tyndall, and many social scientists and social reformers such as Charles Booth and Beatrice Potter (later Webb). Moreover, many who could not accept the whole package of Comtean positivism still tacitly or explicitly acknowledged its intellectual inspiration. Both Darwin and Herbert Spencer, for example, appear to have worked out their own models of ...


Claude Rawson, 17 June 1982

St Kilda’s Parliament 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 87 pp., £3, September 1981, 0 571 11770 8
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Airborn/Hijos del Aire 
by Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson.
Anvil, 29 pp., £1.25, April 1981, 0 85646 072 9
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The Flood 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3.95, June 1981, 0 19 211944 3
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Looking into the Deep End 
by David Sweetman.
Faber, 47 pp., £3, March 1981, 0 571 11730 9
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by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 28 pp., £5, December 1981, 0 907540 05 8
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... and sick by pain. The same controlled wonder is registered in the poem about the Japanese potter caught at his work in 1945 as a light breaks ‘brighter than the city’s million filaments’, or in the B52s of ‘Love in Asia’. The starkness of Paul Celan, his sense of rock-bottom desolation, are absent, but Looking into the Deep End is a modest ...


John Barrell: John Wilkes Betrayed, 6 July 2006

John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty 
by Arthur Cash.
Yale, 482 pp., £19.95, February 2006, 0 300 10871 0
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... of the Hellfire Club and for his involvement in the editing and publishing of his friend Thomas Potter’s poem An Essay on Woman, which succeeded in lowering the tone even of pornography. Cash told the full story of that poem in ‘An Essay on Woman’ by John Wilkes and Thomas Potter (2001) and does not rehearse it ...

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