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Was it a supernova?

Frank Kermode: The Nativity

4 January 2007
The Nativity: History and Legend 
by Geza Vermes.
Penguin, 177 pp., £7.99, November 2006, 0 14 102446 1
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... professional scholars, whose exertions are unrelenting. Before the appearance of this little book by Geza Vermes I’d have advised anybody showing an interest in these matters to consult Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah, a work of some six hundred pages which, like all Brown’s numerous publications, is a monument to his indefatigable though sometimes fatiguing scholarship. Brown’s ...
5 March 1987
The Whole Family: A Novel by 12 Authors 
by Henry James and William Dean Howells, edited by Elizabeth​ Jordan, introduced by Alfred Bendixen.
Ungar (USA), 392 pp., $9.95, June 1986, 0 8044 6036 1
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‘Friction with the Market’: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship 
by Michael Anesko.
Oxford, 272 pp., £21.50, January 1987, 0 19 504034 1
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... motives for his joining the family the need for money, the desire to keep his place in the American market, and the wish to maintain his useful friendships with W.D. Howells, the originator, and Elizabeth Jordan, the editor, of the strange Harper’s project. If these are plausible causes for James’s involvement, however, they don’t seem wholly to account for the way in which, when his turn came ...

Room for the Lambs

Elizabeth​ Spelman: Sexual equality

26 January 2006
Women’s Lives, Men’s Laws 
by Catharine MacKinnon.
Harvard, 558 pp., £25.95, March 2005, 0 674 01540 1
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... reporter recalled with evident glee that the gay men in the audience, at least, laughed uproariously in response to MacKinnon’s claim that the eponymous act of the original film was dangerous. Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker, described her, with a ‘tight white face and 19th-century hairdo’ making ‘her look like Carry Nation on the South Beach diet’, launching into ‘a tirade ...

Deadly Eliza

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: ‘The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors’

1 November 2001
The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors 
by William Dean Howells et al.
Duke, 416 pp., £13.50, November 2001, 0 8223 2838 0
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Publishing the Family 
by June Howard.
Duke, 304 pp., £13.50, November 2001, 0 8223 2771 6
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... unexpected charge of the plot, Freeman initiated the first of the quarrels that were to trouble the family both within the narrative and outside it. Howells’s letter to the magazine’s editor, Elizabeth Jordan, has not survived, but according to Jordan, it ‘almost scorched the paper it was written on’: ‘Don’t, don’t let her ruin our beautiful story!’ Howells’s original proposal for The ...

Inconstancy

Peter Campbell

20 July 1995
Brancusi 
Pompidou Centre, August 1995Show More
Constantin Brancusi: A Survey of His work 
by Sanda Miller.
Oxford, 256 pp., £45, April 1995, 0 19 817514 0
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Constantin Brancusi Photographe 
by Elizabeth Brown.
Assouline, 79 pp., frs 99, April 1995, 2 908228 23 8
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Constantin Brancusi: 1876-1957 
by Margit Rowell and Ann Temkin.
Gallimard, 408 pp., frs 390, April 1995, 2 85850 819 4
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... life may be experienced. If you come to the conclusion that no neutral space suitable for Brancusi can be constructed in a museum, the most satisfying publication on sale at the exhibition is ElizabethBrown’s book of Brancusi’s photographs. The studio photographs are also reproduced in the catalogue, often facing colour plates of the same subjects, made in the technically brilliant high-key ...
13 September 1990
My Son’s Story 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 277 pp., £13.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0764 3
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Age of Iron 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 181 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 436 20012 0
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... crafted narrative turns the tables on Sonny, if not on his mother. This is an intricate spider’s web of a novel in which the reader, too, is irresistibly caught. In J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron, Elizabeth Curren, a retired Classics lecturer, is dying of cancer in Cape Town. When, in her bedridden state, she thinks of her house as a ‘late bourgeois tomb’, she is doubtless signalling that she has ...

Want-of-Tin and Want-of-Energy

Dinah Birch: The lives of the Rossettis

20 May 2004
The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume One 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 464 pp., £95, July 2002, 9780859915281
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The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume Two 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 640 pp., £95, July 2002, 0 85991 637 5
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William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis 
by Angela Thirlwell.
Yale, 376 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 300 10200 3
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... had an unquestioned role, and a kind of status. Nevertheless, a suggestion of pained unfulfilment lingers around his life. Something similar might be said of the woman William married – Lucy Madox Brown, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown and his first wife, Elizabeth Bromley. Lucy seems to have been pushed to the side when Elizabeth died. Relations with Brown’s second wife, Emma, and her children ...

Snob Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Modern Snobbery

3 November 2016
... it was vulgar to talk about class. D.J. Taylor is perhaps a literary snob for Cooper gets no mention in his much less enjoyable The New Book of Snobs: A Definitive Guide to Modern Snobbery (Little, Brown, £16.99). His first mistake is to attempt a definition rather than rely on examples. He suggests that a snob is someone who observes ‘a distinction made for the wrong reason’ or makes judgments ...

Tunnel Vision

Jenny Diski: Princess Diana

2 August 2007
The Diana Chronicles 
by Tina Brown.
Century, 481 pp., £18.99, June 2007, 978 1 84605 286 6
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Diana 
by Sarah Bradford.
Penguin, 443 pp., £7.99, July 2007, 978 0 14 027671 8
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... in the Panorama interview, slipping naturally into the third person. It was more like a trailer than a warning. Still, you wonder, is there really anything more to say? The answer is no, but Tina Brown and Sarah Bradford soldier on nevertheless. Each of them has produced hundreds of pages based on books already written (by journalists, her friends, his friends, butlers, nannies, ex-employers ...
5 September 1985
Ascendancy and Tradition in Anglo-Irish Literary History from 1789 to 1939 
by W.J. McCormack.
Oxford, 423 pp., £27.50, June 1985, 0 19 812806 1
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Across a Roaring Hill 
edited by Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley.
Blackstaff, 258 pp., £10.95, July 1985, 0 85640 334 2
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Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880-1980 
by Seamus Deane.
Faber, 199 pp., £15, July 1985, 0 571 13500 5
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Escape from the Anthill 
by Hubert Butler.
Lilliput, 342 pp., £12, May 1985, 0 946640 00 9
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... 18th-century Munster appeared under that title), inhabited by people who took a very poor view indeed of the new English-speaking aristocracy that had ousted the old Irish-speaking one. ‘Valentine Brown’, as these purists saw it, was the sort of ludicrous name an arriviste landowner might call himself – someone who’d installed himself in a demesne of the great McCarthys, now dead or dispersed ...

Stony Ground

Peter D. McDonald: J.M. Coetzee

20 October 2005
J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event 
by Derek Attridge.
Chicago, 225 pp., £13.50, May 2005, 0 226 03117 9
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Slow Man 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 265 pp., £16.99, September 2005, 0 436 20611 0
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... Times of Michael K. This challenge begins with the trickiest term of all, ‘literature’ – is this what we are to call Coetzee’s third-person, present-tense autobiographies, for instance, or Elizabeth Costello’s lectures? – but it has implications for all the labels used in literary criticism. Take the designation ‘late Modernist’, which David Attwell, one of Coetzee’s most astute early ...

Man Is Wolf to Man

Malcolm Gaskill: C.J. Sansom

13 January 2020
Tombland 
by C.J. Sansom.
Pan Macmillan, 866 pp., £8.99, September 2019, 978 1 4472 8451 2
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... his hero his own passion for the law, its stately, logical protocols, its civility and rationalism. Shardlake has a gimlet eye and a sharp mind. His character owes something to Chesterton’s Father Brown, except that where Brown draws on insights into human nature deriving from years in the confessional, Shardlake’s speciality is the sifting and weighing of evidence.Like all the best detectives ...

Brown​ Goo like Marmite

Neal Ascherson: Memories of the Fog

7 October 2015
London Fog: The Biography 
by Christine Corton.
Harvard, 408 pp., £22.95, November 2015, 978 0 674 08835 1
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... metaphor. Liability to fog has ultimately something to do with London’s position in a river basin, hemmed in to the north by hills. The atmosphere was already thickening in Tudor times, as Queen Elizabeth declared herself ‘greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea-coles’. Then and in the 17th century, industry was blamed; wood-smoke from lime-burning and fumes from coal (‘sea ...

Cumin-coated

Colin Burrow: Two Novels about Lost Bellinis

14 August 2008
The Bellini Card 
by Jason Goodwin.
Faber, 306 pp., £12.99, July 2008, 978 0 571 23992 4
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The Bellini Madonna 
by Elizabeth​ Lowry.
Quercus, 343 pp., July 2008, 978 1 84724 364 5
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... in the sliced liver and turned it quickly with a wooden spoon.’ Goodwin, it seems, knows that we deserve something a bit more nourishing than the plot, which is 100 per cent cumin-coated tripe. Elizabeth Lowry’s The Bellini Madonna, mercifully, is set not in a Venice that’s trying to be a fake Canaletto but in a ‘17th-century manor house with Victorian accretions’, which a few pages later ...

In Bexhill

Peter Campbell: Unpopular Culture

5 June 2008
... as surely as turning up the house lights in a theatre. Colour belongs to the media-bombarded visual world Perry’s exhibition looks back beyond. Many of the paintings – Jack Smith’s black-grey-brown After the Meal, Ruskin Spear’s dusky Hammersmith Broadway, Victor Pasmore’s misty Riverside Gardens, Paul Nash’s bleak East Anglian sea wall in Promenade – are sadder and more solemn than the ...

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