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Bob and Betty

Jenny Diski

26 January 1995
A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell 
by Elizabeth Maxwell.
Sidgwick, 536 pp., £16.99, November 1994, 0 283 06251 7
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... Those given to hasty judgments might find the title of Betty Maxwell’s autobiography something of a logical contradiction. Even leaving aside the strangeness, to feminist eyes, of the title’s construction, just a passing knowledge of the dynamics of Robert Maxwell ...

Lincoln, Illinois

William Fiennes

6 March 1997
All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 415 pp., £10.99, January 1997, 1 86046 308 8
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So Long, See You Tomorrow 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 135 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 9781860463075
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... In America, William Maxwell is something of a Grand Old Man. He has been president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He has won the American Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award. For forty years, as a fiction ...
30 March 1989
On my way to the Club 
by Ludovic Kennedy.
Collins, 429 pp., £15, January 1989, 0 00 217617 3
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... and ask questions about the British sausage. His life has been pitched at an agreeable social and professional level. As a young man he danced four nights running at Holyrood Palace with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, something he says he had ‘entirely forgotten’ until he found in his papers a ‘Dear Ludo’ letter from Princess Elizabeth thanking him for his wedding present. (Old men ...

A Perfect Eel

Elaine Showalter: ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’

21 June 2012
Lady Audley’s Secret 
by Mary Elizabeth​ Braddon, edited by Lyn Pykett.
Oxford, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2012, 978 0 19 957703 3
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... of mysterious interest or poetic justice’. Few of the novels Mansel reviewed are still read, but Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), the biggest seller of them all, is a significant exception. Mary Elizabeth Braddon was the most prolific of the sensationalists, publishing more than eighty novels, as well as poems, short stories and plays. She began to write at a time when the publishing market offered a ...

Hm, hm and that was all

Rosemary Hill: Queen Mary

6 December 2018
The Quest for Queen Mary 
by James Pope-Hennessy, edited by Hugo Vickers.
Zuleika, 335 pp., £25, September 2018, 978 1 9997770 3 6
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... name twice before announcing him as Poke-Henderson. His visit to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor went well and gave him a great deal of valuable material. It became complicated, however, when Elsa Maxwell was invited to lunch. Pope-Hennessy says nothing about Maxwell except that she was ‘a lumpy, ugly creature looking like James Boswell’ but Vickers pipes up helpfully from the footnotes to add ...

What makes a waif?

Joanne O’Leary

13 September 2018
The Long-Winded Lady: Tales from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 215 pp., £10.99, January 2017, 978 1 906539 59 7
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Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Angela Bourke.
Counterpoint, 360 pp., $16.95, February 2016, 978 1 61902 715 2
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The Springs of Affection: Stories 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 368 pp., £8.99, May 2016, 978 1 906539 54 2
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... and vacillating over a pair of leather sandals (shoes were rationed because of the war); there’s no hint of the crippling anxiety her new status inspired. ‘All my life,’ she told William Maxwell, her closest friend, ‘I was as ashamed of having a little talent as another would be of being born without a nose.’ Good old Catholic guilt. At convent school, the nuns had confiscated her poems ...

Did You Have Bombs?

Deborah Friedell: ‘The Other Elizabeth​ Taylor’

6 August 2009
The Other Elizabeth​ Taylor 
by Nicola Beauman.
Persephone, 444 pp., £15, April 2009, 978 1 906462 10 9
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... Do novelists come nicer than Elizabeth Taylor? Her mother died of politeness – she developed appendicitis over Christmas, and didn’t want to interrupt the doctor’s holiday – but rather than renounce good manners on the spot, her ...

From culture to couture

Penelope Gilliatt

21 February 1985
The ‘Vogue’ Bedside Book 
edited by Josephine Ross.
Hutchinson, 256 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 09 158520 1
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The Art of Zandra Rhodes 
by Anne Knight and Zandra Rhodes.
Cape, 240 pp., £18, November 1984, 0 395 37940 7
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... West, for instance, on ‘What do women readers look for?’ (1923), not afraid to be anti-feminist – no one represented in this book is – and very funny about women’s insistence on the human; Elizabeth Taylor on Ivy Compton-Burnett (1951), remarking that her heroine’s bi-nominal titles can make reading a solicitor on ‘Landlords and Tenants’ an exciting prospect. Infected as one is bound to be ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd

10 August 2000
Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... Gordon ‘had in fact lived in New York for several buzzing years in the mid-1920s, moving in loose-living, hard-drinking, left-wing bohemian circles and consorting with the likes of Hart Crane, Maxwell Perkins, Katherine Anne Porter, Louise Bogan and Edmund Wilson’. The likes of, eh? Still, this helps introduce a rather interesting section on Tate, John Crowe Ransom and the so-called Southern ...

Did she go willingly?

Marina Warner: Helen of Troy

7 October 2010
Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood 
by Laurie Maguire.
Wiley-Blackwell, 280 pp., £55, April 2009, 978 1 4051 2634 2
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... of desire; destruction is seen as beauty’s chief effect, even its defining quality. It has always been women, not men, who have most carefully examined the features of such beautiful women, of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, for example, or Hollywood’s choices for the part of Helen. My first Helen was Rossana Podestà, in the 1956 Cinemascope spectacular. She wore what looked like a swimming cap ...

State Aid

Denis Arnold

22 December 1983
A History of English Opera 
by Eric Walter White.
Faber, 472 pp., £30, July 1983, 0 571 10788 5
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... and the lesser efforts of the Florentine cameratas were obviously attempts at fulfilling the hopes of the Gonzaga and Medici princes to revive the glories of Greece and ‘muovere gli affetti’. If Elizabeth and James had the same potential experience of how to do it – for their court masques were no less elaborate than the intermedii of Northern Italy – they had not the intellectual grasp or desire ...

Fat Bastard

David Runciman: Shane Warne

15 August 2019
No Spin 
by Shane Warne.
Ebury, 411 pp., £9.99, June, 978 1 78503 785 6
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... yet another woman had spilled the beans on what a naughty boy he’d been. These incidents are often mortifying, and cause deep pain to his long-suffering wife Simone – and later to his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley – along with his three children. What can he do except hold his hands up and ask for forgiveness? But he refuses to learn his lesson. One evening in 2006, in the middle of a match he was ...

A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under

8 May 2003
Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... learning that it now had 600 barrels of oil. On 8 October the Acushnet ‘spoke’ the William Lee, fifteen months out of Newport, with 400 barrels. On 11 October (4&°27'S, 104&°37'W) the Joseph Maxwell recorded: ‘at 6 P.M. spoke the ship Cuishnet of Fair-haven 9 mos. 700 b[arre]ls.’ On 15 October the Alexander of New Bedford reported speaking the Acushnet, which then had 550 barrels, and on 23 ...

His Own Prophet

Michael Hofmann: Read Robert Lowell!

11 September 2003
Collected Poems 
by Robert Lowell, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
Faber, 1186 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 571 16340 8
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... some glutted appendix. Curiously, without at all intending to – I think in fact it’s an effort at legitimation – Bidart makes the case against it when he turns up a 1959 letter of Lowell’s to Elizabeth Bishop: ‘In the hospital I spent a mad month or more rewriting everything in my three books’ – Lord Weary’s Castle, The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Life Studies. ‘I arranged the poems ...

Other People’s Capital

John Lanchester: Conrad and Barbara Black

14 December 2006
Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge 
by Tom Bower.
Harper, 436 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 00 723234 9
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... born in 1944, the second son of a father who worked as a senior manager for the Canadian conglomerate Argus. His childhood was privileged and isolated; in 1953, aged eight, he was taken on the Queen Elizabeth to see the Coronation. Argus was rich, powerful and ‘fundamentally dishonest’, with the directors regularly trading in assets which they bought from and sold to the company, always at a profit to ...

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