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Granny in the Doorway

Jonathan Raban: Sheringham, 1945, 17 August 2017

... on students’ heads in deportment lessons) but she was an avid reader of Mrs Gaskell (Cranford), Flora MacDonald (Lark Rise to Candleford) and Stella Gibbons (Cold Comfort Farm). At 17, she took a correspondence course from the Regent School of Successful Writing (‘101 Infallible Plot Situations’), and began to send out stories to women’s ...


Eric Korn: The Eye of the Traveller, 19 February 1987

... the horizon, with the tallest temples, and the most unassimilated Indians and jungliest fauna and flora – the place where Mayan was not a tourist attraction but a curse. Somehow I managed never to get there, scared of getting eaten, raped, lost, mugged, imprisoned as a British or Gringo or Soviet agent; or, much more probably, falling down the steep temple ...

I ain’t afeared

Marina Warner: In Her Classroom, 9 September 2021

Black Teacher 
by Beryl Gilroy.
Faber, 268 pp., £12.99, July, 978 0 571 36773 3
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... home, but in later books like Sunlight on Sweet Water (1994) and Leaves in the Wind (1998) Gilroy drew on her knowledge of local flora and fauna, as well as the proverbs, rainforest ghosts and wisewoman lore of her family.In London, after endless humiliating days waiting in labour exchanges, Gilroy took temporary jobs, as a ...

No High Heels in Paradise

Keith Thomas: John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum, 19 July 2001

Elysium Britannicum, or the Royal Gardens 
by John Evelyn, edited by John Ingram.
Pennsylvania, 492 pp., £49, December 2000, 0 8122 3536 3
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... is frequently misleading. Palladius, the fifth-century Roman writer on agriculture, on whom Evelyn drew extensively, is identified throughout as Andrea Palladio, the 16th-century architect. John Rea, whose Flora (1665) Evelyn also pillaged, is not distinguished from John Ray, the great botanist. Robert Boyle appears as ‘Mr ...

Almighty Gould

Roy Porter, 23 April 1987

Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Harvard, 219 pp., £15.50, May 1987, 0 674 89198 8
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... Hutton and Lyell, both Scots, writing respectively in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, drew liberally upon the bank of time. When faced with interpreting the evidence of fossils and land-forms, their strategy was to be parsimonious with force (no catastrophes) but prodigal of time. They saw that adherence to the traditional short time-scale ...

The Excavation

Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann, 4 January 2001

... cotton wool and newspapers. The windowpanes acquired thick crusts of opaque crystal, the strange flora of winter. The poor were fed by our Count. Those who couldn’t beg, starved and died. People were forever running through the streets with corpses: the black-clad coachmen whipped their black steeds to a gallop, and the mourners ran after the departed, it ...

Dark Sayings

Thomas Jones: Lawrence Norfolk, 2 November 2000

In the Shape of a Boar 
by Lawrence Norfolk.
Weidenfeld, 322 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 0 297 64618 4
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... and Meleager gets to play matador. After the kill he gives the carcass to Atalanta, because she drew first blood, and because he’s fallen for her. His uncles object to this, claiming the prize for themselves, so Meleager, with the short temper that tends to go with being a hero, kills the pair of them. When Meleager was born, the Fates put a log on the ...

In a Boat of His Own Making

James Camp: Jack London, 25 September 2014

Jack London: An American Life 
by Earle Labor.
Farrar, Straus, 439 pp., £21.99, November 2013, 978 0 374 17848 2
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The Sea-Wolf 
by Jack London.
Hesperus, 287 pp., £9.99, August 2013, 978 1 78094 200 1
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... he began selling short stories. The bulk of them were set in the Yukon or in the South Pacific and drew on the life he’d left behind. The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, made him a celebrity at 27, and subsequent additions to his CV – candidate for mayor of Oakland, no-good husband, doomed sea captain and arthritic debauchee – were a matter of ...

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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... the famously patriotic ‘Leningrad’ symphony turned out to have a secret anti-Soviet programme: Flora Litvinova, who had met Shostakovich when they were both evacuated to Kuibyshev during the war, said he had told her ‘straight out that the Seventh Symphony, and for that matter the Fifth as well, were not just about Fascism but about our system, or any ...


Jeremy Harding: Ash Dieback, 6 December 2012

... recently that we’ve paid attention to the common ash at all. In Ancient Woodland, Oliver Rackham drew up a table, under the heading ‘The Notice Which People Take of Trees’, and mapped ‘the percentage frequency with which tree species are mentioned’ in two Anglo-Saxon charters, a comprehensive list of British place names, the works of Shakespeare and ...

The Uninvited

Jeremy Harding: At The Rich Man’s Gate, 3 February 2000

... sovereign state’ to confer it. The record of the 1920s and 1930s, which John Hope Simpson drew up in 1938, seemed to prove the point. The intake of fifteen thousand Russians – most of whom relocated to France or the Balkans – and eight or ten thousand refugees from Germany was paltry by comparison with the country’s showing in the 19th ...


Karl Miller, 2 April 1987

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories 
by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert.
Oxford, 504 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 19 214163 5
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The Ghost Stories of M.R. James 
by Michael Cox.
Oxford, 224 pp., £12.45, November 1986, 9780192122551
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Supernatural Tales 
by Vernon Lee.
Peter Owen, 222 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7206 0680 2
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The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural 
edited by Jack Sullivan.
Viking, 482 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 670 80902 0
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Ghostly Populations 
by Jack Matthews.
Johns Hopkins, 171 pp., £11.75, March 1987, 0 8018 3391 4
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... James would read his stories to gatherings of male friends, and the golden undergraduate McBryde drew pictures for the stories. ‘Monty disappeared into his bedroom,’ recalled another friend. ‘We sat and waited in the candlelight ... Monty emerged from the bedroom, manuscript in hand, at last, and blew out all the candles but one, by which he seated ...

Our Cyborg Progeny

Meehan Crist: Gaia will save us. Sort of, 7 January 2021

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence 
by James Lovelock.
Allen Lane, 160 pp., £9.99, July 2020, 978 0 14 199079 8
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... stabilisation emerges from a strictly Darwinian process.Scale up this model to include all the flora and fauna of Earth and you have the system I have called Gaia.In its weakest formulation, the Gaia hypothesis asserts merely that biota has a significant influence over certain elements of the abiotic world, including the composition of the atmosphere and ...

Bonkers about Boys

James Davidson: Alexander the Great, 1 November 2001

Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction 
edited by A.B. Bosworth and E.J. Baynham.
Oxford, 370 pp., £35, September 2000, 0 19 815287 6
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... Jolting miserably over the rough terrain, he began to wail. This – the thing I describe – drew a crowd. For his plight grew worse, yet his shouts were in a foreign language, desperately begging his ‘master’s mercy’. His funny way of talking made them laugh. His bodily contours, his fat suggested something alien, animal, Babylonian, gross. So the ...


Andrew O’Hagan: The Bournemouth Set, 21 May 2020

... soul in silence.’She wasn’t always silent, and it was the situation with Katharine Loring that drew Henry down to Bournemouth. Katharine’s sister had weak lungs, and Katharine – ‘who appears to unite’, he wrote, ‘the wisdom of the serpent with the gentleness of the dove’ – was trying to look after Louisa and Alice at the same time. Alice was ...

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