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Making a Costume Drama out of a Crisis

Jenny Diski: ‘Downton Abbey’

21 June 2012
Downton Abbey: Series One and Two 
Universal DVD, £39.99, November 2011Show More
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series One and Two 
BBC DVD, £17.99, April 2012Show More
Park Lane 
by Frances Osborne.
Virago, 336 pp., £14.99, June 2012, 978 1 84408 479 1
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Habits of the House 
by Fay Weldon.
Head of Zeus, 320 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 908800 04 6
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... versions even the most exquisitely wrought lace cuff is only as good as its description, and if that doesn’t rise above the competent then it’s just so many pages to get through before the end. FrancesOsborne’s first novel, Park Lane, is written entirely in the present tense and largely in free indirect speech, and while, I dare say, the best of writers might produce a work written in that mode ...

Political Purposes

Frances​ Spalding: Art in postwar Britain

15 April 1999
New Art New World: British Art in Postwar Society 
by Margaret Garlake.
Yale, 279 pp., £35, July 1998, 0 300 07292 9
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Cultural Offensive: America’s Impact on British Art since 1945 
by John Walker.
Pluto, 304 pp., £45, September 1988, 0 7453 1321 3
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... 1934, also held important exhibitions, though it operated mostly abroad, becoming, as Garlake observes, an unacknowledged arm of the Foreign Office. Garlake quotes a letter, first brought to light in Frances Donaldson’s history of the British Council, in which a member of the Foreign Office admitted that the Cold War ‘is in essence a battle for men’s minds’ and that ‘the British Council is one ...

Looking for a Way Up

Rosemary Hill: Roy Strong’s Vanities

25 April 2013
Self-Portrait as a Young Man 
by Roy Strong.
Bodleian, 286 pp., £25, March 2013, 978 1 85124 282 5
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... too trivial to confide. Others are given their place in ‘the pattern of my life’. In his library a section is ‘reserved for books by or about people who have most influenced me’; the death of Frances Yates, his former tutor at the Warburg Institute, occurs ‘a few months before I was knighted’. Yet this unswerving concentration on himself has the advantage of particularity. Memoirs, especially ...
27 June 1991
Dance till the stars come down 
by Frances​ Spalding.
Hodder, 271 pp., £25, May 1991, 0 340 48555 8
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Keith Vaughan 
by Malcolm Yorke.
Constable, 288 pp., £25, October 1990, 0 09 469780 9
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... the mouth stretches into a toothy grin. His work, once famous, is now probably best remembered by those who saw it when it first appeared in Penguin New Writing, or on book jackets and in magazines. Frances Spalding’s biography gives us the life with too many adjectives but an abundance of facts and first-hand accounts. She is tentative about the value of the work, which is understandable, and about ...

History and Hats

D.A.N. Jones

23 January 1986
The Lover 
by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray.
Collins, 123 pp., £7.95, November 1985, 0 00 222946 3
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Stones of the Wall 
by Dai Houying, translated by Frances​ Wood.
Joseph, 310 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 7181 2588 6
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White Noise 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 326 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 330 29109 2
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... which those plays were based. The Square (I remember, as a theatre reviewer) was about a miserable pair, failing to make any conclusion of a courtship on a park bench, and it was denounced by John Osborne for being pointless. Days Spent in the Trees was about a greedy, possessive mother doting on her son – but what was Duras driving at? Harold Hobson found an abstract idea in it, the idea of ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2013

9 January 2014
... was resting where presumably Shakespeare’s coffin rested, a notion that would have pleased him though at the service it goes unremarked. 20 May. One of the many depressing features of George Osborne is that his rhetoric about the poor and supposedly shiftless can be traced in a direct line to exactly similar statements voiced in the 17th century and thereafter. Osborne may well be proud of being ...

Sod off, readers

John Sutherland

26 September 1991
Rude Words: A Discursive History of the London Library 
by John Wells.
Macmillan, 240 pp., £17.50, September 1991, 0 333 47519 4
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Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English 
by Geoffrey Hughes.
Blackwell, 283 pp., £16.95, August 1991, 0 631 16593 2
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... what it has always been: literate top people, members of the professions, freelance writers. Physically, the London Library is remarkably little changed from what earlier generations knew and loved. Frances Partridge, who has been a member for seventy years, claims that ‘nothing has changed; absolutely nothing. The same smell, the same atmosphere, the same clanking noise as you walk through those long ...

He’s Bad, She’s Mad

Mary Hannity: HMP Holloway

9 May 2019
Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison 
by Caitlin Davies.
John Murray, 373 pp., £10.99, February 2019, 978 1 4736 4776 3
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... instead reflecting the decision of the courts to recommend custody more frequently for less serious offences. It is difficult therefore to see Holloway’s closure, which was announced by George Osborne in November 2015, as involving a move away from incarceration. It looks more like a large-scale ‘ghosting’, the term used by prisoners to describe their abrupt transfer from one prison to another ...

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