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Sly Digs

Frank Kermode: E.M. Forster as Critic, 25 September 2008

‘The Creator as Critic’ and Other Writings 
by E.M. Forster, edited by Jeffrey Heath.
Dundurn, 814 pp., £45, March 2008, 978 1 55002 522 4
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... little of Mozart, saying he tinkled. Of his literary dislikes, the most striking is for Henry James, whom he misses few chances to disparage. His treatment of The Ambassadors in Aspects of the Novel is an obvious instance, but there are others, sometimes describable as sly digs, sometimes as pure dislike. He professed to believe that ...

At Tate Britain

James Cahill: Frank Bowling, 15 August 2019

... My art​ is formalist,’ Frank Bowling wrote in 1988, ‘and my experience is that of a black artist.’ What might appear an opposition between formalist concerns and lived experience has proved, for Bowling, a powerful dualism. His current retrospective at Tate Britain (until 26 August) is his first at a British gallery ...

Georgian eyes are smiling

Frank Kermode, 15 September 1988

Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: The Search for Love, 1856-1898 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 486 pp., £16, September 1988, 0 7011 3332 5
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Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. Vol. IV 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 946 pp., £30, June 1988, 0 370 31130 2
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Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. VIII 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 175 pp., $25, April 1988, 0 271 00613 7
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Shaw’s Sense of History 
by J.L. Wisenthal.
Oxford, 186 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812892 4
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Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. III: 1903-1907 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 532 pp., £35, April 1988, 0 521 32387 8
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Joseph Conrad: ‘Nostromo’ 
by Ian Watt.
Cambridge, 98 pp., £12.50, April 1988, 0 521 32821 7
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... There were already good biographies of Shaw, notably those of Frank Harris and Hesketh Pearson, both of whom knew Shaw and had the benefit of his energetic interventions. Pearson in particular will not be easily supplanted. Nevertheless the archives of the world are full of Shaviana inaccessible before his death, and because there had not been a serious attempt since 1956 – the centenary year – the Shaw Estate sensibly decided that the time had come for a new biography, and invited Mr Holroyd to write it ...

Sunday Mornings

Frank Kermode, 19 July 1984

Desmond MacCarthy: The Man and his Writings 
by David Cecil.
Constable, 313 pp., £9.95, May 1984, 9780094656109
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... somewhat higher, and they might hobnob with the great in salons and house parties, where, as Henry James sometimes suggests, they were cultivated for their celebrity or their charm rather than for their books – see, for example, ‘The Death of the Lion’. Society was open to the talents, but to have the right background could only help, and MacCarthy’s ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Star is Born’, 25 October 2018

... in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, George Cukor’s in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, Frank Pierson’s in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and Cooper’s now with himself and Lady Gaga, alias Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – are remarkably faithful to their initial premise ...

Point of View

Frank Kermode: Atonement by Ian McEwan, 4 October 2001

by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 372 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 224 06252 2
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... Minor resemblances between this novel by Ian McEwan and Henry James’s What Maisie Knew have already been noticed and are of some interest. James left a quite full record of the development of his story, which described modern divorce and adultery from the point of view of a young girl ...

Convenient Death of a Hero

Arnold Rattenbury, 8 May 1997

Beyond the Frontier: the Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944 
by E.P. Thompson.
Merlin/Stanford, 120 pp., £12.95, December 1996, 0 85036 457 4
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... to a high military officer of a Warsaw Pact country, then watch it.’ On 31 May 1944, Major Frank Thompson, wearing the British uniform that should have protected him, was captured along with the Bulgarian Partisans to whom he was attached, near Likatova, north of Sofia, found guilty at a staged trial, and publicly shot on 5 June. His bearing throughout ...

Gossip in Gilt

James Wood: John Updike’s Licks of Love, 19 April 2001

Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, ‘Rabbit Remembered’ 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 368 pp., £16.99, March 2001, 9780241141298
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... of these stories is a little astounding, even by Updike’s standards. In ‘Natural Colour’, Frank, stuck in his flavourless marriage (‘he had opted for a wife, and a wife she was, no less or more’), recalls an old flame, Maggie, and an earlier life of real and desired adulteries: ‘Driving back from taking the babysitter home, ...

Bringing it home to Uncle Willie

Frank Kermode, 6 May 1982

Joseph Conrad: A Biography 
by Roger Tennant.
Sheldon Press, 276 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 85969 358 9
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Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature 
by George Jefferson.
Cape, 350 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 224 01488 9
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The Edwardian Novelists 
by John Batchelor.
Duckworth, 251 pp., £18, February 1982, 0 7156 1109 7
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The Uses of Obscurity: The Fiction of Early Modernism 
by Allon White.
Routledge, 190 pp., £12, August 1981, 0 7100 0751 5
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... different ways: one of them is simply to juxtapose the popular novels of the day with Henry James’s Prefaces, then in progress. Another is to recall Conrad’s hatred of the public, and all the talk of new techniques, of an ideal novel that might, as Flaubert had wished, be ‘about’ nothing at all, which would not please Uncle Willie. Among ...


Frank Kermode: American Books, 1 April 1983

... works of Jefferson in one volume, one of four Henry Adams volumes, and one of four Emersons. James will fill eight volumes, and the first, soon to appear, includes Watch and Ward and four other early works. His critical writing will occupy two volumes, which will be not the least of the benefits offered by this series. All titles are to be kept in ...

Conrad’s Complaint

Frank Kermode, 17 November 1983

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. I: 1861-1897 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 446 pp., £19.50, September 1983, 0 521 24216 9
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... this necessary person, regretting but never forgetting that he needed to be pleased. When Henry James sent him a copy of The Spoils of Poynton he told Garnett he imagined ‘with pain the man in the street trying to read it’; ‘the delicacy and tenuity of the thing are amazing,’ but how could it hope to sell? Jessie pretended to admire it, but he was ...

Marshy Margins

Frank Kermode, 1 August 1996

The True Story of the Novel 
by Margaret Anne Doody.
Rutgers, 580 pp., $44.95, May 1996, 0 8135 2168 8
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... Seven Gables and The Portrait of a Lady, or for that matter between Daphnis and Chloe and Ulysses. James admitted that there was no definite boundary between novel and romance, but he knew that in such extreme cases there was no problem telling one from the other. Of course you can argue that there is realism in Longus, and myth in ...

Beware of shallowness

James Wood, 7 July 1994

Art & Lies 
by Jeanette Winterson.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, June 1994, 0 224 03145 7
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... the style. Her later books are too often merely glib. In Written on the Body, we encounter Crazy Frank: ‘I had a boyfriend once called Crazy Frank. He had been brought up by midgets although he himself was over six feet tall. He loved his adoptive parents and used to carry them one on each shoulder.’ No real current ...

Kitchen Devil

John Bayley, 20 December 1990

Emily Brontë: A Chainless Soul 
by Katherine Frank.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 9780241121993
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... in her own unwilling way to have also been the imaginative catalyst in their world. Katherine Frank makes the interesting point that both Charlotte and Anne, in their second published novels, drew heavily for inspiration on Wuthering Heights. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has a doomed gathering whose names all begin with H. Jane Eyre has the unquiet ...


C.K. Stead: New Zealand Writers, 21 November 1991

... years that followed I got to know him well. Another influence of that time was the fiction writer Frank Sargeson, who distrusted the university and warned me against an academic career. By 1955 I was married and living on Auckland’s North Shore close to the Sargeson house, at the back of which Janet Frame, recently released from years of incarceration in ...

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