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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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Never been to Hamburg

James Meek: ‘A Shock’, 18 November 2021

A Shock 
by Keith Ridgway.
Picador, 274 pp., £16.99, June, 978 1 5290 6479 7
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... to be one kind of storyteller, and turns out to be quite another; casual sexual partners Tommy and Frank, friends who meet for dreamy, almost absent-minded chemsex; employer and employee, Ronnie the plumber and his mate Pigeon, whom Ronnie accidentally leaves behind at the end of a workday and who hides for days in the attic of a client’s house.We have ...

Playing the Seraphine

Frank Kermode: Penelope Fitzgerald, 25 January 2001

The Means of Escape: Stories 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Flamingo, 117 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 00 710030 2
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... Fitzgerald’s Cambridge novel, The Gate of Angels, contains a character closely resembling M.R. James, and ‘The Axe’ is a skilfully composed horror story he would have enjoyed. But it is far from derivative, with much more going on in it than one would at first suppose. Its peculiar virtue is that the narrative is not merely the path to a horrible ...

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 ...

Realty Meltdown

Geoff Dyer, 24 August 1995

Independence Day 
by Richard Ford.
Harvill, 451 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 1 86046 020 8
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... Richard Ford’s narrator, Frank Bascombe, quit serious writing to become a sports-writer. This was the making of Ford. It wasn’t until he became Bascombe, the sportswriter, that Ford turned himself into a major novelist. At odd moments in The Sportswriter, Frank looks back on his abandoned literary career ...

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, ...


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 ...


Frank Kermode, 22 January 1998

Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics and the Translation of Empire 
by Heather James.
Cambridge, 283 pp., £37.50, December 1997, 0 521 59223 2
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... these books might have travelled far less well. The most recent addition to the series, Heather James’s Shakespeare’s Troy, is reasonably typical of the rest, so far as I have seen them. Her main argument concerns the theme of the translation of empire (translatio imperii) and its accompanying translatio studii. This idea, which flourished in medieval ...

Who can blame him?

Frank Kermode, 5 April 1990

Critical Terms for Literary Study 
edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin.
Chicago, 369 pp., £35.95, March 1990, 0 226 47201 9
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The Ideology of the Aesthetic 
by Terry Eagleton.
Blackwell, 426 pp., £35, February 1990, 0 631 16302 6
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... as cultural artefacts, we shall recognise that everything is, in the end, inescapably political. Frank Lentricchia, in his Afterword, undertakes to demonstrate that Wallace Stevens’s ‘Anecdote of a Jar’, probably chosen for its apparent remoteness from politics, ‘sharpens our awareness of the structure of power’; and in principle there is no poem ...

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 ...


Frank Kermode: James Lees-Milne, 30 November 2000

Deep Romantic Chasm: Diaries 1979-81 
by James Lees-Milne, edited by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 276 pp., £22.50, October 2000, 0 7195 5608 2
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A Mingled Measure: Diaries 1953-72 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 325 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 5609 0
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Ancient as the Hills: Diaries 1973-74 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 6200 7
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... Of the seven volumes of diaries published over the years by James Lees-Milne two have now been reissued as rather grand paperbacks, along with an eighth, a final hardback selection made by Michael Bloch. They all have titles like Ancestral Voices, Caves of Ice, Through Wood and Dale, Midway on the Waves and Prophesying Peace, and it will not escape the notice of the literate public that they are all derived, one with a bit of a spin on it, from ‘Kubla Khan ...

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 ...


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 ...

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