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England’s Troubles

Frank Kermode, 17 October 1996

The Scent of Dried Roses 
by Tim Lott.
Viking, 275 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 670 86460 9
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... The author, now about forty, has long since shown how easy he finds it to be a success in the world. As magazine editor, television producer, businessman, he has made money without great effort. He is acquainted with grief in the predictable varieties that hardly anybody escapes, but he has also experienced a serious depression which almost drove him to suicide ...


Frank Kermode: Jerusalem, 16 September 1982

... Retirement, like other less pleasant conditions, is something one never seriously expects to suffer. After a lifetime of compliance with constraints which, however gentle, were not of one’s own choosing, one experiences for the first time a dreadful liberty to do as one likes. In principle, anyway. For example, in principle I can now live anywhere I want ...

Topping Entertainment

Frank Kermode: Britten, 28 January 2010

Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 
edited by John Evans.
Faber, 576 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 571 23883 5
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... of ‘incompetant’ conducting and playing; most of the rest, always excepting his teacher Frank Bridge, have fallible technique. Bernard van Dieren (who fails to achieve a mention of any sort in the notes) is ‘puerile’. Bliss provides ‘unoriginal piffle’. The first complete performance of Walton’s Symphony in November 1935 is ‘a great ...


Frank Kermode, 5 September 1985

Family and Friends 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 187 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 224 02337 3
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... than before. Betty has escaped to Paris, where she means to be a dancer and do a double act with Frank. Mimi and Alfred go to fetch her back. Mimi takes over the negotiations; she knows Betty won’t come back, and hopes to have Frank herself. Even before she sets out we know she is hoping that the union of ...


Frank Kermode, 19 June 1980

The Generation of 1914 
by Robert Wohl.
Weidenfeld, 307 pp., £12.95, March 1980, 0 297 77756 4
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... Generationalism’, as Mr Wohl designates the practice of thinking about history and society in terms of the characteristics attributed, usually by themselves, to members of particular age-groups, is a conceptual device nobody seems to have studied very closely till the 19th century. Not, of course, that conflicts between youth and age hadn’t been noticed: ‘they hate us youth,’ as Falstaff remarked, thinking of his behaviour rather than his age ...


Frank Kermode, 22 May 1980

The Reign of Sparrows 
by Roy Fuller.
London Magazine Editions, 69 pp., £3.95, February 1980, 0 904388 29 8
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by Roy Fuller.
London Magazine Editions, 191 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 904388 30 1
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... Forty years ago, Roy Fuller was taking a close look at himself and finding the image unsatisfying, already a little disappointed. This one is remembered for a lyric. His place and period – nothing could be duller. In his new book of poems there is one called ‘On Birkett Marshall’s Rare Poems of the 17th Century’: Coppinger, Pordage, Collop, Fayne, Fettiplace, Farley, Chamberlain – They could be the darling poets of my youth: I almost search among the names for mine ...


Frank Kermode: Theatre of Violence, 7 October 1982

... There occurred recently the first successful prosecution of videotapes under the Obscene Publications Act. As far as one can tell, the offending material had more to do with violence and cruelty than with simple sex, an interest they appear to be superseding. Around the same time we read of allegations that the Greek police had been inflicting some form of bastinado on a British woman prisoner ...

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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... A great many Conrad letters have already been published, notably in Jean-Aubry’s Life and Letters, but also in smaller collections containing his correspondence with one or more persons – for example, Edward Garnett, William Blackwood and Cunninghame Graham. Early letters to Polish friends and relations have been translated, and a series of about a hundred to Marguerite Poradowska appeared in the original French ...

The Purser’s Tale

Frank Kermode, 5 April 1984

Home and Dry: Memoirs III 
by Roy Fuller.
London Magazine Editions, 165 pp., £8.95, February 1984, 0 904388 47 6
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... This is the third and last volume of Roy Fuller’s memoirs, and it takes him up to the end of the war. It may sound ungracious, but I can’t help wondering why I find all three books so appealing that the strong implication of finality seems quite unacceptable. Though literate and pleasantly, even amusingly morose, these are not what are commonly called compulsive reads ...

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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... This is not, as the title might at first suggest, a critical biography, but a collection of miscellaneous essays by MacCarthy, all of which have been collected before, and a memoir by Lord David Cecil, of which a portion appeared as preface to an earlier selection. Desmond MacCarthy was probably the best-known London literary journalist of his time, and it is clearly the view of publisher and editor that his influence can be extended into our own ...


Frank Kermode, 17 June 1982

A Moving Target 
by William Golding.
Faber, 202 pp., £8.95, May 1982, 0 571 11822 4
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... William Golding is evidently a bit fed up with being the author of Lord of the Flies. It was greeted with proper applause when it came out in 1954, but soon became the livre de chevet of American youth, and, worse, a favoured text in the classroom in the years of the great boom in Eng Lit, when a sterile popular variety of the New Criticism was encouraging all manner of dreary foolishness; whereupon the cognoscenti turned away, and called the book naive ...


Frank Kermode: In Salt Lake City, 21 July 1983

... Even if you enjoy Southern California as much as Reyner Banham you may still, like him, draw the line at those discreetly fenced-in and fortified cities in which the better-off sometimes choose to live, and at whose gates the visitor must check with the guardians before being allowed to enter. I recently spent a few days in one of these suburban paradises ...


Frank Kermode: American Books, 1 April 1983

... All the signs, we are continually told, point to rapid economic recovery in the US, and the Stock Market, perhaps because of this iteration, moves almost daily to new record highs. But unofficial individuals seem cautious or sceptical. Friendly foreigners, especially if they knew this country a generation back, are likely to note the discrepancy between the adman bullishness of government spokesmen and a certain dour disenchantment that has persisted as an ingredient of the American mood during the post-Camelot, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam years ...


Frank Kermode: Being in New York, 7 July 1983

... Tony Smith, reviewing J.K. Oates’s Penguin on herpes (LRB, Vol. 5, No 9), sounded, thank God, a cheerful rather than a holy note. Far from being a divine visitation on lechery, herpes is a manageable minor affliction. It may, however, be easier for the righteous to approve, and more difficult for doctors to demythologise, the condition Dr Smith called ‘the gay compromise syndrome’, better-known as AIDS ...

Major and Minor

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1985

The Oxford Companion to English Literature 
edited by Margaret Drabble.
Oxford, 1155 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 19 866130 4
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... The Oxford Companion to – or Bumper Book of – English Literature was first published in 1932 and updated in three subsequent editions and many reprints. It has now been extensively re-edited by Margaret Drabble, aided by an impressive list of experts. The original editor, Sir Paul Harvey, explained that his intention was to be useful to ordinary everyday readers ...

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