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Jabs

Richard Horton, 8 October 1992

Edward Jenner 1749-1823 
by Richard Fisher.
Deutsch, 361 pp., £20, July 1991, 0 233 98681 2
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... 21 he moved to London to continue his medical studies as anatomical assistant to John Hunter at St George’s Hospital. Although Jenner returned to his Berkeley medical practice in 1773, Hunter had recognised Jenner’s scientific prowess and encouraged him in his research. ‘Why think – why not try the experiment,’ he wrote in 1775. Hunter’s patronage ...

Imagine Tintin

Michael Hofmann: Basil Bunting, 9 January 2014

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting 
by Richard Burton.
Infinite Ideas, 618 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 1 908984 18 0
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... modernism (the sealing couplet!), the century and England all together, with a touch of sweetness: Stocking to stocking, jersey to jersey, head to a hard arm, they kiss under the rain, bruised by their marble bed. In Garsdale, dawn; at Hawes, tea from the can. Rain stops, sacks steam in the sun, they sit up. Copper wire ...

Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... turn up at auctions, and fetch good prices too, chief justices, lords lieutenant, lords mayor, George Moore, Sir William Orpen, Sir John Lavery, Walter Osborne, Jack Yeats, my famous namesake his brother Bill, Padraic Colum, John Millington Synge, young painters like Paddy Tuohy who really did paint old J.S. Joyce and died of his own hand, poor Sean ...

Goddesses and Girls

Nicholas Penny, 2 December 1982

... Medici Venus was admired, as the Cnidian statue had been, in alarming ways. The bibliophile Henry George Quin, for instance, records in his diary (extracts of which were published in an amusing article by Arthur Rau in the Book Collector in 1964) how, in the winter of 1785, he ‘stole’ into the Tribuna of the Uffizi in Florence when no one was there and ...

You bet your life

Margaret Walters, 21 April 1988

Oscar and Lucinda 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 512 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 571 14812 3
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The Fifth Child 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 131 pp., £9.95, April 1988, 0 224 02553 8
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Eight Months on Ghazzah Street 
by Hilary Mantel.
Viking, 299 pp., £11.95, April 1988, 0 670 82117 9
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... woman. She has grown up sturdy and unconventional, with a confidence partly learned from a blue-stocking mother, a friend of George Eliot, and partly developed in her solitary childhood. Orphaned at 18, she sets out for Sydney, and uses half her parents’ fortune to buy a glass factory. Unladylike, childishly impatient ...
Daring to Excel: The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain 
by Ruth Railton.
Secker, 466 pp., £20, August 1992, 0 436 23359 2
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... their best and nastiest to try and stop her. ‘Too much faith and too few years,’ droned Sir George Dyson, Director of the Royal College of Music. ‘It would be a pity to ruin your reputation so early,’ threatened the sinister Dr Sydney Northcote, Director of the Carnegie Trust, ‘we’ll leave you to think about it’ – and he locked Railton in a ...

A Human Being

Jenny Diski: Karl Marx, 25 November 1999

Karl Marx 
by Francis Wheen.
Fourth Estate, 441 pp., £20, October 1999, 1 85702 637 3
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Adventures in Marxism 
by Marshall Berman.
Verso, 160 pp., £17, September 1999, 9781859847343
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... Billy Bunter’s friend Cherry, or Jennings and Darbishire – tongues out, pencils poised, after stocking up in the tuck shop. If it is an attempt to repackage difficult Marx in popular language, Wheen’s timing is out by several decades. It is very bizarre to read that young Karl pestered his otherwise neglected mother by trying ‘to wheedle money out of ...

Smocks

Rosemary Hill, 5 December 1991

Gertrude Jekyll 
by Sally Festing.
Viking, 323 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 670 82788 6
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People’s Parks 
by Hazel Conway.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £49.50, August 1991, 0 521 39070 2
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The History of Garden Design: The Western Tradition from the Renaissance to the Present Day 
edited by Monique Mosser and Georges Teyssot.
Thames and Hudson, 543 pp., £45, May 1991, 0 500 01511 2
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... sense of smell and such a morbid dislike of noise that she came down to breakfast one morning in stocking feet having thrown her boots out of the window at a nightingale. At seven she had a Ruskinesque vision of primroses in a wood – a vision, she recalled, which ‘sank deep into the childish heart’. With so much of her character and talent established ...

The Buffalo in the Hall

Susannah Clapp: Beryl Bainbridge, 5 January 2017

Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means, a Biography 
by Brendan King.
Bloomsbury, 564 pp., £25, September 2016, 978 1 4729 0853 7
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... born on its outskirts in 1932 – provided the background to her early books. But in the view of George Melly, also from the city, it left her and her prose with something more fundamental: a specific flavour. As a jolly man who loved to sing the blues, Melly, not quoted here, was in a good position to assess a particular Liverpudlian trait: that of ...

Hooyah!!

James Meek: The Rise of the Private Army, 2 August 2007

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army 
by Jeremy Scahill.
Serpent’s Tail, 452 pp., £12.99, August 2007, 978 1 84668 630 6
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... to the Virginian-Pilot, the local newspaper, though there is no law preventing Blackwater stocking as many as it wants). There are also the 21st-century equivalent of barracks (convention-style hotel rooms), an office block in which the door handles are fashioned from machine-gun barrels, and a memorial rock garden to the 25 Blackwater employees and ...

On the Salieri Express

John Sutherland, 24 September 1992

Doctor Criminale 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 343 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 436 20115 1
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The Promise of Light 
by Paul Watkins.
Faber, 217 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 571 16715 2
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The Absolution Game 
by Paul Sayer.
Constable, 204 pp., £13.99, June 1992, 0 09 471460 6
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The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman 
by Louis de Bernières.
Secker, 388 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 436 20114 3
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Written on the Body 
by Jeanette Winterson.
Cape, 190 pp., £13.99, September 1992, 0 224 03587 8
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... winds up with a postscript set in Norwich. At a staid University Teachers of English get-together George Steiner, Frank Kermode and Seamus Heaney do their party pieces and a novelist – the author of Doctor Criminale, we must suppose – reads from his upcoming work, ‘whose ending he seems not to know’. The publisher’s blurb laconically informs us that ...

Assurbanipal’s Classic

Stephanie West, 8 November 1990

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others 
by Stephanie Dalley.
Oxford, 360 pp., £35, November 1989, 0 19 814397 4
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The Epic of Gilgamesh 
by Maureen Gallery Kovacs.
Stanford, 122 pp., £29.50, August 1989, 0 8047 1589 0
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... Cuneiform studies have come far since 1872, when George Smith, assistant keeper in the Oriental Department of the British Museum, engrossed the December meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology with a paper on ‘The Chaldean Account of the Deluge’. Among the tablets recovered from Assurbanipal’s library at Nineveh he had found an account of a world-wide flood which resembled the narrative of Genesis not only in its main outline but even in detail ...

The Devil upon Two Sticks

Charles Nicholl: Samuel Foote, 23 May 2013

Mr Foote’s Other Leg: Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London 
by Ian Kelly.
Picador, 462 pp., £18.99, October 2012, 978 0 330 51783 6
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... of a royal house guest, the stage-struck Edward Augustus, Duke of York, the younger brother of George III. It seems that Foote, in his cocksure way, had been boasting his prowess as a horseman. As some kind of test or wager he was given one of the duke’s most ‘mettlesome’ stallions to ride. At the first touch of the spur the horse reared ...

Seductress Extraordinaire

Terry Castle: The vampiric Mercedes de Acosta, 24 June 2004

‘That Furious Lesbian’: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta 
by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 210 pp., £16.95, June 2004, 0 8093 2579 9
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Women in Turmoil: Six Plays 
by Mercedes de Acosta, edited by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 252 pp., £26.95, June 2003, 0 8093 2509 8
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... on, fairly cynically, with Leopold Stokowski, Cecil Beaton, the director Rouben Mamoulian, and George Schlee, the husband of her dress designer. De Acosta was reduced to trundling around the world in Garbo’s wake, waiting for the phone to ring. Every now and then Garbo would send her – without explanation – moronic cartoons clipped out of the ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home, 3 January 2008

The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... of letters, having paid close attention to the published correspondence of Balzac, Flaubert and George Sand, and alert to the power of editors. After reading Sidney Colvin’s edition of the letters of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson, he wrote: ‘One has the vague sense of omissions and truncations – one smells the thing unprinted.’ In the years ...

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