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Reminder: Mother

Adam Mars-Jones: Helen Phillips, 2 January 2020

The Need 
by Helen Phillips.
Chatto, 272 pp., £16.99, August 2019, 978 1 78474 284 3
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... HelenPhillips’s disconcerting new novel starts on a note of thrillerish urgency. Molly, at home alone with her small children, hears footsteps in the other room. She clasps them to her, though she needs to move away from them if she is to defend them. Ben, the baby, is too young to feel a sense of emergency, but Viv, at three, is old enough both to co-operate and to do the opposite of what she’s told ...

I fret and fret

Adam Phillips: Edward Thomas, 5 November 2015

Edward Thomas: From Adelstrop to Arras 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 480 pp., £25, May 2015, 978 1 4081 8713 5
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... a family of six boys. Then in 1899 he goes to Lincoln College, Oxford, meets and marries his wife Helen, has three children in quick succession, gets to know many of the significant literary figures of the day (Edward Garnett, Rupert Brooke, Joseph Conrad, Lascelles Abercrombie, Hilaire Belloc et al) and becomes an overworked and often desperate, self-hating ...

John McEnroe plus Anyone

Edward Said: Tennis, 1 July 1999

The Right Set: The Faber Book of Tennis 
edited by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 327 pp., £12.99, June 1999, 0 571 19540 7
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... left after their time is over. Some account of the organic nature of tennis is missing from Caryl Phillips’s rather too random compilation, The Right Set: The Faber Book of Tennis, which I had looked forward to reading as an anthology that starts with Suzanne Lenglen and ends more or less with Venus Williams. The game’s tissue, if you will, is almost ...

Had I been born a hero

Helen Deutsch: Female poets of the eighteenth century, 21 September 2006

Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre 
by Paula Backscheider.
Johns Hopkins, 514 pp., £43.50, January 2006, 0 8018 8169 2
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... would be used to classify women poets throughout the century: on one side, the virtuous Katherine Phillips, ‘our Orinda’, whom Jane Brereton (1716-40) praised as the writer who ‘spotless in her Fame,/As chaste in Wit, rescued our Sex from shame’ and whose poetry, in a phrase to which Backscheider often returns, ‘evoked Simone de Beauvoir’s ...

Roaring Boy

Adam Phillips: Hart Crane, 30 September 1999

The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane 
by Paul Mariani.
Norton, 492 pp., $35, April 1999, 0 393 04726 1
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O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane 
edited by Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber.
Four Walls Eight Windows, 562 pp., $35, July 1997, 0 941423 18 2
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... emphasis, Eliot’s The Waste Lands. In his first great poem, ‘For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen’, it is clear that he knows what he wants – ‘Brazen hypnotics glitter here’ – which necessarily involves Faustianly not quite knowing what he is doing: Greet naively – yet intrepidly New soothings, new amazements That cornets introduce at every ...

Women: what are they for?

Adam Phillips, 4 January 1996

Freud and the Child Woman: The Memoirs of Fritz Wittels 
edited by Edward Timms.
Yale, 188 pp., £19.95, October 1995, 0 300 06485 3
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... meeting Wittels backs up his case – ‘my flood of enthusiasm’, as he calls it – by quoting Helen of Troy, Lucretia Borgia, Manon Lescaut and Zola’s Nana: but not, of course, the uneducated Irma. Her account of herself is oddly irrelevant to Wittels (and to Kraus, who soon tired of her), despite the fact that at the time he was writing ...

Memories of Frank Kermode

Stefan Collini, Karl Miller, Adam Phillips, Jacqueline Rose, James Wood, Michael Wood and Wynne Godley, 23 September 2010

... some of the celebrated critical spats he had been involved in, unyielding about the iniquities of Helen Gardner, generous about Empson though still irritated (‘Later in his life he made a great to-do about “matters of fact” in literature, but he so often got things wrong’). He had the usual nominal aphasia that comes with age, but uncannily sharp ...

How to Survive Your Own Stupidity

Andrew O’Hagan: Homage to Laurel and Hardy, 22 August 2002

Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy 
by Simon Louvish.
Faber, 518 pp., £8.99, September 2002, 0 571 21590 4
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... actors are much like ourselves, only better-looking, with faster cars; people like Tom Hanks or Helen Hunt derive the major part of their appeal from what we might call their apparent ordinariness, and only occasionally, as with Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, does an actor come along who seems to have the superhuman plasticity of a cartoon. These movie ...

The Manners of a Hog

Christopher Tayler: Buchan’s Banter, 20 February 2020

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan 
by Ursula Buchan.
Bloomsbury, 479 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 1 4088 7081 5
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... Arthur Balfour, who set him on the path of writing thrillers by introducing him to those of E. Phillips Oppenheim, jokily described by Buchan as ‘the greatest Jewish writer since Isaiah’ – and to the sympathetically depicted Jewish characters who crop up here and there in his fiction. As the Unionist MP for the Combined Scottish Universities, he ...


Mary Hawthorne: The Luck of Walker Evans, 5 February 2004

Walker Evans 
by James Mellow.
Perseus, 654 pp., £15.99, February 2002, 1 903985 13 7
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... to leave. Having pulled himself together somewhat by his senior year, he was admitted to Phillips Andover, and there, though his academic performance remained indifferent, he found salvation in books. The idea of being a ‘nobody’ was clearly unacceptable to Evans, and his difficult years suggest that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out ...

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