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Sean Wilentz

19 April 1990
America’s Rome. Vol I: Classical Rome 
by William Vance.
Yale, 454 pp., £19.95, September 1989, 0 300 03670 1
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America’s Rome. Vol II: Catholic and Contemporary Rome 
by William Vance.
Yale, 498 pp., £19.95, September 1989, 0 300 04453 4
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... over the 19th century, yet the idea of Roman history as an instructive narrative of republican ascendancy and imperial corruption has lasted, in a line of pessimistic historicism that runs from HenryAdams to Gore Vidal. Other American borrowings from the Roman heritage look more trivial, even comical, in retrospect, like the statuary of tobacco-chewing frontier Jacksonian politicians dressed in ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age

21 June 2001
The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... and pedagogical purposes obtrude and distract. The central characters are Emma’s daughter, Caroline Sanford, and Caroline’s half-brother, Blaise. The most important historical figures are Hay, HenryAdams, William Randolph Hearst, and Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, though there are cameo appearances from many others, including Adams’s brother Brooks, author of the imperialist ...
21 March 1991
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. Vol I: 1872-1889 
edited by Thomas Pinney.
Macmillan, 386 pp., £45, November 1990, 0 333 36086 9
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The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. Vol II: 1890-1899 
edited by Thomas Pinney.
Macmillan, 386 pp., £45, November 1990, 0 333 36087 7
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... years earlier he had been far too famous for his letters to have been thrown away. At 24 he had not been six months in London before the Times had devoted a leader to his work. In that year, 1890, Henry James had termed him ‘the star of the hour’; R.L. Stevenson had pronounced him ‘too clever to live’; and Tennyson had judged him ‘the only one ... with the divine fire’. Nine years later ...


Patrick Parrinder

23 November 1989
Christopher Unborn 
by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Alfred MacAdam.
Deutsch, 531 pp., £13.95, October 1989, 0 233 98016 4
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The Faber Book of Contemporary Latin American Short Stories 
edited by Nick Caistor.
Faber, 188 pp., £11.99, September 1989, 0 571 15359 3
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by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 543 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 9780233984957
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Oldest living Confederate widow tells all 
by Allan Gurganus.
Faber, 718 pp., £12.99, November 1989, 9780571142019
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... appetite for sensationalism. Not content with being a heroine of women’s emancipation and a press pioneer, Caroline is also half-French, a grande dame in the making, and a youthful protégée of HenryAdams and Henry James. She is shown having tea at Lamb House and receiving HenryAdams’s blessing on the youth of the new century; and Empire, by and large, sustains our curiosity about the belle ...

Understanding Forwards

Michael Wood: William James

20 September 2007
William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism 
by Robert Richardson.
Mariner, 622 pp., £15, September 2007, 978 0 618 43325 4
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... He was always around the corner and out of sight,’ Henry James wrote of his older brother William as a child. ‘He was clear out before I got well in.’ The philosopher C.S. Peirce said something similar about the grown man. ‘He so concrete, so living ...
17 July 1980
Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... a political premonition’ in 1913 of the war which was to change him from ‘an aesthetic weakling into a warrior’. Of course poor Rupert had no more premonition of the war in 1913 than did Henry James, HenryAdams or anyone else. That is, he had none at all. His description of Niagara can best be understood, not as political premonition, but as literary derivation, and if Conrad ever ...

Divinely Ordained

Jackson Lears: God loves America

19 May 2011
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided 
by Amanda Foreman.
Penguin, 988 pp., £12.99, June 2011, 978 0 14 104058 5
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... sharper outlines. Second-tier players have their moment in the limelight: the secretary of state William Seward drinks too much and blusters about invading Canada; the US ambassador Charles Francis Adams keeps a stiff and chilly distance from London society, managing to seem both unformed and overly formal; the Confederate envoy James Mason says ‘chaw’ for ‘chew’, calls himself ‘Jeems ...

President Gore

Inigo Thomas: Gore Vidal

10 May 2007
Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964-2006 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 278 pp., £17.99, November 2006, 0 316 02727 8
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... associating himself with its illustriousness, such as it was, detract from the more interesting self-made life? ‘I knew from the start that I was out for Glory,’ he wrote in that essay. ‘Unlike HenryAdams’ – the writer Vidal fondly compares his own work to – ‘I got out at 17, and vowed that if I was not elected to anything, I would not come back to live in the capital when there were so ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Who’s Afraid of the Library of America?

19 June 2008
... Kaufman, William Bartram and Theodore Roosevelt. He might not have been too chuffed about that. I am an abject fan of the Library. I own, I find, ten of its volumes: three of Parkman, one each of Henry James, Adams, Baldwin, Frost and Stevens, the new Wilson, and an anthology of writing about baseball. The books are lovely, lovely objects. They are about the nicest books I have. American books are ...
19 October 1995
Bret Harte: Selected Stories and Sketches 
by David Wyatt.
Oxford, 332 pp., £5.99, February 1995, 9780192823540
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... know how to handle the new Western material they had happened upon. It remains true, however, that Harte often referred, as directly as he could or dared, to problems posed by sexual passion. When HenryAdams claimed that American writers had ‘used sex for sentiment, never for force’, he made exceptions of both Walt Whitman and Bret Harte ‘as far as the magazines would let him venture ...


Peter Campbell

4 July 1985
Degas: His Life, Times and Work 
by Roy McMullen.
Secker, 517 pp., £18.50, March 1985, 9780436276477
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Degas: The Dancers 
by George Shackelford.
Norton, 151 pp., £22.95, March 1985, 0 393 01975 6
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Degas Pastels, Oil Sketches, Drawings 
by Götz Adriani.
Thames and Hudson, 408 pp., £35, May 1985, 0 500 09168 4
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Bricabracomania: The Bourgeois and the Bibelot 
by Rémy de Saisselin.
Thames and Hudson, 189 pp., £12.50, February 1985, 0 500 23424 8
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... coherent set of historical and cultural values’. At the other end is Bernard Berenson, a necessary validating agent in the process whereby American money and European art produced (through what HenryAdams called ‘the universal solvent of money valuations’) a portable culture for a new aristocracy. It is an amusing essay, which brings the department store and the tasteful interior, the ...
5 June 1986
An Insular Possession 
by Timothy Mo.
Chatto, 593 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 7011 3078 4
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The Story of Zahra 
by Hanan al-Shaykh.
Quartet, 184 pp., £8.95, April 1986, 0 7043 2546 2
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The Lightning of August 
by Jorge Ibarguengoitia.
Chatto, 117 pp., £8.95, May 1986, 0 7011 3950 1
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... autobiography of Professor Chase, apparently written not long before his death in Rome in 1908. Chase, who was perhaps one of the hundred recipients of the 1906 private edition of The Education of HenryAdams, and wrote while still under the spell of that monument to historical scepticism, describes the ‘truths’ of record (journalism, documents and photographs) as treacherous and unreliable. His ...

Old America

W.C. Spengemann

7 January 1988
Look homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe 
by David Herbert Donald.
Bloomsbury, 579 pp., £16.95, April 1987, 0 7475 0004 5
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From this moment on: America in 1940 
by Jeffrey Hart.
Crown, 352 pp., $19.95, February 1987, 9780517557419
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... back to the present, can help us all to feel more at home in this strange place. Nostalgic historians may be classified according to the times and places in which they locate their homes. Some, like HenryAdams, seem to discover that far country through study and then begin to remember it as their own birthplace. Others, like David Donald and Jeffrey Hart, remember it first and then study it up in ...

I want to howl

John Lahr: Eugene O’Neill

5 February 2015
Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts 
by Robert Dowling.
Yale, 569 pp., £20, October 2014, 978 0 300 17033 7
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... the interior landscape of its citizens: ‘Prosperity never before imagined, speed never reached by anything but a meteor had made the world irritable, nervous, querulous, unreasonable and afraid,’ HenryAdams wrote in his autobiography (1907): ‘All the new forces, condensed into corporations, were demanding a new type of man – a man with ten times the endurance, energy, will and mind of the old ...
10 May 1990
The Dictionary of National Biography: 1981-1985 
edited by Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 518 pp., £40, March 1990, 0 19 865210 0
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... is helped along by their clinging to old formulas – like insisting on naming a chap’s wife’s father’s job: ‘Jackson was married first in 1956 to Sheila Mannion. She was the daughter of John Henry Mannion, unskilled employee of the Gas Board.’ It does seem a bit rough on John Henry that he should for ever be remembered as ‘unskilled’. We learn of John le Mesurier’s three wives that ...

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