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Philip Horne

30 August 1990
Henry​ James and Edith Wharton: Letters 1900-1915 
edited by Lyall Powers.
Weidenfeld, 412 pp., £25, May 1990, 9780297810605
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... Edith Wharton is known, among other things, as the teller of the most devastating of the anecdotes displaying Henry James’s incapacity to communicate efficiently. The story told in her 1933 autobiography, A Backward Glance, has James, late one evening, attempt to ask a doddering Windsor pedestrian how their car ...

Making history

Malise Ruthven

19 June 1986
Gertrude Bell 
by Susan Goodman.
Berg, 122 pp., £8.95, November 1985, 0 907582 86 9
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Freya Stark 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Viking, 144 pp., £7.95, October 1985, 0 670 80675 7
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... When, shortly before the Second World War, Freya Stark was asked by a publisher if she would write Gertrude Bell’s biography, she turned the idea down. Although she admired her famous predecessor as a fine traveller and considered Amurath to Amurath one of the best travel books she’d read, Freya was not ...
24 January 1980
... The manuscripts of Henry Cockburn’s letters have been gathered together in the National Library of Scotland, where they cry out for a collected edition. When such an edition appears, they cannot fail to be recognised as a ...

A Calamitous Man

Patrick Collinson: Incombustible Luther

29 July 1999
Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death 
by Richard Marius.
Harvard, 542 pp., £19.95, March 1999, 0 674 55090 0
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... Imagine a dream in which you are climbing a church tower in the dark. Stumbling, you reach out for something to hang on to and find that you are pulling at a bell rope, that the bell is waking up the entire town, and soon other towns far beyond. Within weeks you, the inadvertent bell-ringer, are both famous and infamous, and famous not for a few minutes but for ever. Three ...

He fights with flashing weapons

Katherine Rundell: Thomas Wyatt

6 December 2012
Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest 
by Susan Brigden.
Faber, 714 pp., £30, September 2012, 978 0 571 23584 1
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Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy 
by Nicola Shulman.
Short Books, 378 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 1 906021 11 5
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... and gruesome, and the verse that Sir Thomas Wyatt (probably) wrote on the occasion from the Tower of London is equally dark (‘circa Regna tonat’ means ‘it thunders around the throne’): The bell towre showid me suche syght That in my head stekys day and nyght There dyd I lerne out of A grate For all vavore glory or myght That yet circa Regna tonat. By proffe I say the[r] dyd I lerne, Wyt ...

Openly reticent

Jonathan Coe

9 November 1989
Grand Inquisitor: Memoirs 
by Robin Day.
Weidenfeld, 296 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 0 297 79660 7
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Beginning 
by Kenneth Branagh.
Chatto, 244 pp., £12.99, September 1989, 0 7011 3388 0
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Storm over 4: A Personal Account 
by Jeremy Isaacs.
Weidenfeld, 215 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79538 4
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... On location in Yugoslavia for Fortunes of War he dreams up the Renaissance Theatre Company; no sooner has he started the Renaissance Theatre Company than he decides to direct and star in a film of Henry V; he combines post-production on Henry V with writing his autobiography. He whizzes from meeting to meeting and deal to deal, occasionally dropping by at the theatre at seven o’clock to knock off ...

Dissecting the Body

Colm Tóibín: Ian McEwan

26 April 2007
On Chesil Beach 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 166 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 08118 4
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... The penis, in the contemporary novel, has been a mighty matter, looming large. Who will forget the narrator of The Bell Jar seeing an adult penis for the first time and being both fascinated and repelled? (‘The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed.’) Or Fermina ...

Making doorbells ring

David Trotter: Pushing Buttons

22 November 2018
Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic and the Politics of Pushing 
by Rachel Plotnick.
MIT, 424 pp., £30, October 2018, 978 0 262 03823 2
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... involving the transmission of signals at a distance. Fire alarms exemplified the new capacity. A button pushed closes a circuit, the electrical charge thus released becomes a message by ringing a bell in the fire station, and an engine clamours down the street in rapid response. The device soon caught on, in factories, banks and hotels, many of which saw the installation of an ‘annunciator’, a ...

Echoes

Tom Phillips

2 April 1981
English Art and Modernism 1900-1939 
by Charles Harrison.
Allen Lane, 416 pp., £20, February 1981, 0 7139 0792 4
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... is the classical theory of tragedy: Mr Harrison has a sure touch in finding those defects and spots of nature which grow within a man marked for decline. Artists such as Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, John Piper and Graham Sutherland depart from his text, and while it is tempting to quote the manner of their going it is more illuminating to give a sample of the way in which he addresses himself ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors

11 March 2010
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... the non-existence of Homer as an individual author, and about the mythic nature of the Gospels. The thirst to find evidence for the sort of Shakespeare people wanted produced the forgeries of William-Henry Ireland in the 1790s (which included a letter from Elizabeth I thanking him for his ‘prettye Verses’) and John Payne Collier in the 1830s and 1840s (which showed Shakespeare to have been a well ...

Bourgeois Reveries

Julian Bell: Farmer Eliot

3 February 2011
Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper 
by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £19.95, October 2010, 978 0 500 25171 3
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... workmanlike ‘Constructions’. In 1935 Piper’s girlfriend Myfanwy Evans launched Axis, a review of ‘“Abstract” Painting and Sculpture’ that brought their English contemporaries – Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ivon Hitchens – into a common fold with Kandinsky, Miró, Calder and Arp, all then working in Paris. At roughly the same moment two or three shows of abstract art opened in ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig

20 December 1984
The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... Like most biographers, Anthony Masters starts by announcing his subject’s date of birth; unlike most biographers, he gets it wrong. Charles Henry Maxwell Knight was born on 9 July 1900, not 4 September, under the sign of Cancer, not Virgo, however tempting it may be, for reasons which become clear in the course of the story, to assign him to ...

Superchild

John Bayley

6 September 1984
The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol. V: 1936-1941 
edited by Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie.
Chatto, 402 pp., £17.50, June 1984, 0 7012 0566 0
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Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood 
by Angelica Garnett.
Chatto, 181 pp., £9.95, August 1984, 0 7011 2821 6
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... Wings of the Dove she wrote in her Diary that ‘There is a great flourishing of silk handkerchiefs & Milly disappears behind them.’ Yet she had no self-confidence, none of the lordly conviction of Henry James or James Joyce; she awaited both reviews and the comments of her friends in a perfect pathos of fear and trembling, and each new attempt at a book was wholly tentative and unsure. Her ideas ...
18 December 1980
Montague Rhodes James 
by Richard William Pfaff.
Scolar, 438 pp., £15, May 1980, 0 85967 554 8
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...  the series of catalogues of the entire medieval manuscript holdings of the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge college libraries. He fell under the intellectual and personal influence of Henry Bradshaw, and began to discern a systematic framework for his bibliographical researches in the example of that erudite and original but unproductive scholar. Through Bradshaw, as Dr Pfaff puts it ...

Wounds

Stephen Fender

23 June 1988
Hemingway 
by Kenneth Lynn.
Simon and Schuster, 702 pp., £16, September 1987, 0 671 65482 9
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The Faces of Hemingway: Intimate Portraits of Ernest Hemingway by those who knew him 
by Denis Brian.
Grafton, 356 pp., £14.95, May 1988, 0 246 13326 0
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... with the publication of Death in the Afternoon in 1932, the hero of which, as Kenneth Lynn cogently expresses it, is not ‘a haunted Nick Adams, or a crippled Jake Barnes, or a hollowed-out Frederic Henry, but an overbearing know-it-all named Ernest Hemingway’. Max Eastman said Hemingway had false hair on his chest. Gertrude Stein, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, called his courage into ...

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