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Hilary Mantel, 6 March 1997

As If 
by Blake Morrison.
Granta, 245 pp., £14.99, February 1997, 1 86207 003 2
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... believe in it, when he first came across it? And where was that? Was it a school history lesson? Henry Treece’s novel, published 1958? Fine prose makes the memory work. I myself first read about the Children’s Crusade in a weekly magazine called Look and Learn. This publication was approved by adults; it was better than Bunty or Judy. When you turned one ...

A Common Playhouse

Charles Nicholl: The Globe Theatre, 8 January 2015

Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe 
by Chris Laoutaris.
Fig Tree, 528 pp., £20, April 2015, 978 1 905490 96 7
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... from Franciscan ‘grey friars’ and Carmelite ‘white friars’. The monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538, whereupon its five-acre precinct became a prime piece of Tudor real estate. Chris Laoutaris’s Shakespeare and the Countess gives a remarkably detailed account of its residents in the 1590s, some of them very distinguished, and of their ...

Finding out about things

Alan Bell, 18 December 1980

Montague Rhodes James 
by Richard William Pfaff.
Scolar, 438 pp., £15, May 1980, 0 85967 554 8
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... 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, ‘the application, whether conscious or not, to humane ...

Bournemouth

Andrew O’Hagan: The Bournemouth Set, 21 May 2020

... Stevenson found the core of his talent. It all started with a spirited exchange in print with Henry James. In September 1884, when Stevenson was new to that oasis of convalescents, he picked up a copy of Longman’s Magazine, which carried James’s essay ‘The Art of Fiction’. He knew James only at a distance, and admired him. Stevenson, who had ...

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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... 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 ‘very fascinated by her as a woman’. At first sight, this ...

Making sentences

Philip Horne, 21 November 1991

The Jameses: A Family Narrative 
by R.W.B. Lewis.
Deutsch, 696 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 233 98748 7
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Meaning in Henry James 
by Millicent Bell.
Harvard, 384 pp., £35.95, October 1991, 9780674557628
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... the family’s relations and texts, soon after his death, by Leon Edel in his multi-volume life of Henry James. As a Harvard professor, Matthiessen had been, under the terms laid down by the James estate, one of the very few permitted to use the huge family archive in the Houghton Library: in effect, as a Jamesian, the only permitted person at the time other ...

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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... 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 ...

Sound Advice for Scotch Reviewers

Karl Miller, 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 masterpiece of Scottish literature. I came, while engaged in writing a book about Cockburn, to love his letters, and I have even managed to love those which turned up too late for consideration in the book ...

Diary

James Fox: On Drum Magazine, 8 March 1990

... Drum was a magazine written by Blacks and ‘Non-Whites’, by what Drum’s finest reporter, Henry Nxumalo, who declared he was fed-up with these negative appellations, asked his readers to settle for: ‘The old contemptibles – Kaffirs, Coolies and Hot’nots. How’s that?’ It flourished under impossible conditions, and made the careers of a group ...

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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... 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 Daza, in a darkened room in García Márquez’s Love in ...

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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... 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 push-button system that rang a ...

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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... 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 a quick performance of ...

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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... 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 to the much more difficult task of describing the nature of ...

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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... 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 helpythe not deffence to yerne Of innocencie to pled or ...

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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... 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 the latter. Information about Maxwell Knight is pretty ...

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