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On the Secret Joke at the Centre of American Identity

Michael Rogin: Ralph Ellison, 2 March 2000

by Ralph Ellison, edited by John Callaghan.
Hamish Hamilton, 368 pp., £16.99, December 1999, 0 241 14084 6
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... troubled. Juneteenth is a set of fragments masquerading as a whole – a Frankenstein’s monster, Louis Menand called it in the New York Times – and the simple plot line that Callahan imposes for unifying effect violates the form Ellison imagined and failed to achieve in this disparate, untitled, unfinished work, several sections of which had already ...

Good enough for Jesus

Charlotte Brewer, 25 January 1990

The State of the Language: 1990 Edition 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels.
Faber, 531 pp., £17.50, January 1990, 9780571141821
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Clichés and Coinages 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 305 pp., £17.50, October 1989, 0 631 15691 7
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Rhetoric: The Wit of Persuasion 
by Walter Nash.
Blackwell, 241 pp., £25, October 1989, 0 631 16754 4
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... mulatto and house-nigger (Ariel) rather than a field-nigger (Caliban).’ In ‘Talking Black’, Henry LouisGates, searching for a black critical language with which to read black texts, describes the same problem from a different point of view. How can we write or read the text of ‘Blackness’? What ...
... He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it’: T.S. Eliot writing of Henry James in the Little Review of August 1918. I want to take exception, not to the truth of Eliot’s pronouncement (he was right about James), but to the set of lofty assumptions calmly towering behind it. The young Eliot’s epigram summed up with cutting brevity a creed that for Modernists appeared beyond dispute ...


Norman Stone, 21 July 1983

The Invention of Tradition 
edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £17.50, March 1983, 0 521 24645 8
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... IV’s coronation being all the more preposterous for the hammering of his ex-wife-to-be at the gates. In those days, there was much anti-royal sentiment, and what appeared to be tradition was richly scoffed at: an English cartoon of the French Restoration contained the legend, ‘Son of Saint Louis, Ascend to Heaven. You ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters, 24 January 2013

Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... Eventually a younger generation of African-American scholars, prominent among them Cornel West and Henry LouisGates Jr, came round and paid respects to The Confessions of Nat Turner, and some even designated Styron the inadvertent father of the postmodern slave narrative, but by then he may have been so bruised by the ...

Joseph Jobson

Patrick Wormald, 18 April 1985

Saladin in his Time 
by P.H. Newby.
Faber, 210 pp., £10.95, November 1983, 0 571 13044 5
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Soldiers of the Faith: Crusaders and Moslems at War 
by Ronald Finucane.
Dent, 247 pp., £12.50, November 1983, 0 460 12040 9
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... superiority. Even the Turk, who was obliterating a whole European army and hammering at the gates of Vienna just as Pizarro was butchering the Incas, was, by the 18th century, the Sick Man of Europe (the first of many), and could be rolled aside by the gallantry of Lawrence in the 20th. The events of the second half of the 20th century, especially those ...

A Place for Hype

Edward Tenner: Old Technology, 10 May 2007

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 
by David Edgerton.
Profile, 270 pp., £18.99, January 2007, 978 1 86197 296 5
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... and hadn’t been independently tested. In January’s issue of Scientific American, Bill Gates predicted ‘a future in which robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day to day lives’. According to Gates, the South Korean government plans to get a domestic robot into all its households by ...

By an Unknown Writer

Patrick Parrinder, 25 January 1996

Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Tim Parks.
Cape, 276 pp., £15.99, November 1995, 0 224 03732 3
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... of primitive and innocent reading experiences. Something very similar was aimed at by Robert Louis Stevenson, and in Our Ancestors Calvino has a beautiful description of the Stevensonian romance: ‘To him, writing meant translating an invisible text containing the quintessential fascination of all adventures, all mysteries, all conflicts of will and ...

Its Own Dark Styx

Marina Warner, 20 March 1997

The Nature of Blood 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 224 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19073 1
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... her received ideas. It is as if Sir Bertram had died and Fanny Price had slipped through the gates of Mansfield Park to see for herself what the family’s fortunes entailed in Jamaica: Phillips drew for his portraits on the literature of abolition, including such powerful witnesses as Olaudah Equiano, who wrote one of the most eloquent and detailed ...

Slicing and Mauling

Anne Hollander: The Art of War, 6 November 2003

From Criminal to Courtier: The Soldier in Netherlandish Art 1550-1672 
by David Kunzle.
Brill, 645 pp., £64, November 2002, 90 04 12369 5
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... 1550 and 1672, from the dreadful spoliations of Charles V and Philip II to the deadly invasion of Louis XIV, a period comprising the Great Dutch Revolt, under the Princes of Orange and Nassau, the Eighty Years War (1568-1648) that resulted in the independent Dutch Republic, and the infamous Thirty Years War (1618-48). Perpetually metastasising religious ...

Metropolitan Miscreants

Matthew Bevis: Victorian Bloomsbury, 4 July 2013

Victorian Bloomsbury 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Yale, 380 pp., £25, July 2012, 978 0 300 15447 4
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Metropolitan Art and Literature, 1810-40: Cockney Adventures 
by Gregory Dart.
Cambridge, 297 pp., £55, July 2012, 978 1 107 02492 2
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... a small anarchy, the members of which do not work together, but scramble against each other’. Henry James would refer to the capital’s ‘horrible numerosity’ and a ‘bigness … fatal to amenity’. But James also saw London as ‘the biggest aggregation of human life’, which – unlike Carlyle’s ‘huge aggregate’ – hints at an agency of ...


Ferdinand Mount: British Weeping, 17 December 2015

Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears 
by Thomas Dixon.
Oxford, 438 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 19 967605 7
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... my paper’. In any case, Wollstonecraft herself had been moved to tears when she saw Louis XVI being taken to his trial. This suspicion of tears in high places still burns hot and strong. After George Osborne wept at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, he was cross-questioned at some length on the Today programme by John Humphrys, who, as Dixon ...

In Praise of Barley Brew

E.S. Turner: Combustible Belloc, 20 February 2003

Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc 
by Joseph Pearce.
HarperCollins, 306 pp., £20, July 2002, 0 00 274095 8
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... of the Catholic faith. All seats were sold countrywide. The Cautionary Tales – which tell of Henry King, ‘Who chewed bits of String and was early cut off in Dreadful Agonies’, and Rebecca, ‘Who slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably’ – are in iambic octosyllabic couplets and can run to fifty lines or so. How did Clara Butt contrive to ...


Gillian Darley: John Evelyn and his gardens, 8 June 2006

... made the journey, so did Henrietta Maria, old Constantyn Huygens from The Hague as well as Louis XIV’s expert vegetable gardener from Versailles. Pepys, often at the dockyard on business and living in Greenwich during the plague, dropped in frequently. Even with his help, Sayes Court is elusive. But in 1699, on his brother George’s death, Evelyn ...

Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

Selected Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Viking, 204 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 670 80040 6
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Palladas: Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Anvil, 47 pp., £2.95, October 1984, 9780856461279
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Men and Women 
by Frederick Seidel.
Chatto, 70 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2868 2
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Dangerous play: Poems 1974-1984 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 110 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 907540 56 2
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Mister Punch 
by David Harsent.
Oxford, 70 pp., £4.50, October 1984, 0 19 211966 4
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An Umbrella from Piccadilly 
by Jaroslav Seifert and Ewald Osers.
London Magazine Editions, 80 pp., £5, November 1984, 0 904388 75 1
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... in Harlem’, from Final Solutions, makes irrefutable connections between a boy growing up in St Louis, dreams of a fair black woman, two boys in Harlem, and an account – taken from the Cambridge Ancient History – of the Emperor Hadrian crying to Antinous:                      ‘Your Hadrianus Misses you, Antinous, Misses your ...

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