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In Praise of Pritchett

Martin Amis, 22 May 1980

On the Edge of the Cliff 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 179 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 7011 2438 5
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The Tale Bearers: Essays on English, American and Other Writers 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 223 pp., £6.50, April 1980, 0 7011 2435 0
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... The distinction he is secretly making throughout the book becomes explicit in his essay on Henry Green: Some very fine artists impose themselves, but Henry Green belonged to those who masochistically seek to let their characters speak through them. In so speaking, they may expose more than they know; but don’t we ...

I whine for her like a babe

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: The Other Alice James, 25 June 2009

Alice in Jamesland: The Story of Alice Howe Gibbens James 
by Susan Gunter.
Nebraska, 422 pp., £38, March 2009, 978 0 8032 1569 6
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... Boston and immediately concluded that William James should marry her. In one version of the story, Henry James Sr returned from a meeting and announced to those at home that he had seen William’s future bride. Another version attributes the discovery to the philosopher Thomas Davidson, who invited his friend to meet ‘the woman you ought to marry’. It may ...

Thanks to the Fels-Naptha Soap King

Miles Taylor: George Lansbury, 22 May 2003

George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour 
by John Shepherd.
Oxford, 407 pp., £35, September 2002, 0 19 820164 8
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... and J.A. Murray Macdonald – before, like many of his generation, switching over in 1892 to Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation. A year later, he was elected to the Poplar Poor Law Board. Poplar now became the Lansbury family’s fiefdom. He himself was a guardian and councillor for nearly forty years and twice mayor, and his third ...

At the Garden Museum

Rosemary Hill: Constance Spry, 9 September 2021

... manufacture. After the war she changed her surname to Spry, implying that she was married to Henry Ernest Spry, with whom she lived for the rest of her life. Opinion is divided as to whether or not they were ever married – the Garden Museum and the DNB disagree – but no doubt the Homerton and South Hackney day continuation school, of which Constance ...


James Wood: John Carey, 8 March 2001

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... Hardy, George Eliot)? I don’t think, as Carey does, that Elizabeth Bowen ‘goes beyond’ Henry James (whom Carey doesn’t seem to like) in her ability to depict inner thought and feeling, and I am unable to make sense of his claim that Lucky Jim represents ‘one of the first attempts in English to describe women realistically’. But for all ...

Looking for a Way Up

Rosemary Hill: Roy Strong’s Vanities, 25 April 2013

Self-Portrait as a Young Man 
by Roy Strong.
Bodleian, 286 pp., £25, March 2013, 978 1 85124 282 5
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... At this point the habit he had developed of working hard and in isolation stood him in good stead. In the teeth of a syllabus that regarded anything beyond political, economic or military history as ‘mere antiquarianism’ Strong persisted in looking at the past more broadly, in thinking, as he puts it, ‘horizontally’. The Warburg was almost the ...

The Unmaking of the President

Benjamin Barber, 7 October 1982

The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power 
by Garry Wills.
Atlantic/Little, Brown, 310 pp., $14.95, February 1982, 0 316 94385 1
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... the tyrannical Congressional committee chairmen who seemed often to govern in the President’s stead, and issued a clarion call for a new politics of Presidential leadership. The book he wrote, Congressional Government, did not yield immediate results: the Madisonian constitutional system had, after all, been devised to protect the nation against a too ...


Tom Paulin, 9 May 1996

T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form 
by Anthony Julius.
Cambridge, 308 pp., £30, September 1995, 0 521 47063 3
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... to the ill-treatment of Jews in German concentration camps. A number of Eliot scholars – C.K. Stead, Ronald Bush, Julius himself – believe that the review was by Eliot. Christopher Ricks doesn’t disagree with this judgment – whether or not Eliot wrote the review, he observes in T.S. Eliot and Prejudice, it has ‘the stamp of his approval and the ...

‘You have a nice country, I would like to be your son’

Bee Wilson: Prince Bertie, 27 September 2012

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII 
by Jane Ridley.
Chatto, 608 pp., £30, August 2012, 978 0 7011 7614 3
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... The only tutor to develop any emotional bond with Bertie, a handsome former Eton master called Henry Birch, was sacked by Albert for not being Presbyterian enough and for himself being found to have an unsatisfactory skull when the phrenologist was called to examine it. Albert kept setting Bertie tasks at which he couldn’t fail to disappoint. When he was ...

Horrid Mutilation! Read all about it!

Richard Davenport-Hines: Jack the Ripper and the London Press by Perry Curtis, 4 April 2002

Jack the Ripper and the London Press 
by Perry Curtis.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 300 08872 8
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... Mayor and Sheriffs of London invited 60 guests to watch the execution in Newgate Prison yard of Henry Wainwright, a prosperous brush-maker who had shot and dismembered his bigamous wife. The scene, according to an eye-witness, was absolutely Hogarthian and horrible, the cold December morning, the waning moon, the rope dangling to and fro in the shed ...


James Wood, 8 December 1994

Shadow Dance 
by Angela Carter.
Virago, 182 pp., £9.99, September 1994, 1 85381 840 2
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Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter 
edited by Lorna Sage.
Virago, 358 pp., £8.99, September 1994, 1 85381 760 0
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... back to? Tolstoy’s late parables coerce us, of course; but they also touch our lives with what Henry James, in his Notebooks, called ‘something important, something intimate, something vital’. Cynthia Ozick’s The Messiah of Stockholm is suggestive, as Carter’s The Passion of New Eve is suggestive. But Ozick’s fable suggests life, and Carter’s ...

Turning Turk

Robert Blake, 20 August 1981

The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. 1: The 19th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 455 pp., £20, May 1981, 0 241 10561 7
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... the Gladstonian line. ‘It seems to me a terrible indictment of the public mind,’ he wrote. Henry Labouchere, who had an interest in the Daily News and was proprietor and editor of Truth (the then equivalent of Private Eye or Le Canard Enchaîné), waged a campaign against Lawson, alleged to be an apostate from his name, his religion and his previous ...

Feathered, Furred or Coloured

Francis Gooding: The Dying of the Dinosaurs, 22 February 2018

Palaeoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past 
by Zoë Lescaze.
Taschen, 289 pp., £75, August 2017, 978 3 8365 5511 1
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... if to make them extinct all over again. The very first notable attempt to depict prehistoric life, Henry Thomas De la Beche’s Duria Antiquior (c.1830), prominently features the ichthyosaur v. plesiosaur tableau that would become so common. In De la Beche’s watercolour, the dolphin-like former crushes the snake-like neck of the latter between vicious ...

Aubade before Breakfast

Tom Crewe: Balfour and the Souls, 31 March 2016

Balfour’s World: Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle 
by Nancy Ellenberger.
Boydell, 414 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 78327 037 8
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... games and nibbling at the edges of philosophical debate, sometimes in the company of Oscar Wilde, Henry James, H.G. Wells and the Webbs. Today they are easily characterised as an unripened Bloomsbury Group: a celebrity clique composed of men and women unconventional in dress and conversation, literary and artistic, overlapping in their sexual commitments, but ...


Christopher Beha: Jeffrey Eugenides, 6 October 2011

The Marriage Plot 
by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fourth Estate, 406 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 00 744129 7
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... But Bellow and Beattie, not to mention Dickens and Conrad and Brontë and Dostoevsky and Christina Stead, were the writers I actually, unhiply enjoyed reading.’ More and more ‘the postmodern programme, the notion of formal experimentation as an act of resistance’, began ‘to seem seriously misconceived’. When Middlesex came out in 2002, Eugenides told ...

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