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18 April 1985
Illywhacker 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 600 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 571 13207 3
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... longueurs have less to do with length than with pace, which Peter Carey controls like a master, thwacking his prose along with all the exuberant free energy of a boy thwacking a hoop with a stick. To Herbert Badgery – funny man, raconteur and compère extraordinary of Illywhacker – the notion that a book might seem slimmer than it is, would be commonplace, that his own book should practise such a ...

Dear God

Claude Rawson

4 December 1980
Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Methuen, 147 pp., £8.95, September 1980, 0 416 73980 6
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... Imagine – if you can – God reading this poem.’ So begins this brief, stylish book, citing Herbert’s ‘Dialogue’ (‘Sweetest Saviour, of my soul …’) and asking afterwards: ‘Is God pleased with what he reads?’ Professor Nuttall’s point is that such a question would have seemed ...

The Shoreham Gang

Seamus Perry: Samuel Palmer

5 April 2012
Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer 
by Rachel Campbell-Johnston.
Bloomsbury, 382 pp., £25, June 2011, 978 0 7475 9587 8
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... beautiful expressions of what Palmer’s son once astutely noted in his father, ‘a certain sentiment of surpassing fruitfulness’, and its fecundity lies as much in its manner as in its subject matter: ‘We must not begin with medium, but think always on excess, and only use medium to make excess more abundantly excessive,’ Palmer instructed himself in his sketchbook. The sheer thickness of the ...
15 December 2005
Plat du Jour 
by Matthew Herbert.
Accidental
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... Matthew Herbert’s Plat du Jour is an album of dance tracks united by the theme of food. Herbert has made a name for himself as a producer from collaborations with Róisín Murphy and Björk, but Plat du Jour is a different kettle of fish, a personal project that has taken a couple of years to ...

The Central Questions

Thomas Nagel: H.L.A. Hart

3 February 2005
A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream 
by Nicola Lacey.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 19 927497 5
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... My rule of thumb was to use only the personal material which sheds light on the development of his ideas and the course of his career. But this, it turned out, was usually the case, because Herbert Hart himself moved seamlessly back and forth in his diaries between personal and professional preoccupations, and sought increasingly to draw links between them. Though some readers may feel that I ...
7 August 1980
A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... William Camden’s Remains, Newton’s Optics and works by Sir Kenelm Digby. Johnson drew on hundreds of other writers. To illustrate his reading, and use of quotations, consider the case of George Herbert. Herbert was not much read during the 18th century: there was no edition of his works between 1709 and 1799, although he appears from time to time in anthologies, and was regularised for hymn singing ...
4 May 1989
Flaubert: A Biography 
by Herbert​ Lottman.
Methuen, 396 pp., £17.95, April 1989, 0 413 41770 0
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... or been too brief (like Philip Spencer); the most recommendable version of Flaubert’s life in recent years has been disguised as the two-volume Steegmuller edition of the Letters. Now comes Herbert Lottman, the diligent biographer of Camus. Pre-eminently a dredger and sifter, an archive-pounder and source-badgerer, Mr Lottman arrives approximately a hundred years too late, yet still needed. He ...

Grumbles

C.K. Stead

15 October 1981
Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait 
by Patrick White.
Cape, 272 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 9780224029247
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... streak to create and sustain the alternative worlds of major fiction. But it doesn’t make for impressive autobiography (it didn’t in Hardy’s case either). So much of White’s subject-matter seems trivialised here by gossip, occasional bitchiness, and even snobbery, in his anecdotes about people (Joan Sutherland, the Queen, Sidney Nolan etc), and by a refusal to find excitement or ...

No wonder it ached

Dinah Birch: George Eliot

13 May 1999
The Journals of George Eliot 
edited by Margaret Harris and Judith Johnston.
Cambridge, 447 pp., £55, February 1999, 0 521 57412 9
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George Eliot: The Last Victorian 
by Kathryn Hughes.
Fourth Estate, 384 pp., £20, November 1998, 1 85702 420 6
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... not a son. Desperate for security, she found that learning gave her a means of control. What made her intellect so formidable was its capacity to receive and absorb whatever lay within its reach, no matter how recondite, dull or challenging. Nothing lay outside her scope: all the everyday business of life was material for analysis. Testing every assumption, twisting it this way and that, her sceptical ...

Our Hero

C.H. Sisson

25 January 1990
Richard Aldington: A Biography 
by Charles Doyle.
Macmillan, 379 pp., £19.95, November 1989, 0 333 46487 7
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... without, hitherto, having studied the iconography. Aldington’s best-knownbook, Death of a Hero, had appeared in 1929, and was eminently suitable – or unsuitable, as you look at it – reading-matter for the very young in the early Thirties. For anyone interested in poetry and – in the shadowy way of adolescents – himself a poet, Aldington existed also as the author of A Dream in the ...

Common Ground

Edmund Leach

19 September 1985
A Social History of Western Europe 1450-1720: Tensions and Solidarities among Rural People 
by Sheldon Watts.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 0 09 156081 0
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Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life 1500-1900 
by Andrejs Plakans.
Blackwell, 276 pp., £24.50, September 1984, 0 631 13066 7
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Interests and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship 
edited by Hans Medick and David Warren Sabean.
Cambridge, 417 pp., £35, June 1984, 0 521 24969 4
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... and background this is a surprising development, though the trend has been under way for some time. It is surprising because, although social anthropology, under the influence of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, first developed as a kind of grand-scale, synthetic history in which the data of ethnography were used as illustrations of a priori theories of social evolution or historical diffusion, it ...

Visa Requirement

D.D. Guttenplan: Whitehall and Jews

6 July 2000
Whitehall and The Jews 1933-48 
by Louise London.
Cambridge, 313 pp., £30, March 2000, 0 521 63187 4
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... I am saying that they are English. Most of them are born here, just as all the Jews in England were born here, most of them. Irving: Are we talking about blacks or Jews now? Rampton: It does not matter. They are all English. 3) A traffic jam in North London. To pass the time, my daughter and I start to argue about whether having been born here makes her English. On her mother’s side her ...

Ich bin ein Belieber

Michael Herbert​ Miller: Ich bin ein Belieber

21 March 2013
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine 
by Teddy Wayne.
Free Press, 285 pp., £24.95, February 2013, 978 1 4767 0585 9
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... about me but I know about you.’ The couplet comes from ‘Boyfriend’, the album’s first single; its video was viewed eight million times in 24 hours on the music website VEVO. It doesn’t matter that Bieber’s songs don’t hold much appeal for anyone who isn’t between the ages of six and 16 and female. The mania surrounding his celebrity extends to adults, as when Bieber, at the age of ...

A Taste for the Obvious

Brian Dillon: Adam Thirlwell

22 October 2009
The Escape 
by Adam Thirlwell.
Cape, 322 pp., £16.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08911 1
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... first novel, Politics, was published in 2003 and won some acclaim for its energetic smut and (less frequently) for its alternately faux-naif and overreaching prose. He followed it in 2007 with Miss Herbert, a vagrant disquisition on the nature of style in the novel that had the feel of a lot of flashy undergraduate essays determinedly tacked together to make a passably book-like structure. But the ...

Everything is over before it begins

A.D. Nuttall: Milton criticism

21 June 2001
How Milton Works 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 616 pp., £23.95, June 2001, 0 674 00465 5
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... proto-Fishian Sumner is no more correct than Fish himself. Milton opens his treatise by affirming the need for each individual to ‘work out’ his creed for himself and resolves to puzzle out the matter ‘by my own exertions’. He urges his reader to withhold consent until Biblical ‘evidence … induces his reason to assent’. (The passage referred to in Sumner’s index is ironical.) It might ...

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