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Don’t think about it

Jenny Diski: The Trouble with Sonia Orwell

25 April 2002
The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 208 pp., £9.99, May 2002, 0 241 14165 6
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... complicated in her early years, drunkenly angry and anxious towards the end, but with friends who cared enough about her to put up with her and even, decades later, to write a biography designed, as HilarySpurling’s explicitly is, to stem ‘the tide of venom that pursued her into and beyond the grave’. The venom was largely a result of the way, as George Orwell’s widow, she managed the literary ...

Didn’t you just love O-lan?

Deborah Friedell: Pearl Buck

22 July 2010
Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck’s Life in China 
by Hilary Spurling.
Profile, 340 pp., £15, April 2010, 978 1 86197 828 8
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... often translated or, while she lived, more admired. No writer since Marco Polo has done more to shape how the West thinks about China. ‘What Dickens had done for London’s 19th-century poor,’ HilarySpurling writes in her new biography, ‘Pearl Buck did for the working people of 20th-century China,’ with American affinity for the Chinese swelling just as Japan invaded the mainland. It didn ...

Paul and Penny

Julian Symons

25 October 1990
Paul Scott: A Life 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hutchinson, 429 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 09 173984 5
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Paul Scott’s Raj 
by Robin Moore.
Heinemann, 246 pp., £18.50, October 1990, 0 434 47588 2
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... so hostile to Penny that she took taxis back home alone from restaurants or left parties pleading a migraine. The friends naturally tended to blame her. Penny, in an unpublished manuscript of which Spurling makes considerable use, says they were ‘two people estranged from one another ... sitting in a silence that bordered on enmity’. He never attacked his wife or children physically, but they were ...

I’m not upset. It’s nerves

Julian Bell: Spurling’s Matisse

23 February 2006
Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse Vol. II The Conquest of Colour 1909-54 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 512 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 241 13339 4
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... The subtitle HilarySpurling has given to the second half of her biography of Henri Matisse is upbeat and triumphant, in line with orthodox interpretations of the painter’s career: ‘The Conquest of Colour’. To place the ...
17 February 2000
La Grand Thérèse or The Greatest Swindle of the Century 
by Hilary Spurling.
Profile, 128 pp., £7.99, September 1999, 9781861971326
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... The role of Thérèse Humbert and her family in the life of Henri Matisse was one of the revelations of the first volume of HilarySpurling’s pioneering biography: The Unknown Matisse. For more than twenty years, the Humberts were a major force in the social and political life of the Third Republic, until, in 1902, their legendary ...
19 July 1984
Secrets of a Woman’s Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1920-1969 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hodder, 336 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 340 26241 9
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... This is the second and final volume of HilarySpurling’s biography of I. Compton-Burnett, and it comes to us ten years after the first. During this interval has Mrs Spurling been attending to other things? So abundant, so heavily pendulous upon the bough, are the fruits of research now offered to us (so very thick, we may say, has grown the ivy elegantly disposed on the ...

At the National Gallery

Peter Campbell: Copying the Masters

24 May 2007
... aspiring to that competence, were French painters who were among the last both to participate as students in a full-blown academic tradition and to reject the conventions and skills it taught. HilarySpurling, in her biography of Matisse, describes his attempt to copy Chardin’s work: He began with The Pipe, which was the first painting he ever copied in the Louvre, and which baffled him with ...

Sonata for Second Fiddle

Penelope Fitzgerald

7 October 1982
A Half of Two Lives: A Personal Memoir 
by Alison Waley.
Weidenfeld, 326 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 297 78156 1
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... is a poet, has been too close to what she calls ‘every tear, every pain, every certainty’ to record them with precision. Sincerity should be the same thing as clarity, but isn’t. Fortunately HilarySpurling has provided an introduction to this book which is an excellent short study in its own right, and explains who everyone was and, as far as tact allows, what happened. She points out, for ...

At the Royal Academy

Peter Campbell: Matisse’s revelations

19 May 2005
... to follow profiles pedantically) that they must be observations not inventions. To put light in a picture you must have some way of establishing its absence – shadow. In Matisse’s pictures, HilarySpurling writes, ‘light is not so much reproduced as emitted or in Matisse’s own words “provoked”’. He did not find colour combinations of more or less equal tonality and saturation which ...
13 April 2000
The Unknown Matisse: Man of the North, 1869-1908 
by Hilary Spurling.
Penguin, 480 pp., £12.99, April 2000, 0 14 017604 7
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Matisse: Father and Son 
by John Russell.
Abrams, 416 pp., £25, May 1999, 0 8109 4378 6
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Ruthless Hedonism: The American Reception of Matisse 
by John O’Brien.
Chicago, 284 pp., £31.50, April 1999, 0 226 61626 6
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Matisse and Picasso 
by Yve-Alain Bois.
Flammarion, 272 pp., £35, February 1999, 2 08 013548 1
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... hard beginnings, and in particular from the moment when he found himself out on his own, only tenuously linked to the tradition which had nurtured him. Now that we have the first volume of HilarySpurling’s biography, however, it is much easier to look back beyond the white-bearded maker of images of luxuriousness to the wild-man-of-art shown in the self-portrait of 1906 and to be reminded ...

Every Rusty Hint

Ian Sansom: Anthony Powell

21 October 2004
Anthony Powell: A Life 
by Michael Barber.
Duckworth, 338 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7156 3049 0
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... or not, though admittedly not the kind that makes you laugh. Indeed, Powell raises within himself and within his work the vexed question of the place of the ‘wry’ in English literature. Perhaps HilarySpurling, who is working on the official biography of Powell, will address some of these questions. She may also pay more attention to Powell’s magnificent biography of John Aubrey, John Aubrey and ...

Different Speeds, Same Furies

Perry Anderson: Powell v. Proust

19 July 2018
Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 509 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 241 14383 4
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... by a quarter of a century, received two thousand from Norman Sherry. These are huge tomes. Even such a minuscule figure as Kingsley Amis has been encased in an obese 995 pages from Zachary Leader. HilarySpurling’s Life of Anthony Powell breaks with this pattern. The longest-lived of all significant novelists of the last century, his 94 years are covered in fewer than 450 pages of text. In part ...

Time Unfolded

Perry Anderson: Powell v. the World

2 August 2018
... a specific language with an exceptionally wide range in styles of speech. Here customs form barriers higher than any tariff. But A Dance is not, of course, simply or as such a comic novel. Years ago HilarySpurling described it best, in terms Cao would have grasped immediately. ‘The whole sequence unfolds in both real and fictional time like a Chinese scroll painting, a vast canvas streaked with ...

Behind the Gas Lamp

Julian Barnes: Félix Fénéon

4 October 2007
Novels in Three Lines 
by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante.
NYRB, 171 pp., £7.99, August 2007, 978 1 59017 230 8
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... they had ‘invented’ the ‘words at liberty adopted by the Futurists’. Their clandestine reputation and significance has, over the century, become an idée reçue. Here it is, as related by HilarySpurling in her biography of Matisse: ‘For years [sic] he also wrote a national newspaper column, consisting entirely of more or less offbeat items collected from the press and retailed with a ...

Madame Matisse’s Hat

T.J. Clark: On Matisse

14 August 2008
... year, in the Spring Salon des Indépendants, there had been a submission (now lost) under the name Matisse (Mme Henri): Écran tapisserie sur un carton d’André Derain. Her hatmaking, we learn from HilarySpurling’s biography, had time and again kept her various families afloat.* In 1895, aged 23, she had gone to work for Aunt Nine, owner of the Grande Maison des Modes on the boulevard Saint-Denis ...

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