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What’s wrong with Desmond?

Ian Hamilton, 30 August 1990

Clever Hearts: Desmond and Molly MacCarthy 
by Hugh Cecil and Mirabel Cecil.
Gollancz, 320 pp., £18.95, July 1990, 0 575 03622 2
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... him by his Bloomsbury acquaintances and chums, both old and young. ‘When I first saw Desmond,’ Leonard Woolf later recalled, ‘he looked like a superb young eagle who with one sweep of his great wing could soar to any height he chose ... Why did he never fulfil his promise? Why did the splendid eagle degenerate into an affable hawk?’ This was a question ...

Their Way

José Harris: On the Origin of Altruism, 12 March 2009

The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain 
by Thomas Dixon.
British Academy, 420 pp., £60, May 2008, 978 0 19 726426 3
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... in particular, he overlooks the fact that welfare reforms were also supported by figures like Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes and other disciples of G.E. Moore, all of whom he identifies as the advance guard of the Edwardian reaction against ‘altruism’. (In fact, most of the Bloomsbury set saw no incompatibility at all between ...

Scots wha hae gone to England

Donald Davie, 9 July 1992

Devolving English Literature 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 320 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198112983
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The Faber Book of 20th-Century Scottish Poetry 
edited by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 424 pp., £17.50, July 1992, 9780571154319
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... unfair – was A Sinking Island (1987) by another chip-shouldering excolonial, the Canadian Hugh Kenner. Crawford doesn’t like Kenner’s book: naturally not, since Kenner, convicting the whole insula of insularity, conspicuously doesn’t exonerate any Scots from the indictment (though – unkindest cut – he does exonerate one Welshman, David ...

If my sister’s arches fall

Laura Jacobs: Agnes de Mille, 5 October 2016

Dance to the Piper 
by Agnes de Mille.
NYRB, 368 pp., £11.99, February 2016, 978 1 59017 908 6
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... onto the scene with Fancy Free, a ballet about three sailors on shore leave; the score was by Leonard Bernstein and the two soon stormed Broadway with On the Town. The same year Martha Graham premiered a rich, visually spare piece called Appalachian Spring in collaboration with Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi. In 1945, John Cage and Merce Cunningham would ...

Jangling Monarchy

Tom Paulin: Milton and the Regicides, 8 August 2002

A Companion to Milton 
by Thomas N. Corns.
Blackwell, 528 pp., £80, June 2001, 0 631 21408 9
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The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography 
by Barbara K. Lewalski.
Blackwell, 816 pp., £25, December 2000, 0 631 17665 9
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... in a triumphant parade led by three hundred cavalry in cloth of silver. This royal triumph, John Leonard notes in a clever essay on ‘self-contradicting puns’ in Paradise Lost, is evoked in Book Five: Meanwhile our primitive great sire, to meet His godlike guest, walks forth, without more train Accompanied than with his own complete Perfections, in ...

The Paranoid Sublime

Andrew O’Hagan, 26 May 1994

How late it was, how late 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 374 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 436 23292 8
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... it was that the better writers – whom we may as well call James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Tom Leonard among others – wouldn’t join in on the song. ‘It’s their loss,’ she said. ‘I mean, what do they want?’ A fairly good idea of what they wanted could be gleaned at that time from a visit to the Scotia Bar in Stockwell Street, where the ...

Dazeland

Andrew Scull, 29 October 1987

The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980 
by Elaine Showalter.
Virago, 309 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 86068 869 0
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... by their ability to manage their dress and their appearance. In a striking analysis of the work of Hugh Diamond, the pioneer of psychiatric photography in England, Showalter points out how it allows us to see the moral management of female insanity; how the supposedly objective lens of the photographer instead reveals, in the choice, the posing, the staging of ...
... Here again, though, nature totally outstripped art. Could any mere novelist – Anthony Trollope, Hugh Walpole, even Ernest Raymond – conceivably have come up with a plot in which a highly-regarded, if disappointed, Oxford don first mixes an explosive cocktail to be drunk by his own Church, on being taxed with it denies all responsibility for his ...

Ejected Gentleman

Norman Page, 7 May 1987

John Galsworthy’s Life and Art: An Alien’s Fortress 
by James Gindin.
Macmillan, 616 pp., £35, March 1987, 0 333 40812 8
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... the constituency of the philistine bourgeois, a Wilcox rather than a Schlegel or even a Leonard Bast. Or so it can easily seem. James Gindin, however, seeing the case in quite another light, challengingly subtitles his biography ‘An Alien’s Fortress’ and suggests at the outset that, despite appearances, Galsworthy had his full share of the ...

We were the Lambert boys

Paul Driver, 22 May 1986

The Lamberts: George, Constant and Kit 
by Andrew Motion.
Chatto, 388 pp., £13.95, April 1986, 0 7011 2731 7
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... made the more premature by undiagnosed diabetes: Anthony Powell (who used Lambert as a model for Hugh Moreland in A Dance to the Music of Time), William Walton, Dylan Thomas, Augustus John, Elisabeth Lutyens, John Lehmann, Louis Macneice, Alan Rawsthorne, Michael Ayrton. In the dark background are the diabolic Bernard Van Dieren and Philip Heseltine ...

Baleful Smile of the Crocodile

Neal Ascherson: D.S. Mirsky, 8 March 2001

D.S. Mirsky: A Russian-English Life 1890-1939 
by G.S. Smith.
Oxford, 398 pp., £65, June 2000, 0 19 816006 2
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... in a threadbare, tweedy way. And all, almost without exception, remembered his dreadful teeth. Leonard Woolf was positively frightened by them. ‘I have known only a very few people with this kind of mouth; its sinister shape comes, I think, from the form of the jaw and arrangement of the teeth. There is always the shadow of a smile in it, but it is the ...

On Trying to Be Portugal

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Zionist Terrorism, 6 August 2009

‘A Senseless, Squalid War’: Voices from Palestine 1945-48 
by Norman Rose.
Bodley Head, 278 pp., £20, March 2009, 978 0 224 07938 9
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Major Farran’s Hat: Murder, Scandal and Britain’s War against Jewish Terrorism 1945-48 
by David Cesarani.
Heinemann, 290 pp., £20, March 2009, 978 0 434 01844 4
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... was ‘thrilled by the brilliance of Israel’s military achievement’, as he said in his recent Leonard Stein lectures, in which he went on to describe his subsequent disillusionment. Tony Judt is now an incisive critic of Israeli policy but as a youthful Zionist he flew out to help the Jewish state during the war, and remembers – this by way of contrast ...

Gurney’s Flood

Donald Davie, 3 February 1983

Geoffrey Grigson: Collected Poems 1963-1980 
Allison and Busby, 256 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 419 4Show More
The Cornish Dancer 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 64 pp., £4.95, June 1982, 0 436 18805 8
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The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 420 8
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Blessings, Kicks and Curses: A Critical Collection 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 437 2
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Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney 
edited by P.J. Kavanagh.
Oxford, 284 pp., £12, September 1982, 0 19 211940 0
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War Letters 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Mid-Northumberland Arts Group/Carcanet, 271 pp., £12, February 1983, 0 85635 408 2
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... since Grigson is a Little Englander, ‘the mob of Lowlanders who write in Lallans’ (for Hugh Macdiarmid, as for many others, he has a ferocious aversion that is never explained), and ‘the mob of Welshmen who write in Welsh ...’ At any rate, and oddly enough, France – specifically the France of Ronsard, from whom he translates four poems, two ...

When the pistol goes off

Peter Clarke, 17 August 1989

Arnold Toynbee: A Life 
by William McNeill.
Oxford, 346 pp., £16.95, July 1989, 0 19 505863 1
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... the Fifties he encountered keen criticism from academic historians, spearheaded by Pieter Geyl and Hugh Trevor-Roper, which marginalised his major project in the eyes of his own profession. As his new biographer, William McNeill, candidly declares, ‘a principal purpose of this book is to try to establish a better balance between the popular adulation on the ...

Unliterary, Unpolished, Unromantic

Charles Nicholl: ‘The Merchant of Prato’, 8 February 2018

The Merchant of Prato: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City 
by Iris Origo.
Penguin, 400 pp., £10.99, May 2017, 978 0 241 29392 8
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... and a short study of Byron’s daughter Allegra, both issued in 1935. The latter was published by Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, which led to her meeting with Virginia Woolf, whose diaries describe her as ‘tremulous’, ‘honest-eyed’ and very glamorous: ‘I like her bird of paradise flight through the gay world. A long green feather in her hat ...

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