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Humphrey Carpenter, 7 December 1989

The Safest Place in the World: A Personal History of British Rhythm and Blues 
by Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Quartet, 178 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 7043 2696 5
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Mama said there’d be days like these: My Life in the Jazz World 
by Val Wilmer.
Women’s Press, 336 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 7043 5040 8
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Lenya: A Life 
by Donald Spoto.
Viking, 371 pp., £15.95, September 1989, 0 670 81211 0
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... The first meaning of ‘band’ given in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘That with or by which a person or thing is bound’. This seems appropriate for the word’s musical connotations as well as its more literal sense. Anyone with practical experience in the jazz, rock or folk music worlds will know that bands are, first and foremost, bindings together of personalities, undertaken in the hope of producing something greater than the mere sum of the individuals ...

Getting on

Humphrey Carpenter, 18 July 1985

In the Dark 
by R.M. Lamming.
Cape, 230 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 9780224022927
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A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory 
by Isabel Colegate.
Hamish Hamilton, 153 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 0 241 11532 9
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Midnight Mass 
by Peter Bowles.
Peter Owen, 190 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 0 7206 0647 0
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The Silver Age 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 186 pp., £8.95, July 1985, 0 224 02316 0
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The House of Kanze 
by Nobuko Albery.
Century, 307 pp., £9.95, June 1985, 0 7126 0850 8
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... My idea of what a novelist should do is an old-fashioned one,’ says a character in the title story in Isabel Colegate’s collection A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory. ‘I think that each work should be a step forward from the last, that he should never repeat himself, that he should only produce a book when he is ready to add to his own knowledge – why write down what one knows already? – he should address himself to his generation, applying himself with pure heart and humble mind to their legitimate question What Then Must We Do ...

Kiss me, Hardy

Humphrey Carpenter, 15 November 1984

Peeping Tom 
by Howard Jacobson.
Chatto, 266 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2908 5
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Watson’s Apology 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 222 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7156 1935 7
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The Foreigner 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 237 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 7011 2904 2
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... Howard Jacobson’s first novel, Coming from Behind, was published last year, and made one think that a new exponent of the comic academic narrative had arrived. Jacobson’s hero, Sefton Goldberg, Jewish and highly suspicious of his Gentile surroundings, is aggressive towards the literature he’s supposed to be teaching, to a degree that makes Leavis seem like a nice auntie ...

Exasperating Classics

Patricia Craig, 23 May 1985

Secret Gardens 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen and Unwin, 235 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 04 809022 0
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Reading and Righting 
by Robert Leeson.
Collins, 256 pp., £6.95, March 1985, 9780001844131
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Pipers at the Gates of Dawn 
by Jonathan Cott.
Viking, 327 pp., £12.95, August 1984, 0 670 80003 1
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... fervent for being sometimes insecure, and for not being entirely separated from sexual feeling. Humphrey Carpenter, who – for all the occasional lapse of tone or judgment – has written a first-rate book about Kingsley and the other children’s authors of the original ‘Golden Age’ (the 1860s to 1920s), mentions a childhood friend accidentally ...

Snarling

Frank Kermode: Angry Young Men, 28 November 2002

The Angry Young Men: A Literary Comedy of the 1950s 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen Lane, 244 pp., £18.99, September 2002, 0 7139 9532 7
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... Humphrey Carpenter is a practised biographer; he can do groups as well as single persons, but he admits that this group set him a new problem, which was that he remained throughout unsure whether it really existed. The Movement (a rather localised, mostly Oxford affair) and the Angry Young Men (more London, more of the theatre) were certainly the inventions of journalists, but they took on a kind of reality when the public was induced to view the young men in terms of those inventions, and also when the writers concerned noticed that the mirror of gossip did, however distortedly, reflect them ...

Favourite Subjects

J.I.M. Stewart, 17 September 1981

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 
edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien.
Allen and Unwin, 463 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 04 826005 3
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Tolkien and the Silmarils 
by Randel Helms.
Thames and Hudson, 104 pp., £5.50, September 1981, 0 500 01264 4
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... been in his midforties before people took to preserving what he had addressed to them. Even so, Humphrey Carpenter has found that ‘an immense number’ of letters survive. In projecting the present selection, he realised that ‘an enormous quantity of material would have to be omitted’ and that ‘only passages of particular interest could be ...

Darkness Audible

Nicholas Spice, 11 February 1993

Benjamin Britten 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Faber, 680 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 571 14324 5
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... on the piano. Eventually, his mother came and took him away. The effect of this story, which Carpenter appears to have included simply for its strangeness, is suddenly to make us aware of how immersed we have become in the enclosed universe of the great man’s life. Biographies often give the impression that the world revolves around their subject. A ...

The World of School

John Bayley, 28 September 1989

The Brideshead Generation: Evelyn Waugh and his Friends 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Weidenfeld, 523 pp., £17.95, September 1989, 0 297 79320 9
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Osbert: A Portrait of Osbert Lancaster 
by Richard Boston.
Collins, 256 pp., £17.50, August 1989, 0 00 216324 1
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Ackerley: A Life of J.R. Ackerley 
by Peter Parker.
Constable, 465 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 09 469000 6
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... or not belonging, important for Bloomsbury or for the Brideshead Generation written about by Humphrey Carpenter, is less significant than the initial and basic instinct to opt out, or the passionate wish to opt in. As a template and exemplar of getting on in the world, school can either be a negative experience or one so positive that it determines ...

Alan Bennett writes about his new play

Alan Bennett: ‘The Habit of Art’, 5 November 2009

... I started writing the play I made much use of the biographies of both Auden and Britten written by Humphrey Carpenter and both models of their kind. Indeed I was consulting his books so much that eventually Carpenter found his way into the play. His widow, Mari Prichard, was more than helpful over this, though feeling ...

Ezra Pound and Evil

Jerome McGann, 7 July 1988

The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound 
by Robert Casillo.
Northwestern, 463 pp., $34.95, April 1988, 0 8101 0710 4
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A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Faber, 1005 pp., £20, May 1988, 0 571 14786 0
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... Pound will make it impossible to approach his work on such terms any longer. Neither Casillo nor Carpenter take one into a new way of reading poetry. But both have produced important books, and Casillo’s in particular will have a major impact on Pound studies. From a critical point of view, Carpenter’s approach to ...

Auden Askew

Barbara Everett, 19 November 1981

W.H. Auden: A Biography 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen and Unwin, 495 pp., £12.50, June 1981, 0 04 928044 9
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Early Auden 
by Edward Mendelson.
Faber, 407 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 571 11193 9
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... more likely to last. Moreover the poet will probably start with the handicap of being dead. Humphrey Carpenter’s excellent life of Auden has a nice turn of phrase in recounting the moment when Stephen Spender, arrived in an Oxford of the later Twenties which was pervaded by the legend of Auden, at last met his fellow undergraduate and ‘found ...

Haley’s Comet

Paul Driver, 6 February 1997

The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Weidenfeld, 431 pp., £25, September 1996, 0 297 81720 5
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... to determine the tone of the presentation, the rhythm and contrasts of each evening’s schedule? Humphrey Carpenter’s detailed account suggests that the mandarins of the mid-Forties got the Third Programme right straight off. The BBC’s Director-General, William Haley, credited himself with having created the network by two decisions. Programmes ...

Short Books on Great Men

John Dunn, 22 May 1980

Jesus 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Oxford, 102 pp., June 1980, 0 19 283016 3
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Aquinas 
by Anthony Kenny.
Oxford, 86 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287500 0
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Pascal 
by Alban Krailsheimer.
Oxford, 84 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287512 4
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Hume 
by A.J. Ayer.
Oxford, 102 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287528 0
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Marx 
by Peter Singer.
Oxford, 82 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287510 8
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... without judging broadly who he thought he was or what he thought he was doing. Here Mr Carpenter rushes in where even an angel might tread with some trepidation. (The tone for example, of the title of Chapter Five, ‘Who did he think he was?’, is less than prudent, and its imprudence is far from being repaired by the content of the chapter ...

Biographical Materials

Alan Hollinghurst, 15 October 1981

Remembering Britten 
edited by Alan Blyth.
Hutchinson, 181 pp., £7.95, June 1981, 0 09 144950 2
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Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936 
by Donald Mitchell.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.50, February 1981, 0 571 11715 5
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... also unforthcoming about sexual matters, about the nature of Auden’s feeling for Britten (which Humphrey Carpenter has now discussed) and the part that might have played in Britten’s intimidation by Auden – already established by a sense of intellectual inferiority and lack of experience. Auden was catalytically inspiring, but embodied forces ...

Heat in a Mild Climate

James Wood: Baron Britain of Aldeburgh, 19 December 2013

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the 20th Century 
by Paul Kildea.
Allen Lane, 635 pp., £30, January 2013, 978 1 84614 232 1
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Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music 
by Neil Powell.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £25, January 2013, 978 0 09 193123 0
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... also charged – by strong force fields of shame and prohibition. In his biography of Britten, Humphrey Carpenter darkened counsel with a little innuendo and shadow; attractively, Kildea and Powell are straightforward and easy about Britten’s boys. Britten certainly fell in love with Piers Dunkerley, Bobby Rothman, David Spenser and David Hemmings ...

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