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Nit, Sick and Bore

India Knight: The Mitfords, 3 January 2002

The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family 
by Mary Lovell.
Little, Brown, 611 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 316 85868 4
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Nancy Mitford: A Memoir 
by Harold Acton.
Gibson Square, 256 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 1 903933 01 3
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... Either you love the jokes or you don’t, with the Mitfords. The biting, ferocious ‘teases’, the flippancy, the apparent inability to take anything particularly seriously, are everything, not least because they encapsulate all that used to be good about Englishness, and all that is grotesque also. The jokes, always cruel, both charm and repel; without them, you’re left with girls in pearls living borderline tragic lives, or with the po-faced, lumpen Unity Mitford – galumph, galumph – who, unlike her five sisters (in descending order: Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Decca, Debo; there was also a brother, Tom), had little talent for levity ...

Stick in a Pie for Tomorrow

Jenny Turner: Thrift, 14 May 2009

Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations 
Michael O’Mara, 160 pp., £9.99, September 2007, 978 1 84317 265 9Show More
The Thrifty Cookbook: 476 Ways to Eat Well with Leftovers 
by Kate Colquhoun.
Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £14.99, April 2009, 978 0 7475 9704 9
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The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less 
by India Knight.
Fig Tree, 272 pp., £14.99, November 2008, 978 1 905490 37 0
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Jamie’s Ministry of Food: Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours 
by Jamie Oliver.
Michael Joseph, 359 pp., £25, October 2008, 978 0 7181 4862 1
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Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations 
Michael O’Mara, 160 pp., £9.99, September 2007, 978 1 84317 264 2Show More
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... yet more stuff in order to do so: for budgetary reasons (‘don’t forget normal libraries,’ India Knight urges), or maybe environmental ones (all those poor exhausted trees). And yet here the books are, regardless; and of course I’m going to read them. As if life wasn’t already hard enough – having to keep oneself groomed and going, no matter ...

Priapus Knight

Marilyn Butler, 18 March 1982

The Arrogant Connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight 1751-1824 
edited by Michael Clarke and Nicholas Penny.
Manchester, 189 pp., £30, February 1982, 0 7190 0871 9
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... Richard Payne Knight was an important English intellectual of the era of the French Revolution. He flourished from the 1770s until his death, perhaps by suicide, in 1824. Most of that time he wielded great influence in the art world, as a leading collector, connoisseur and aesthetician, but as the theorist of potent subjects like myth and symbol he mattered almost as much to the poets ...


Ian Buruma, 13 May 1993

Gower: The Autobiography 
by David Gower and Martin Johnson.
Collins Willow, 256 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 00 218413 3
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... David Gower was this year’s most popular victim, the English underdog, the handsome knight sacrificed by knaves. But good news is at hand: the hero has announced a brilliant season full of runs. In the tradition of General MacArthur, David Gower has announced his return. I hope he succeeds. But success is not the only thing that makes a hero ...

What are we at war about?

Isaac Land: Nelson the Populist, 1 December 2005

The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson 
by Roger Knight.
Allen Lane, 874 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 7139 9619 6
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Admiral Lord Nelson: Context and Legacy 
edited by David Cannadine.
Palgrave, 201 pp., £19.99, June 2005, 1 4039 3906 3
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... seems to wear a different and diminished aspect from the sea of Lord Nelson’s day.’ Roger Knight’s life of Nelson is almost fifty times as long as Conrad’s centenary essay (excluding the appendices, which take up more than a hundred additional pages), but readers may nevertheless conclude that biography too is ‘different and diminished’ in our ...

The money’s still out there

Neal Ascherson: The Scottish Empire, 6 October 2011

To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £25, August 2011, 978 0 7139 9744 6
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The Inner Life of Empires: An 18th-Century History 
by Emma Rothschild.
Princeton, 483 pp., £24.95, June 2011, 978 0 691 14895 3
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... business in China, the ‘hedge-banking’ outfits in Australia, the executive levels of the East India Company. Later in the 19th century, in the second phase of industrialisation, the Clyde basin achieved something approaching world domination in shipbuilding, locomotive and bridge construction and other branches of heavy engineering. Overseas enterprise ...

No Peep of Protest

Barbara Newman: Medieval Marriage, 19 July 2018

Conduct Becoming: Good Wives and Husbands in the Later Middle Ages 
by Glenn Burger.
Pennsylvania, 262 pp., £50, September 2017, 978 0 8122 4960 6
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... No blame attaches to the faithless husband. The tale comes from the French Book of the Knight of the Tower (1371-72), one of medieval Europe’s most popular conduct books. In 1483 Caxton translated the text, which circulated in German as well. Written to instruct his three daughters, the Knight’s book belongs ...


Norman Stone, 21 July 1983

The Invention of Tradition 
edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £17.50, March 1983, 0 521 24645 8
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... at all remote) origins of British royal ritual; other contributions concern British rule in India and Welsh cultural identity (treated more respectfully than Trevor-Roper treats poor old Scotland). Eric Hobsbawm both introduces and concludes the book with essays of great penetration and learning on ‘the invention of tradition’ as a kind of ...

Half a pirate

Patrick O’Brian, 22 January 1987

Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates 
by Robert Ritchie.
Harvard, 306 pp., £16.95, November 1986, 0 674 09501 4
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Richard Knight’s Treasure! The True Story of his Extraordinary Quest for Captain Kidd’s Cache 
by Glenys Roberts.
Viking, 198 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 670 80761 3
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... and news from home, and then making for the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the coast of India. Their obvious prey was the shipping of those parts rather than the large, powerful East Indiamen, but that made things no pleasanter for the Company, which was held responsible for the doings of all Englishmen – and pirates, as the Company’s ...


P.N. Furbank, 18 November 1982

The English World: History, Character and People 
edited by Robert Blake.
Thames and Hudson, 268 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 500 25083 9
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The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal 
by Philip Mason.
Deutsch, 240 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 9780233974897
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... material security but unsure when it comes to handling the courtly ethos which is natural to the knight and the squire, appears to us with scarcely less realism than the people of Henry Fielding and Jane Austen.’ Ostensibly Holmes is only comparing the art, the ‘realism’, of Chaucer with that of novelists four centuries later. But the implication is ...


Paul Foot: Windsor Girls School on 22 June, 4 July 1985

... intellectual escapism’, and proceeded to prove it with an analysis of the treatment of India and the Orient by the Romantic poets. In the 1780s, she said, Warren Hastings had hoped to rule India through Indians, without imposing a British civil service or a British army. For this purpose, he needed to sow a ...

Delightful to be Robbed

E.S. Turner: Stand and deliver, 9 May 2002

Outlaws and Highwaymen: The Cult of the Robber in England from the Middle Ages to the 19th century 
by Gillian Spraggs.
Pimlico, 372 pp., £12.50, November 2001, 0 7126 6479 3
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... that had given the word ‘thug’ to the language came under terminal assault: the British in India, showing a zeal never displayed against England’s home-bred highwaymen, rounded up in six years 3266 devotees of thuggee, hanged 412 and imprisoned or transported hundreds more, extinguishing a centuries-old cult. The method of this religious fraternity ...

The Profusion Effect

Michael Wood: Salman Rushdie’s ‘Quichotte’, 12 September 2019

by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 397 pp., £20, August 2019, 978 1 78733 191 4
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... threaded into an easy joke about reality. Quixote sees a barber’s basin and decides it is a knight’s helmet with a bit missing. It’s true the barber is wearing the basin on his head because it’s raining, but the narrator leaves us in no doubt as to the nature of the object. Quixote scares the barber, who jumps off his donkey and runs away, leaving ...


Michael Dummett, 24 January 1985

Chess: The History of a Game 
by Richard Eales.
Batsford, 240 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 7134 4607 2
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... been much weaker, not what their moves actually were during the long history of chess in India, Persia, the Islamic world and Medieval Europe. Although it thus has the character of Hamlet without the Prince, a chapter is at least devoted to the Medieval game: the forms played in Asia are dismissed in a page or two, or, sometimes, a line or two. Eales ...

The Other Thomas

Charles Nicholl, 8 November 2012

... certainly have loomed large in Jacob of Sarugh’s conception of him: his mission (or missions) to India. That he came is an ancient tradition in India, and the core belief of a thriving Christian community there. According to the Mar Thoma Nazranis or St Thomas Christians of Kerala, whose current membership is about one ...

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