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Roman Wall Blues

Peter Parsons, 17 May 1984

Vindolanda: The Latin Writing-Tablets 
by A.K. Bowman and J.D. Thomas.
Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 157 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 907764 02 9
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The Christians as the Romans saw them 
by Robert Wilken.
Yale, 214 pp., £12.95, February 1983, 0 300 03066 5
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The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul 
by Wayne Meeks.
Yale, 299 pp., £15, June 1983, 0 300 02876 8
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Life in Egypt under Roman Rule 
by Naphtali Lewis.
Oxford, 239 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 19 814848 8
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... military waste-paper basket of 100 AD. The originals can be seen at the British Museum. Bowman and Thomas provide the first and the final publication. Their book does more than decipher the faded and broken scrawl (difficult enough in itself): it provides, with enviable erudition, the whole necessary context, linguistic, historical and palaeographic. The texts ...

At the End of a Dirt Road

Thomas Powers: The Salinger File, 24 October 2019

The Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – an Introduction 
by J.D. Salinger.
Little, Brown, 1072 pp., $100, November 2018, 978 0 316 45071 3
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... change but Salinger couldn’t be found so Maxwell okayed the insertion of a comma. According to Thomas Kunkel, a historian of the magazine, when Salinger saw the comma where he had put no comma, he was ‘melancholy’. Maxwell told Kunkel he never did it again. Knowing how his father felt about meddling editors, Matt Salinger may feel deep hesitation about ...


John Sutherland, 5 November 1992

Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... chapter makes no mention of the alternative line of Dickens biography that descends through Thomas Wright and Katherine Longley to our contemporaries Peter Ackroyd and Claire Tomalin. In his chapter on James Joyce Hamilton dwells exclusively on the author’s ‘patron saint’, Harriet Weaver. Surprisingly – for a study whose main concern is the ...

That was another planet

Frank Kermode, 8 February 1990

by Thomas Pynchon.
Secker, 385 pp., £14.95, February 1990, 0 436 39866 4
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... Seventeen years have passed since the publication of Pynchon’s immense Gravity’s Rainbow, during which time exegesis has continued more or less unabated. It is accompanied by tireless speculation as to what the author could be up to next, where he was, indeed who he was. Compared with Pynchon, J.D. Salinger is a publicity-hunter. One daring scholarly conjecture, that these authors are one and the same person, is a paranoid fantasy that might well have been induced by prolonged exposure to Pynchon’s oeuvre ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: The Great Refusers, 20 October 2016

... and individually, should let them have their space. Sometimes the culture manages to do that. Thomas Pynchon is another famous recluse, not someone who grew sick of the publishing process and walked away, but someone who never took part in it. From a far distance, Pynchon’s identity seemed as mysterious and indecipherable as the Antikythera ...


John Sutherland: Matthew Arnold, 19 March 1998

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold 
by Ian Hamilton.
Bloomsbury, 241 pp., £17.99, March 1998, 0 7475 3671 6
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... adults and turned to children. Another deterrent to continuing with poetry was the script which Thomas Arnold had written for his sons – their ‘destiny’. Matthew, Tom, William: they all, more or less rebelliously, accepted that theirs must be a life of useful toil – they became educationists. In his second published poem, ‘Cromwell’ (‘a prize ...


Richard Jenkyns, 3 April 1997

Art and the Victorian Middle Class: Money and the Making of Cultural Identity 
by Dianne Sachko Macleod.
Cambridge, 375 pp., £65, October 1996, 0 521 55090 4
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... at whose table there was only bottled beer to drink, and no pudding followed the meat; devout Thomas Combe, whose patronage of the Pre-Raphaelites was part and parcel of his High Churchmanship (it was he who commissioned Holman Hunt’s Light of the World); the obsessive Thomas Plint, whose death at the age of 38 left ...

An American Genius

Patrick Parrinder, 21 November 1991

The Runaway Soul 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 835 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 224 03001 9
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... But it suited everyone to disregard this fact. Today, with the dubious and decadent exception of Thomas Pynchon, there are no longer any white male novelists of the highest class below pensionable age in the United States. This gap may be amply filled by genre fiction, by female, ethnic and minority-group writers – not to mention the novelists of the rest ...


James Wolcott: Updike should stay at home, 1 January 2009

The Widows of Eastwick 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 308 pp., £18.99, October 2008, 978 0 241 14427 5
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... didn’t insist on crowding the landscape and interposing themselves; a previous vacation to St Thomas had been ruined for Alexandra and her late husband when their rental car was besieged in traffic, ‘surrounded by black drivers who took a racist pleasure in tailgating them’. Here Alexandra has to contend with the milder nuisance of a stock Asian ...

The Eng. Lit. Patient

Jeremy Noel-Tod: Andrew Motion, 11 September 2003

The Invention of Dr Cake 
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 142 pp., £12.99, February 2003, 0 571 21631 5
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Public Property 
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 112 pp., £6.99, May 2003, 0 571 21859 8
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... is coaxingly familiar. It didn’t matter to Keats that Chatterton’s spurious versifying priest, Thomas Rowley, was a fiction. What he admired was the result, a revivifying of English style with plum Anglo-Saxonisms. Motion needs us to believe in Dr Tabor’s historicity for the sake of the literary debate that is the novella’s point. But to make the ...

Thee, Thou, Twixt

Mark Ford: Walter de la Mare, 24 March 2022

Reading Walter de la Mare 
edited by William Wootten.
Faber, 320 pp., £14.99, June 2021, 978 0 571 34713 1
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... admirers have ranged from Virginia Woolf to Derek Walcott, from Robert Frost to W.H. Auden, from Thomas Hardy to T.S. Eliot, not to speak of confrères such as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke and Henry Newbolt. Ezra Pound, although savage in his denunciation of the use of idioms or phrases such as ‘dim lands of ...

Bench Space

Mary Beard: Norfolk Girl gets Nobel Prize, 15 April 1999

Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life 
by Georgina Ferry.
Granta, 425 pp., £20, November 1998, 1 86207 167 5
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... picture of the Hodgkin ménage as far out of the limelight as she dare. Dorothy’s marriage to Thomas Hodgkin was, as Ferry repeatedly asserts, supremely happy; and so indeed it may have been. Thomas was clearly charismatic, idiosyncratic and very funny; an engagingly old-fashioned socialist (the sort that could still ...

Five Feet Tall in His Socks

Patrick Collinson: Farewell to the Muggletonians, 5 June 2008

Last Witnesses: The Muggletonian History, 1652-1979 
by William Lamont.
Ashgate, 267 pp., £55, August 2006, 0 7546 5532 6
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... and a former Baptist, was a wealthy London tobacconist, who left his wife £1685, a small fortune. Thomas Tomkinson, the leader of the second generation, came from a substantial family of Staffordshire tenant-farmers. Big money came into play in the 19th century with the Frost brothers, prosperous brass founders from Derby. But later in the century the sect ...


Stefan Collini: The Movement, 25 June 2009

The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and Their Contemporaries 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 336 pp., £18.99, May 2009, 978 0 19 955825 4
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... temporarily displaced or driven underground by the cosmopolitan experimentalism of the modernists: Thomas Hardy. It is interesting to find Gunn invoking a writer with whom he might not, at first blush, seem to have much in common. Although Hardy’s ‘mastering obsession’ is loss and ‘regret for the past’, Gunn reflected, his apparently confessional ...

Nicely! Nicely!

Jenny Turner, 13 May 1993

Operation Shylock 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 398 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 224 03009 4
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... friends have verified it. Thus, as often happens with US fiction (remember the rumours that Thomas Pynchon was really J.D. Salinger under another name?), attention is deflected away from the substantive matter of the novel, and onto various gee-whizz discussions of supposedly Post-Modernist authorial behaviour – the adult version of the ...

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