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The Excursions

Andrew O’Hagan, 16 June 2011

... version of MacDiarmid’s pastures to work at the London Review of Books, the editor, Karl Miller, had a powerful sense of what connected literature to the land, and even the urban writers he liked – Kingsley Amis, for instance – were filled with a sense of hinterland, or winterland, of childhood places and beginnings. Many powerful writers, in ...

Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert Crawford: The Radical Burns, 25 July 2002

Robert Burns: Poems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate Burns: The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... a ‘makar’. A century later in his how-to-be-a-king book, the Basilikon Doron, the versifying James VI of Scotland claimed that he had ‘not spared to play the bairde against all the estaitis of my kingdome’. When James boarded the English throne in 1603, his Scots had to be translated for English readers to whom the ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2004, 6 January 2005

... isn’t like that,’ they’re off the hook. 20 February. We’re gradually assembling a class: James Corden, who’s plump and funny and at the audition entirely takes charge; Sacha Dhawan, an Asian boy from Manchester who complains that all he’s ever offered these days are Muslim terrorists or Afghan refugees; Jamie Parker, who is to play Scripps the ...

Backlash Blues

John Lahr, 16 June 2016

What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography 
by Alan Light.
Canongate, 309 pp., £20, March 2016, 978 1 78211 871 8
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... When her mother, Mary Kate, drew the talent of her daughter to the attention of Katherine Miller, a white woman for whom she cleaned house, Simone found her first patron. Miller paid for the piano lessons which the Waymon family couldn’t afford and steered the child at the age of five to Muriel Mazzanovich ...

I, Lowborn Cur

Colin Burrow: Literary Names, 22 November 2012

Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 283 pp., £19.99, September 2012, 978 0 19 959222 7
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... James Bond was a well-known ornithologist. His Birds of the West Indies is an unusually rich source of names. According to Bond, the Sooty Tern is also known as the Egg Bird; Booby; Bubí; Hurricane Bird; Gaviota Oscura; Gaviota Monja; Oiseau Fou; Touaou. But when the keen birdwatcher Ian Fleming needed a name that sounded as ordinary as possible, he had to look no further than the title page of Bond’s great work ...

Issues for His Prose Style

Andrew O’Hagan: Hemingway, 7 June 2012

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. I, 1907-22 
edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert Trogdon.
Cambridge, 431 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 521 89733 4
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... reality than the author could bear. ‘It has become a critical commonplace,’ Linda Patterson Miller writes in her foreword to the present volume, ‘that his wounding as an American Red Cross ambulance driver in World War One scarred him psychologically and led him to create emotionally damaged heroes attempting to live in a troubled world through the ...

Homophobes and Homofibs

Adam Mars-Jones, 30 November 1995

Homosexuality: A History 
by Colin Spencer.
Fourth Estate, 448 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85702 143 6
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Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality 
by Andrew Sullivan.
Picador, 224 pp., £14.99, October 1995, 0 330 34453 6
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Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography 
by David Halperin.
Oxford, 246 pp., £14.99, September 1995, 0 19 509371 2
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... not being cross-culturally necessary wouldn’t make it an optional part of our culture. Andrew Sullivan is considerably more honest about homophobia in the autobiographical fragment with which he starts Virtually Normal, a book rather bizarrely oversold by its publishers. You’d better be pretty confident about the ballsiness of your product ...

‘A Naughty House’

Charles Nicholl: Shakespeare’s Landlord, 24 June 2010

... au Magistrat’, though without saying where or when. I am grateful to the sharp eyes of Andrew Wilson, who spotted the Mountjoy reference by chance (or by alphabetical serendipity: he was researching a family ancestor called Merryweather) and kindly shared it with me. The story, such as it can be reconstructed, is contained in two sets of court ...

In the Teeth of the Gale

A.D. Nuttall, 16 November 1995

The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation 
edited by Adrian Poole and Jeremy Maule.
Oxford, 606 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 19 214209 7
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... apparent that ‘credulous’ applies to one party and ‘all Gold’ to the other. In James Michie’s Penguin translation (not in the Oxford Book) all these difficulties are smoothed away: He’s still credulous though, hugging the prize he thinks Pure gold ... No doubt many readers will prefer Michie’s version. To me the Milton remains ...

Clashes and Collaborations

Linda Colley, 18 July 1996

Empire: The British Imperial Experience, from 1765 to the Present 
by Denis Judd.
HarperCollins, 517 pp., £25, March 1996, 9780002552370
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Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire 
edited by P.J. Marshall.
Cambridge, 400 pp., £24.95, March 1996, 0 521 43211 1
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Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c.1500-c.1800 
by Anthony Pagden.
Yale, 244 pp., £19.95, August 1995, 0 300 06415 2
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... political order – whether or not this was their prime purpose in carrying out these tasks. Andrew Porter’s essay shows how the British (like the Spanish and the Dutch) used print as a prime imperial auxiliary. It spread their language and religion. It fuelled their bureaucracies and propaganda. And by deciding that certain local languages should be ...

Half Bird, Half Fish, Half Unicorn

Paul Foot, 16 October 1997

Peter Cook: A Biography 
by Harry Thompson.
Hodder, 516 pp., £18.99, September 1997, 0 340 64968 2
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... party without quickly being disgusted by its humbug or convulsed by its absurdity. Jonathan Miller was surely wrong when he said to Thompson: ‘The idea that Peter had an anarchic, subversive view of society is complete nonsense. He was the most upstanding, traditional upholder of everything English and everything Establishment.’ My own experience ...

Cool Brains

Nicholas Guyatt: Demythologising the antebellum South, 2 June 2005

Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South 
by Michael O’Brien.
North Carolina, 1354 pp., £64.95, March 2004, 0 8078 2800 9
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... the United States were mainly Southerners: between them, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison can take credit for drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, winning the Revolutionary War, and preserving America’s independence through its turbulent early decades. The republic was governed by Southern presidents for 40 of ...

Christian v. Cannibal

Michael Rogin: Norman Mailer and American history, 1 April 1999

The American Century 
by Harold Evans.
Cape, 710 pp., £40, November 1998, 0 224 05217 9
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The Time of Our Time 
by Norman Mailer.
Little, Brown, 1286 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 316 64571 0
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... begin his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered in 1964. The American Century details J. Edgar Hoover’s personal and the FBI’s institutional linking of white supremacist and anti-Communist ...

Ten Typical Days in Trump’s America

Eliot Weinberger, 25 October 2018

... problems in humans, and bizarre deformities in fish. Among those promoting the deregulation was Andrew Wheeler, for many years a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the US’s largest coal-mining company. He is now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In his first speech in his new position, Wheeler said: ‘I get frustrated with the media when ...

Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

Blake 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 399 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85619 278 4
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol I: Jerusalem 
editor David Bindman, edited by Morton D. Paley.
Tate Gallery, 304 pp., £48, August 1991, 1 85437 066 9
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. II: Songs of Innocence and Experience 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Andrew Lincoln.
Tate Gallery, 210 pp., £39.50, August 1991, 1 85437 068 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol III: The Early Illuminated Books 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Morris Eaves, Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 288 pp., £48, August 1993, 1 85437 119 3
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. IV: The Continental Prophecies: America, Europe, The Song of Los 
editor David Bindman, edited by D.W. Dörbecker.
Tate Gallery, 368 pp., £50, May 1995, 1 85437 154 1
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. V: Milton, a Poem 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 224 pp., £48, November 1993, 1 85437 121 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. VI: The Urizen Books 
 editor David Bindman, edited by David Worrall.
Tate Gallery, 232 pp., £39.50, May 1995, 9781854371553
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... of course, Peter Ackroyd’s gold-brick biography of Blake. Bennett, Ackroyd and Jonathan Miller – these were the figures who mattered most. The Christmas parcels of English literature. Enough of threadbare bohemia, paranoid narcissism, chemical tourism through the Third World. Enough of ill-disciplined prose and rootless lives. Enough of midnight ...

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