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Suffocating Suspense

Richard Davenport-Hines, 16 March 2000

Cult Criminals: The Newgate Novels 1830-47 
by Juliet John.
Routledge, 2750 pp., £399, December 1998, 0 415 14383 7
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... in Lucretia (1846), in which the heir of the St John’s Laughton estate marries the heiress of Vernon Grange. ‘Two sons were born. To the elder was destined his father’s inheritance – to the younger the maternal property. One house is not large enough for two heirs. Nothing could exceed the pride of the father as a St John, except the pride of the ...

Maisie’s Sisters

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Sargent’s Daughters, 5 August 2010

Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting 
by Erica Hirshler.
MFA, 262 pp., £23.95, October 2009, 978 0 87846 742 6
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... John Singer Sargent has often been accused of lacking a soul. Even Henry James, who helped introduce him to the London scene in the 1880s and continued to promote his work, worried that he suffered from a ‘sort of excess of cleverness’. The fact that Sargent catered to a transatlantic clientele of celebrities and nouveaux riches at the height of the Gilded Age only encouraged the imputations of superficiality ...

A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses

Clive James, 5 June 1980

Princess Daisy 
by Judith Krantz.
Sidgwick, 464 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 283 98647 6
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... as ‘the great war hero and incomparable polo-player’. Stash is Daisy’s father. Francesca Vernon, the film star, is her mother. Francesca possesses ‘a combination of tranquillity and pure sensuality in the composition of the essential triangle of eyes and mouth’. Not just essential but well-nigh indispensable, one would have thought. Or perhaps ...


Denis Donoghue, 21 June 1984

Selected Essays 
by John Bayley.
Cambridge, 217 pp., £19.50, March 1984, 0 521 25828 6
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Collected Poems: 1941-1983 
by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 383 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 9780856354977
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Poems: 1953-1983 
by Anthony Thwaite.
Secker, 201 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 436 52151 2
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... of time!”.’ Bayley distinguished between those writers – he had Virginia Woolf and Henry James in mind – upon whom ‘a passionate and omnivorous interest in life’ is laid as a sacred duty, and other writers – Tolstoy and Jane Austen sustained this quality – who are too far inside life to find it ‘interesting’. The art of Tolstoy and Jane ...

Bringing it home to Uncle Willie

Frank Kermode, 6 May 1982

Joseph Conrad: A Biography 
by Roger Tennant.
Sheldon Press, 276 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 85969 358 9
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Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature 
by George Jefferson.
Cape, 350 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 224 01488 9
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The Edwardian Novelists 
by John Batchelor.
Duckworth, 251 pp., £18, February 1982, 0 7156 1109 7
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The Uses of Obscurity: The Fiction of Early Modernism 
by Allon White.
Routledge, 190 pp., £12, August 1981, 0 7100 0751 5
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... different ways: one of them is simply to juxtapose the popular novels of the day with Henry James’s Prefaces, then in progress. Another is to recall Conrad’s hatred of the public, and all the talk of new techniques, of an ideal novel that might, as Flaubert had wished, be ‘about’ nothing at all, which would not please Uncle Willie. Among ...

Can you spot the source?

Wendy Doniger, 17 February 2000

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 
by J.K. Rowling.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £10.99, July 1999, 0 7475 4215 5
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... parents but the presence of step-parents. From infancy Harry has been raised by his horrid Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley, who hate him and dote on their own cruel and stupid son, Dudley Dursley; they starve Harry and, when he’s forced to spend summer holidays with them, they intercept his letters from his school friends, his only link with the ...

The Real Johnny Hall

Penelope Fitzgerald, 3 October 1985

Our Three Selves: A Life of Radclyffe Hall 
by Michael Baker.
Hamish Hamilton, 386 pp., £13.95, June 1985, 0 241 11539 6
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... instead mildly successful at W.H. Smith and the Times Bookshop. The case was altered only by James Douglas, the editor (also in a crusader’s spirit) of the Sunday Express. Douglas decided, a month later, to feature the book and its photogenic author, in her ‘severe’ smoking-jacket, as evidence of ‘the plague stalking shamelessly through public ...

The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

Auden in Love 
by Dorothy Farnan.
Faber, 264 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 571 13399 1
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... success. True to form on this second visit it was Isherwood who already had a date lined up: Vernon, ‘a beautiful blond boy, about eighteen, intelligent with very sexy legs’. From that out-of-the-body vantage-point he shares with God and Norman Mailer, Isherwood looks down on himself and his friend:Yes, my dears, each of you will find the person you ...

Doubling the Oliphant

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 7 September 1995

Mrs Oliphant: ‘A Fiction to Herself’ 
by Elisabeth Jay.
Oxford, 355 pp., £25, February 1995, 0 19 812875 4
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... In an obituary note written after she finally succumbed to colon cancer in 1897, Henry James paid characteristically equivocal tribute to this most prolific of women writers: ‘from no individual perhaps had the great contemporary flood received a more copious treatment.’ His obituary hovered between contempt for helpless female fecundity ...


Christopher Hadley: The Lake Taupo Stamp, 18 September 1997

... for the first time in these surroundings – Jason and I are sitting on a small sofa in the Mount Vernon Room at the Westbury, a few feet from a pool of vomit, left behind by a woman accompanying the Australian Ashes team – when so many enthusiasts waited over half a century to set eyes on a stamp which they must have begun to doubt ever existed. The stamp ...


Christopher Ricks, 22 November 1990

Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications 
edited by Adrian Room.
Bloomsbury, 354 pp., £17.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0521 7
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Unauthorised Versions: Poems and their Parodies 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 446 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14122 6
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The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 407 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 14470 5
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... True, no. Room goes in for a lot of roguish commenting but not for annotation when it is needed. James McConnell, The Benedictine Commando, 1981 – For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night. Room: ‘The dedication suggests a quotation.’ And that’s true too. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, actually. An editor ought to rise to an occasional ...

How to Serve Coffee

Rory Stewart: Aleppan Manners, 16 February 2017

Aleppo Observed: Ottoman Syria through the Eyes of Two Scottish Doctors, Alexander and Patrick Russell 
by Maurits H. van den Boogert.
Arcadian Library, 254 pp., £120, September 2015, 978 0 19 958856 5
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... the self-regarding swagger of a militia officer stationed in an English provincial town. In 1816, James Silk Buckingham (a future MP) devotes the first few thousand words of his account to the complaint that he has not been treated as a gentleman by the English consul. In 1850, another naval tourist and future MP jokes about being ‘unable to procure ...

Why Do the Tories Always Have the Luck?

Peter Clarke, 23 February 1995

Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900 
edited by Anthony Seldon and Stuart Ball.
Oxford, 842 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 19 820238 5
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... of the Parliamentary party. Richard Kelly usefully distils his work on the party conference and James Kellas is able to deploy his wide knowledge of Scottish politics to chart the Conservatives’ failure north of the border. Richard Cockett draws on his earlier research on the party and the media in one essay, and on his recent book on right-wing ...

The Departed Spirit

Tom Nairn, 30 October 1997

... of the institution. After September, can there be any doubt at all? There are still trusties like Vernon Bogdanor and Clive James who feel that ‘we’ cannot live without the institution, and hence – since this institution is unavoidably genetic – without the well-meaning Charles as a bridge to a brighter future in ...

Under the Brush

Peter Campbell: Ingres-flesh, 4 March 1999

Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch 
edited by Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee.
Abrams, 500 pp., £55, January 1999, 0 300 08653 9
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Velázquez: The Technique of Genius 
by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido.
Yale, 213 pp., £29.95, November 1998, 0 300 07293 7
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... persons inside me, the good and the evil, and the evil usually overcame the good’) and Baronne James de Rothschild, who surprises you by her modern face, handsome, but also intelligent and amusing. In their own terms, these are almost faultless. Ingres's portrait of the Comtess de Tournon, 1812 Portraiture is an anxious craft, however, and Ingres was ...

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