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Neal Ascherson

17 November 1983
The Story of the ‘Times’ 
by Oliver Woods and James Bishop.
Joseph, 392 pp., £14.95, October 1983, 0 7181 1462 0
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Good Times, Bad Times 
by Harold Evans.
Weidenfeld, 430 pp., £11.95, October 1983, 0 297 78295 9
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... one eye – as Harry Evans noticed in his final days of struggle to stay above the surface – much redder than the other, and contemplates his next meal. The quotations are from the Woods and Bishop Story of the ‘Times’, which, though commissioned by Sir Denis Hamilton, is not an ‘official’ history. With such an apologia for the status quo, who needs one? And, in a way, one sees what ...

One Enormous Room

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Council of Trent

9 May 2013
Trent: What Happened at the Council 
by John O’Malley.
Harvard, 335 pp., £20, January 2013, 978 0 674 06697 7
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... ever shall be’ seemed to be true of them. But one enormous room had made a world of difference to the medieval Western Church of the Latin Rite, not least that section which remained loyal to the bishop of Rome. John O’Malley illustrates the room in his superb new history of the Council of Trent: the nave of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Trent, a bishopric in the foothills of the Dolomites ...

A United Caribbean

C.L.R. James

6 September 1984
Grenada: Revolution, Invasion and Aftermath 
by Hugh O’Shaughnessy.
Hamish Hamilton, 258 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 241 11290 7
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Grenada: Revolution and Invasion 
by Anthony Payne, Paul Sutton and Tony Thorndike.
Croom Helm, 233 pp., £17.95, May 1984, 0 7099 2080 6
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... their boats. Their island came into the news when there was a revolt some years ago against a half-savage local tyrant (who had been knighted by the Queen). A new regime was established under Maurice Bishop, who had received a good education abroad and who was (in words, at any rate) socialistically-inclined. Later there was a revolt in Bishop’s party, the New Jewel Movement, and Bishop was killed by ...

At St Peter’s

Colm Tóibín: The Dangers of a Priestly Education

1 December 2005
The Ferns Report 
by Francis Murphy, Helen Buckley and Laraine Joyce.
Government Publications, 271 pp., €6, October 2005, 0 7557 7299 7
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... implications of that. Nothing ever happened. The dormitory was overseen by a seminarian whom I liked and respected. He was fair-minded and decent. Through him, I got to know another seminarian called James Doyle. He would stop and talk if we met in the corridor, even though fraternisation between seminarians and lay students was frowned on. He had many opinions and enjoyed gossip and had a habit of ...

Short Cuts

Adam Shatz: The Short Career of Amy Bishop

11 March 2010
... When Amy Bishop was hired by the University of Alabama in Huntsville seven years ago, she appeared to have everything going for her: she was young, Harvard-trained, passionate about her field, a mother of four. But ...

Rigging and Bending

Simon Adams: James​ VI & I

9 October 2003
The Cradle King: A Life of James​ VI & I 
by Alan Stewart.
Chatto, 438 pp., £20, February 2003, 0 7011 6984 2
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... Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587. English observers, anxious about James VI of Scotland’s reaction to his mother’s execution, were alarmed to discover that the greatest of the Scottish Catholic peers, George Gordon, Sixth Earl of Huntly, was rapidly becoming his chief ...

Mostly Middle

Michael Hofmann: Elizabeth Bishop

8 September 2011
Poems 
by Elizabeth Bishop.
Chatto, 352 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 7011 8628 9
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... It is John Ashbery who takes the cake – in this case, the triple-decker cake with the solitary little sugar bride on top – for his description of Elizabeth Bishop: she is ‘the poets’ poets’ poet’. It sounds farcical, but it’s strictly true, and there’s as little getting round it as there is improving on it. As I begin, therefore, I feel stirrings ...

Gobsmacked

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare

16 July 1998
Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in Renaissance English Poetry 
by James​ Biester.
Cornell, 226 pp., £31.50, May 1997, 0 8014 3313 4
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Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvellous 
by Peter Platt.
Nebraska, 271 pp., £42.75, January 1998, 0 8032 3714 6
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Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder 
by T.G. Bishop.
Cambridge, 222 pp., £32.50, January 1996, 0 521 55086 6
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The Genius of Shakespeare 
by Jonathan Bate.
Picador, 386 pp., £20, September 1997, 0 330 35317 9
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... Shakespeare criticism begins with wonder, and that it should have returned there in these millennial times ought not to surprise us. This batch of studies finds, in the USA, Peter Plan and T.G. Bishop combing the plays for miracles and James Biester finding the key to Renaissance courtly poetry in its strategies for eliciting astonishment. Back home, Jonathan Bate is gobsmacked by the sheer Genius ...

Lying doggo

Christopher Reid

14 June 1990
Becoming a poet 
by David Kalstone, edited by Robert Hemenway.
Hogarth, 299 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7012 0900 3
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... Among her admirers, who tend to be wholehearted and fervent, the feeling is that Elizabeth Bishop has not yet received anything like her critical due. Things are improving – in the United States more rapidly than over here, where admission to the Pantheon seems as slow and grudging a process ...

Awful but Cheerful

Gillian White: The Tentativeness of Elizabeth Bishop

25 May 2006
Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments 
by Elizabeth Bishop, edited by Alice Quinn.
Farrar, Straus, 367 pp., £22.50, March 2006, 0 374 14645 4
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... In 1940, after she’d gained the admiration of Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams, and had had nearly thirty of her poems published in literary journals or book collections, Elizabeth Bishop, then 28, admitted in a letter to Moore: ‘I scarcely know why I persist at all. It is really fantastic to place so much on the fact that I have written a half-dozen phrases that I can still bear to ...

Praise Yah

Eliot Weinberger: The Psalms

24 January 2008
The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary 
by Robert Alter.
Norton, 518 pp., £22, October 2007, 978 0 393 06226 7
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... the heavens declare the glory of god; go down to the sea in ships; at their wits’ end; the valley of the shadow of death; make a joyful noise; go from strength to strength . . . The 1611 King James Authorised Version of the Book of Psalms – and of course of the entire Bible – is so deep in the English language that we no longer know when we are repeating its phrases. Inextricable from the ...
22 August 1996
Selected Poems 
by James​ Merrill.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £9.95, April 1996, 1 85754 228 2
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... That the English have been slow to recognise James Merrill as the best poet in the language after Elizabeth Bishop has long seemed strange to Americans. Come to think of it, British recognition of Bishop herself was belated; for decades she was upstaged by Robert Lowell, probably because he lived in England and behaved in a way that seemed more certifiably poetic. Now Merrill is available to the ...

Follow-the-Leader

Colm Tóibín: Bishop​ v. Lowell

14 May 2009
Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop​ and Robert Lowell 
edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 875 pp., £40, November 2008, 978 0 571 24308 2
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... Robert Lowell wrote the poem ‘Water’ about being on the coast of Maine in the summer of 1948 with Elizabeth Bishop; he put it first in his collection For the Union Dead, which he published in 1964. He sent Bishop a draft of the poem in March 1962, explaining that it was ‘more romantic and grey than the whole ...

The South

Colm Tóibín

4 August 1994
One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... The city was full of desire. It was hot. I stayed for a while in a narrow street near the Flamingo Park and went out some days to swim at Copacabana. It was that time between the death of Elizabeth Bishop and the appearance of the first biography and this volume of letters, when the ordinary reader on this side of the Atlantic knew very little about her. I did not know that for 15 years she stayed in ...

Good Manners

Craig Raine

17 May 1984
The Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop 
edited by Robert Giroux.
Chatto, 278 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2809 7
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... Elizabeth Bishop was refined. Manners interested her, as The Collected Prose makes clear. She can remember learning ‘how to behave in school’ with more recall than most people: ‘this meant to sit up straight ...

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