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Shorn and Slathered

Christine Smallwood: ‘Reynard the Fox’

5 November 2015
Reynard the Fox: A New Translation 
by James Simpson.
Liveright, 256 pp., £16.99, March 2015, 978 0 87140 736 8
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... works of chivalric literature or religious piety, but he probably found room for the rather nasty Reynard because he thought it would sell. It did: there were 23 editions between 1481 and 1700. Now JamesSimpson, a medievalist at Harvard, has translated Caxton’s History of Reynard the Fox into colloquial modern English. The book opens with the lion, the king of the beasts, calling the animals to ...
7 February 1980
The Windsor Story 
by J. Bryan and Charles Murphy.
Granada, 602 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 246 11323 5
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... but unfortunately with much literary ignorance. They confuse two very different masters – Lewis Carroll with Edward Lear – and ascribe that ridiculous but famous play What Every Woman Knows to James Bourke! On the credit side, they show real understanding of the man’s character, especially in his later years, and commendably recognise one of the finest deeds of his life, and one of the worst ...

Warfield

José Harris

24 July 1986
Wallis and Edward: Letters 1931-1937 
edited by Michael Bloch.
Weidenfeld, 308 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 297 78804 3
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Rat Week: An Essay on the Abdication 
by Osbert Sitwell.
Joseph, 78 pp., £7.95, May 1986, 0 7181 1859 6
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... exemplified by Sickert’s dazzling portrait painted, at the time of his accession, for the Welsh Guards. And, after a due lapse of time, nothing will stay historical novelists from elevating Wallis Simpson, née Warfield, to the fictional pantheon of romantic heroines. Like the tale of Tristan and Isolde, the shabby details of the Abdication may one day attract the magical and distilling art of some ...

Cartwheels over Broken Glass

Andrew O’Hagan: Worshipping Morrissey

4 March 2004
Saint Morrissey 
by Mark Simpson.
SAF, 224 pp., £16.99, December 2003, 0 946719 65 9
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The Smiths: Songs that Saved Your Life 
by Simon Goddard.
Reynolds/Hearn, 272 pp., £14.99, December 2002, 1 903111 47 1
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... divorced from Morrissey’s mother when the singer was 17 and was later rumoured to ring radio stations insisting on his estranged son’s Irishness. Morrissey was a lovelorn fan of Oscar Wilde and James Dean, Elsie Tanner and the New York Dolls, and he appears to have made something of an art out of moping around the house in a melancholy, jobless, big-cardiganed way, dreaming of a wonderful romance ...

Wrong Kind of Noise

Marina Warner: Silence is Best

19 December 2013
Silence: A Christian History 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 337 pp., £20, April 2013, 978 1 84614 426 4
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... conformism’ itself) as the champion of individual conscience against the dogmatic and centralised power of the papacy. It does tally, however, with the equally unexpected argument put forward by JamesSimpson that the vernacular printed Bible imposed uniformity on the faithful to a degree never achieved by medieval Catholic worship, with its heterogeneous local shrines and feast days, miracle ...

Reading the Signs

Peter Campbell: London Lettering

12 December 2002
... inscriptions, literally embedded in the façades, are among architecture’s most fragile elements. The fire station owes the preservation of its lettering to the vigilance of a printing historian, James Mosley, and an architectural historian, Andrew Saint; and to the fact that the building is still a fire station. When the clothing store Simpson of Piccadilly became a Waterstone’s bookshop a more ...
17 September 1987
Bernard Berenson. Vol. II: The Making of a Legend 
by Ernest Samuels.
Harvard, 680 pp., £19.95, May 1987, 0 674 06779 7
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The Partnership: The Secret Association of Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen 
by Colin Simpson.
Bodley Head, 323 pp., £15, April 1987, 9780370305851
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... passed ... in a dizzying but pleasurable succession of meetings with his circle of intimates – Walter Berry, Paul Bourget, Abbé Mugnier, Ralph and Lisa Curtis, Madame de Cossé-Brissac, Rosa Fitz-James (“the best hostess I have ever known”), and Philomène de Lévis-Mirepoix – all members of the fashionable upper crust of cosmopolitan Paris.’ Was there no one among all these fascinating ...

Soft Spur

A.W.B. Simpson

3 February 1983
What next in the Law 
by Lord Denning.
Butterworth, 352 pp., £9.95, July 1982, 0 406 17602 7
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... for striking brevity risks utter absurdity. The weird 11-line discussion of Watergate asserts that the principles applied by the US Supreme Court were those applied by Jacobean English Judges to James I – a novel interpretation indeed of English history and American constitutional law. Plainly, Lord Denning’s tongue is often in his cheek, and I suspect his aim is to tease and provoke, so that ...

Beautiful People

Jonathan Coe

23 July 1992
Brightness Falls 
by Jay McInerney.
Bloomsbury, 416 pp., £15.99, May 1992, 0 7475 1152 7
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The Lost Father 
by Mona Simpson.
Faber, 506 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 571 16149 9
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Out with the Stars 
by James​ Purdy.
Peter Owen, 192 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 0 7206 0861 9
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... to the voices of their authors. The physical weight of these books, then, announces their literary weightiness, but this creates formal problems for both writers. Although by the end of Mona Simpson’s novel we are in no doubt as to the seriousness of her themes or her genuine gift for plot, a huge amount of the surface texture of her book is taken up with the kind of homespun detail and ...

A Tentative Idea for a Lamp

Tim Radford: Thomas Edison

18 March 1999
Edison: A Life of Invention 
by Paul Israel.
Wiley, 552 pp., £19.50, November 1998, 0 471 52942 7
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... fixed in the cultural map of ‘then’. He was born in the year of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, the year Balzac wrote Cousin Pons, Verdi wrote Macbeth, Berlioz composed The Damnation of Faust, JamesSimpson first successfully used chloroform, the German Gustav Kirchhoff spelled out the laws of electric currents in a network of wires and Carl Zeiss opened an optics factory in Jena, Switzerland ...

Airy-Fairy

Conor Gearty: Blunkett’s Folly

29 November 2001
Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention 
by A.W.B. Simpson.
Oxford, 1176 pp., £40, June 2001, 0 19 826289 2
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... In 1920 our ‘Mad Mullah’ was Mullah Yussuf Dua Mohammed. Ensconced in British Somaliland, he and his dervishes were the subject of repeated air attacks by an RAF unit. As A.W.B. Simpson writes in one of the early chapters of this sprawling, monumental and sometimes magnificent book, Z Unit was responsible for bombing ‘Medishi Jidali, where there was a fort, and for machine-gun ...

Poor Stephen

James​ Fox

23 July 1987
An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen Ward 
by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy.
Cape, 268 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 224 02347 0
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Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward 
by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 297 79122 2
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... In a recent letter to the Times, Lords Hailsham, Drogheda, Carrington, Goodman and Weinstock, and Messrs Roy Jenkins and James Prior, said they felt it was a good time, in view of the new publicity about the Ward case, to place on record their sense of admiration for the dignity and courage displayed by Mr and Mrs John ...

Lucky’s Dip

James​ Fox

12 November 1987
Trail of Havoc: In the Steps of Lord Lucan 
by Patrick Marnham.
Viking, 204 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 670 81391 5
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Lucan: Not Guilty 
by Sally Moore.
Sidgwick, 271 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 9780283995361
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... Newhaven, and parked his car in that street, which is more than the Police knew at the time. For that reason, I’m sure he met his death, one way or another, by water. I talked about this to Keith Simpson, the Home Office pathologist, who was convinced that Lucan had walked into the sea – a very common form of suicide, according to Simpson. In Newhaven harbour, Simpson told me – and also below the ...

Pseudo-Travellers

Ian Gilmour and David Gilmour

7 February 1985
From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict 
by Joan Peters.
Joseph, 601 pp., £15, February 1985, 0 7181 2528 2
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... quoted to show that ‘whole [Jewish] “village communities of Galilee survived” the Crusaders, but his discovery that there were only 1,440 Jews in all of Palestine is not mentioned. The Reverend James Parkes is cited many times, but his evidence that the Jewish population of Jerusalem was less than a thousand in 1827, or that it formed only a third of its inhabitants by mid-century, is left out ...

Things the King Liked to Hear

Blair Worden: Donne and Milton’s Prose

18 June 2014
Sermons of John Donne Vol. III: Sermons Preached at the Court of Charles I 
edited by David Colclough.
Oxford, 521 pp., £125, November 2013, 978 0 19 956548 1
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Complete Works of John Milton Vol. VI: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings 
edited by N.H. Keeble and Nicholas McDowell.
Oxford, 811 pp., £125, December 2013, 978 0 19 921805 9
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... courtier who hunted office with the kind of avidity his early satires had mocked in others, and who turned to the church only as the next best thing. It seems to have been at the behest of King James I, who valued the theological learning in which Donne was proficient, that he opted for ordination. Certainly the decision was in keeping with the spirit of a royal entourage where scholarly divinity ...

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