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At Tate Britain

Rosemary Hill: ‘Ruin Lust’, 3 April 2014

... Abbey has the crisp immediacy of a stage set while in the hands of Samuel Prout it is cosily brown and crumbly, accoutred with cows. Cotman’s Crowland hangs in watery mist. Like Turner in his detail of a massive Norman column from Holy Island suspended in a tiny sketch, Cotman could conjure up the poignant synecdoche of mighty fragments imbued as much ...

Can’t hear, speak up!

Joanna Biggs: 'I'm a narcissist and so is Ben Lerner', 5 December 2019

The Topeka School 
by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 304 pp., £16.99, November 2019, 978 1 78378 572 8
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... and The Topeka School, Lerner the writer – born in Topeka, school debating champion, graduate of Brown, Fulbright fellow in Madrid, now poet and novelist, resident in Brooklyn and married with two girls – has received a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant; when early copies of The Topeka School arrived in London and New York, I heard ...

Fellow Freaks

Sam Thompson: Wells Tower, 9 July 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned 
by Wells Tower.
Granta, 238 pp., £10.99, April 2009, 978 1 84708 048 6
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... title suggests, they are prone to destructive acts. The protagonist of the opening story, ‘The Brown Coast’, is typical in that he has inflicted violence on his own life: after losing his job through incompetence, his inheritance due to rear-ending an attorney, and his wife by having an affair, Bob is in exile, doing odd jobs at his uncle’s beach ...

At the David Parr House

Eleanor Birne: There are two histories here, 7 November 2019

... of stained glass above the front door lets in some light, but it’s quickly absorbed by the brown-painted wood on the walls. Step into the drawing room, however, and you’re suddenly, implausibly surrounded by decoration and colour. Pale green stalks, leaves, tulip buds and flowers are intertwined on the walls and there’s a narrow frieze just below ...

Diary

John Bayley: Serious Novels, 10 November 1994

... boat, the Ardent Spirit. When James gently but none the less patronisingly dismissed Jane Austen as ‘knowing no more of her process than the brown bird that sings on the orchard bough’, he forgot or ignored the fact that a highly skilled and instinctive artist may know very little about how his task came to ...

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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... sister and sister, brother and sister, husband and wife – would make better illustrations to Jane Austen (providing you blot out the occasional scrap of Roman scenery) than the English fashion-plates publishers tend nowadays to turn up. The young people in them look, on the whole, to be lively and agreeable, if sometimes also a bit wet or pompous. And he ...

Manila Manifesto

James Fenton, 18 May 1989

... suit He’s a cruising bruiser with a shooter and a cute little Twin blade Sin trade In a Blue brown New Town. It’s the same hand on the windpipe! It’s the same sand in the windsock! It’s the same brand on the handbag! It’s the same gland in the handjob! The room is black. The knuckles crack. The blind masseuse walks up your back. The saxophone is ...

No Fear of Fanny

Marilyn Butler, 20 November 1980

Fanny 
by Erica Jong.
Granada, 496 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 246 11427 4
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The Heroine’s Text 
by Nancy Miller.
Columbia, 185 pp., £10, July 1980, 0 231 04910 2
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... personage have presumably made substantial sums with their pedestrian efforts to complete two of Jane Austen’s unfinished novels, Sanditon and The Watsons. Georgette Heyer, imitating no one in particular, for years kept a faithful following with a series of indistinguishable novels in which very similar characters postured against the romantic backdrop of ...

Georgie came, Harry went

Frank Kermode, 25 April 1991

A Passionate Apprentice. The Early Journals of Virginia Woolf, 1897-1909 
edited by Mitchell Leaska.
Hogarth, 444 pp., £25, October 1990, 0 7012 0845 7
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A Very Close Conspiracy: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf 
by Jane Dunn.
Cape, 338 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 224 02234 2
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... as when Florence, seen from San Miniato, is said to look like ‘a great basket of white & brown eggs’. Already, then, in spite of bereavements, breakdowns, and, if you compare it with what was available to contemporary men of her class, a relative constriction of life, she had educated herself as a writer; prepared to become a great one: which is ...

Censorship

John Bayley, 7 August 1986

No, I’m not afraid 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by David McDuff.
Bloodaxe, 142 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 906427 95 9
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Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time 
by Martin Gilbert.
Macmillan, 467 pp., £14.95, April 1986, 0 333 39504 2
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The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History 
by Jane Ellis.
Croom Helm, 531 pp., £27.50, April 1986, 0 7099 1567 5
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... One of the most striking things is the way in which religious imagery – ‘the bitter face of a brown icon/And the solid murmur of a thousand swords’ – enters the poems without seeming to be summoned or made use of, and almost against the conscious will of the poet. It is as if in this predicament, and with a poet’s talent, she cannot help but see ...

She’s a tiger-cat!

Miranda Seymour: Birds’ claw omelettes with Vernon Lee, 22 January 2004

Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography 
by Vineta Colby.
Virginia, 387 pp., £32.50, May 2003, 0 8139 2158 9
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... rewarding than Fielding (largely on moral grounds), Maria Edgeworth to write more enjoyably than Jane Austen, Villette to be superior to Jane Eyre, and a certain Mrs Jenkin to be a finer writer by far, in the realistic mode, than George Eliot. (Mrs Jenkin was a close friend of the Ruffinis.) At 15, Vernon Lee was already ...

Costume Codes

David Trotter, 12 January 1995

Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism and the Edwardian Novel 
by Jane Eldridge Miller.
Virago, 241 pp., £15.99, October 1994, 1 85381 830 5
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... Virginia Woolf’s. 1924 was the year of Woolf’s ground-breaking essay on ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, which urges the development of new narrative techniques and criticises Arnold Bennett and other Edwardian novelists for doing exactly what Hall does throughout The Unlit Lamp: deduce identity from a description of environment and appearance. Literary ...

I’ll be back

Marjorie Garber: Sequels, 19 August 1999

Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel 
edited by Paul Budra and Betty Schellenberg.
Toronto, 217 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 8020 0915 8
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... would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of her people,’ Jane Austen’s nephew wrote in his Memoir of his aunt. In this traditionary way we learned that Miss Steele never succeeded in catching the Doctor; that Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher ...

Dentists? No Way

Naoise Dolan, 7 January 2021

As You Were 
by Elaine Feeney.
Harvill Secker, 392 pp., £14.99, August 2020, 978 1 78730 163 4
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... magazine and rosary beads close at hand, visited by everyone except her wayward husband; and Jane Lohan, who has no visitors at all, though she comes from a large family. The patients on the Ward have no privacy, for ‘the engineering of the human body is not, sadly, inclined to modesty during illness’. Sinéad might be running from her own body, but ...

Love the eater

Deborah Friedell: Lionel Shriver, 20 June 2013

Big Brother 
by Lionel Shriver.
HarperCollins, 373 pp., £16.99, May 2013, 978 0 00 727109 2
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... make up their minds about them: Emma Bovary’s eyes are black in one chapter, in other chapters brown or blue. Lionel Shriver rarely lingers over physical descriptions, with one great exception: she’s highly conscious of how much her characters weigh. Her most famous novel, We Need to Talk about Kevin, is arranged as a series of letters written by the ...

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