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Funny Mummy

E.S. Turner

2 December 1982
The Penguin Stephen Leacock 
by Robertson Davies.
Penguin, 527 pp., £2.95, October 1981, 0 14 005890 7
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Jerome K.JeromeA Critical Biography 
by Joseph Connolly.
Orbis, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85613 349 3
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Three Men in a Boat 
by Jerome K.Jerome, annotated and introduced by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green.
Joseph, 192 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 907516 08 4
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The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert 
edited by Peter Haining.
Robson, 255 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 86051 200 2
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... Stephen Leacock, the English-born, Canadian-reared humorist, has a single entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: ‘Lord Ronald ... flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions’ (1911). Innumerable speakers, writers and politicians have helped themselves to this very serviceable joke; Leacock himself, writing in old age, used it without acknowledgment to illustrate a scientific disquisition ...
2 September 1982
... has exploded a series of volumes unprecedented in the history of world Communism, more remarkable and much more revealing than Khrushchev’s Memoirs. Over several thousand pages, the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha, vents his undying rage against ‘revisionism’, his wilfully blind adoration of Stalin, his fierce ...
24 April 1997
The Bicycle 
by Pryor Dodge.
Flammarion, 224 pp., £35, May 1996, 2 08 013551 1
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... There is not much left that cannot be done on two wheels. On the last page of this opulent book is a photograph of the Young Theatre of Riga performing Brecht’s Fear and Misery in the Third Reich on bicycles. We are not told what the critics said about this event. Was it an experience to lift the soul on wings, a mind-blowing epiphany? Or was it in the same class as a file of messenger boys delivering pizzas on unicycles? The author, Pryor Dodge, withholds his own opinion ...

Broken Knowledge

Frank  Kermode

4 August 1983
The Oxford Book of Aphorisms 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 383 pp., £9.50, March 1983, 0 19 214111 2
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The Travellers’ Dictionary of Quotation: Who said what about where? 
edited by Peter Yapp.
Routledge, 1022 pp., £24.95, April 1983, 0 7100 0992 5
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... with the distinction between two sorts of philosophy, which he calls ‘systematic’ and (I think infelicitously) ‘edifying’. The first sticks to the central epistemological tradition, which assumes that it can deal systematically and progressively with reality; the second is essentially of the periphery, and its ...

Uses for Horsehair

David Blackbourn

9 February 1995
Duelling: The Cult of Honour in Fin-de-Siècle Germany 
by Kevin McAleer.
Princeton, 268 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 691 03462 1
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... did it. In 19th-century Europe practically everyone was doing it, except the English. We are talking about fighting duels. The subject has recently attracted some fine historians. In 1988, Victor Kiernan published The Duel in European History, a thoughtful account that drew mainly on British and French evidence from the ...

One Chapter More

Leah Price: Ectoplasm

6 July 2000
Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle 
by Daniel Stashower.
Penguin, 472 pp., £18.99, February 2000, 0 7139 9373 1
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... Club in London has been required to forswear ‘Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo and Jiggery-Pokery’ along with ‘Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors and Chinamen’. Conan Doyle himself never did. In 1917, with a lacklustre medical career and three decades of best-selling Sherlock Holmes ...

Blowing Cigarette Smoke at Greenfly

E.S. Turner: The Beastliness of Saki

24 August 2000
The Unrest-Cure and Other Beastly Tales 
by Saki.
Prion, 297 pp., £8.99, May 2000, 9781853753701
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... Will Self would have us believe that a volume of Saki’s stories, chosen from eight miles of second-hand books in a New York store, saved his life. That, he says in his introduction to this collection, should not be confused with changing his life ...

Heart and Hoof

Marjorie Garber: Seabiscuit

4 October 2001
Seabiscuit: The Making of a Legend 
by Laura Hillenbrand.
Fourth Estate, 399 pp., £16.99, May 2001, 1 84115 091 6
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... a child’s toy, rough-hewn in the shape of a horse, is remembered through a grown-up’s joke about its pedigree: ‘Travesty, by Irish Peasant, out of Bog Oak.’ Seabiscuit, the hero of Laura Hillenbrand’s celebrity biography, was by Hard Tack out of Swing On, and had a brother ...

Utopia Limited

David Cannadine

15 July 1982
Fabianism and Culture: A Study in British Socialism and the Arts, 1884-1918 
by Ian Britain.
Cambridge, 344 pp., £19.50, June 1982, 0 521 23563 4
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The Elmhirsts of Dartington: The Creation of an Utopian Community 
by Michael Young.
Routledge, 381 pp., £15, June 1982, 9780710090515
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... The Road to Utopia was trodden by many star-struck pilgrims before Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour made their celluloid expedition there in the 1940s. Sir Thomas More, who first wrote of the place, lost his head completely, for non-Utopian reasons, and since then a succession of charismatic cranks, frenzied philosophers and visionary vegetarians have aspired to realise heaven upon earth while more usually anticipating hell ...

My Books

Ian Patterson

4 July 2019
... I’ve always needed​ to have books around me, quantities of them, ever since I can remember. There may be something pathological about it. When I was a boy, the eldest child of literate but not bibliophile parents, in a big enough house in suburban Cheshire, most of my pocket money went on books – Billy Bunter, Jennings, William, War Picture Library, Biggles, Arthur Ransome, bird books ...

Opus Operandi

Ciaran Carson

27 May 1993
... were Billy. Today’s lesson was the concept ‘Orange’. They parsed it into segments: some were kith, And some were kin. They spat out the pips and learned to peel the pith. Then the deep grammar of the handshake, the shibboleths of aitch and haitch: It’s a bit li...
8 March 2018
... A couple​ of weeks ago, the pope described ‘fake news’ as being like the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis. ‘The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies”,’ he said in a statement aimed at both Trump and the purveyors of social media, ‘is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments ...

Things I Said No To

Michael Wood: Italo Calvino

17 April 2003
Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings 
by Italo Calvino.
Cape, 255 pp., £16.99, January 2003, 0 224 06132 1
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... flattens out the visible differences. If it wasn’t for the lion who traditionally accompanies St Jerome, Italo Calvino suggests in The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1973), you could hardly tell him from St Augustine. Both saints are often pictured as writers, and ‘a man at a des...

It looks nothing like me

Adam Smyth: Dürer

5 July 2018
Albrecht Dürer: Documentary Biography 
by Jeffrey Ashcroft.
Yale, 1216 pp., £95, January 2017, 978 0 300 21084 2
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... In​ the late summer or autumn of 1505, Albrecht Dürer travelled on horseback from Nuremberg to Venice. According to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550), Dürer was looking to settle a score with Italian painters who were using his monogram on counterfeit prints, but it seems just as likely he wanted to soak up as much as he could from Italian art, and to promote his name and reputation ...

An English Vice

Bernard Bergonzi

21 February 1985
The Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse since 1800 
by Jerome Hamilton Buckley.
Harvard, 191 pp., £12.75, April 1984, 0 674 91330 2
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The Art of Autobiography in 19th and 20th-Century England 
by A.O.J. Cockshut.
Yale, 222 pp., £10.95, September 1984, 0 300 03235 8
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... But most readers remain very attached to selves, their own and other people’s, and like reading about them in biographies and autobiographies. Such books are evidently popular with publishers, and accounts of them regularly fill the review columns of the Sunday papers. But the idea of the self may be less ...

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