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Samuel Johnson goes abroad

Claude Rawson, 29 August 1991

A Voyage to Abyssinia 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Joel Gold.
Yale, 350 pp., £39.50, July 1985, 0 300 03003 7
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Rasselas, and Other Tales 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Gwin Kolb.
Yale, 290 pp., £24.50, March 1991, 0 300 04451 8
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A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) 
by Samuel Johnson.
Longman, 1160 pp., £195, September 1990, 0 582 07380 4
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The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary, 1746-1773 
by Allen Reddick.
Cambridge, 249 pp., £30, October 1990, 0 521 36160 5
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Samuel Johnson’s Attitude to the Arts 
by Morris Brownell.
Oxford, 195 pp., £30, March 1989, 0 19 812956 4
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Johnson’s Shakespeare 
by G.F. Parker.
Oxford, 204 pp., £25, April 1989, 0 19 812974 2
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... first book, A Voyage to Abyssinia (1735), an excellent and little-noticed edition of which, by Joel Gold, appeared in 1985. They come at the conclusion of a distressing episode in which an ‘old Mahometan troublemaker, ‘the master of our camels’, is caught stealing some tent cords. When the travellers seek to retrieve them, he and the other ...


Thomas Healy, 11 February 1993

Living Dangerously: Young Offenders in their Own Words 
by Roger Graef.
HarperCollins, 262 pp., £14.99, January 1993, 0 00 215967 8
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... chores on board a ship. Graef makes a meal out of this trip to Belgium and France. The story of Joel, a drug offender, somehow brings in the tale of the ship’s captain – a bearded cynic in his mid-forties who has done time for fraud – and you’re left wondering what is what. The basic problem with Living Dangerously is the impression it gives that ...

Painting the map red

William Boyd, 5 September 1985

The Randlords: The Men who made South Africa 
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
Weidenfeld, 314 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 297 78437 4
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... The story of the South African gold and diamond fields and of the men who rose to wealth and notoriety as a result of their exploitation has stimulated writers since the 1870s, when diamonds were first discovered. And yet amongst the millions of words there are curious lacunae, particularly in the area of biography ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘No Country for Old Men’, 21 February 2008

No Country for Old Men 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
January 2008
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... Joel and Ethan Coen often look like moviemakers in search of a movie; as if their perfect film were waiting for them out there and they had to do something while they were looking for it. What else could have driven them to their 2004 remake of the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers? Even if Tom Hanks is funnier in that film than our idea of Tom Hanks ought to allow, he’s not Alec Guinness ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Moonlight’, 16 February 2017

directed by Barry Jenkins.
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... so obvious what the characters are thinking that they might as well be shouting. As in the Billy Joel song they are sharing a drink they call loneliness but it’s better than drinking alone. The first person we see in the film talks a bit but we learn far more from what we see of him and around him. He’s a drug dealer checking in with one of his boys on ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘True Grit’, 3 February 2011

True Grit 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... Cogburn into a genial version of a grizzled movie star acting tough while showing his heart of gold. Wayne got an Oscar for this performance, although ‘performance’ perhaps isn’t quite the word. Seen again now, the film doesn’t seem as bad as I remembered it being, and it has touches of genuine darkness. The hanging scene taken from the novel is ...


Michael Rogin, 5 September 1996

Imagineering Atlanta 
by Charles Rutheiser.
Verso, 324 pp., £44.95, July 1996, 1 85984 800 1
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... Dennis Mitchell after winning a 100-metres heat and Michael Johnson after taking the 200-metre gold – puffed out their chests and pulled their jerseys to display the national emblem. Only Americans accused an Irish swimmer of using drugs when she won the Olympic gold. Only an eliminated American boxer, Fernando ...

Brand New Day

Niela Orr: ‘The Wiz’ and the Prez, 18 March 2021

... allegory of the populist movement of the late 19th century, which wanted to use silver as well as gold to back the dollar, thus increasing the money supply. The resulting inflation would put ‘free silver’ in the hands of the ‘common man’, like the Dakota farmer. In this reading, Dorothy represents the Kansas agronomists, while her silver shoes (they ...

Bon Garçon

David Coward: La Fontaine’s fables, 7 February 2002

Complete Tales in Verse 
by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Guido Waldman.
Carcanet, 334 pp., £14.95, October 2000, 9781857544824
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The Fables of La Fontaine: Wisdom Brought down to Earth 
by Andrew Calder.
Droz, 234 pp., £36.95, September 2001, 2 600 00464 5
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The Craft of La Fontaine 
by Maya Slater.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 255 pp., $43.50, May 2001, 0 8386 3920 8
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... his best suit, he mislays the new poem he is to present to the King, carelessly leaves a purse of gold in a cab and has to be reminded that the strange young man who speaks to him is his son. Dumas père gave him a walk-on part in the final episode of his Musketeer saga and turned him into a twittering buffoon. For Barbey d’Aurevilley, he was ‘an amoral ...

Scarsdale Romance

Anita Brookner, 6 May 1982

Mrs Harris 
by Diana Trilling.
Hamish Hamilton, 341 pp., £8.95, May 1982, 0 241 10822 5
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... presence to their lover by printing greetings in the New York Times, presenting him with engraved gold cufflinks, or, as Mrs Harris did, writing droll verses congratulating him on the long list of his conquests. They would be forced into these strategems because their telephone calls to Dr Tarnower, which were numerous and very frequent, were not always well ...

Frognal Days

Zachary Leader: Files on the Fifties, 4 June 1998

Previous Convictions: A Journey Through the Fifties 
by Nora Sayre.
Rutgers, 464 pp., £27.95, April 1997, 0 8135 2231 5
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... S.J. Perelman, the writer Edward Paramore, a popular ladies’ man, hooked what Sayre’s father, Joel, described to her in a letter as an ‘eerie Will-Beebish object’, purplish and fronded. Perelman identified it as ‘a marine vulva’. As for the ‘athletic, activist’ drinking that went on in such circles (with its concomitant scorn for ‘thimble ...

Dining Room Radicals

Rosemary Hill, 7 April 2022

Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age 
by Daisy Hay.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, April, 978 1 78474 018 4
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... atlas in which the Land of Matrimony lies at the centre and has both a Slave Coast and a Gold Coast. Surrounded by an Ocean of Love, it can only be reached from Singletown in Friesland by way of many hazards and even when it is gained, there is a clear view of the offshore island of Divorce. Johnson stood by his female authors, or ‘literary ...

Good Fibs

Andrew O’Hagan: Truman Capote, 2 April 1998

Truman Capote: In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career 
by George Plimpton.
Picador, 498 pp., £20, February 1998, 0 330 36871 0
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... die; two-headed babies are shown in jars by the men of the travelling fair. The 13-year-old boy Joel is called back to an old house – where his dying, bedridden father throws red tennis balls down the stairs to attract attention – and becomes involved with his cousin, Randolph, a wasted aesthete of no fixed accent and fathomless disappointments. It is ...

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