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John Bayley writes about Graham Greene

John Bayley, 25 April 1991

... Survivor, soldier of fortune, a tough mercenary who would be on hand in any campaign and whose washed-out pale-blue eyes might stare out with equal pugnacity and distaste from under a bowler, a bush hat or a steel helmet – that is the kind of image the old pro projected and presented. A 17th-century poet, writing an epitaph, would have given us a conceit about death being glad to have got him at last ...

Ode to a Private Convenience

John Bayley, 3 June 1982

... In hospital it’s earlier than you think. All day the daylight lighting lights the day That five times brings by trolley a hot drink, Bovril, Nescafé, Ovaltine, or tea. The nurses’ busy heels don’t tap but squish; The nurses wheedle, pummel, scream, and lay A sort of sealed-up dish Five times or so a day the beds beside: Uncouth but shapely, made from rhino hide (Or so it looks ...

Gladys whispered

John Bayley, 6 December 1990

The Billiard Table Murders 
by Glen Baxter.
Bloomsbury, 248 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 9780747507499
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... Two cowboys in slouch hats and part of a (presumable) horse. ‘To me the window is still a symbolically loaded motif,’ drawled Cody. We are in Glen Baxter country, where the weekend shopping is done by electric launch through swamps full of piranha, and a very Thirties young man with brilliantined hair takes his beloved in his arms and gently squeezes her goatee ...

Decorations and Contingencies

John Bayley, 16 September 1982

Pea Soup 
by Christopher Reid.
Oxford, 65 pp., £4.50, September 1982, 0 19 211952 4
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... to ornament with appropriate curlicues the exposition of order and harmony in a poem like Sir John Davies’s Orchestra. In what might be called the new decorated style, or modern Elizabethan, the decoration has become an end in itself, serving only to embellish the sense of time passing, water dripping, bells ringing, clothes flying on the line. There is ...
Darkness Visible 
by William Golding.
Faber, 256 pp., £4.95, January 1979, 0 571 11646 9
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... metaphysical, not homespun enough. Richard Hughes was one of our most effective local magicians; John Fowles has become one; William Golding has had the status a long time. His new novel confirms him as a master craftsman in his particular sort of magic. It is beautifully constructed, it grips the reader – so much so that its effectiveness gives it the ...

Complaining about reviews

John Bayley, 23 May 1985

Mrs Henderson, and Other Stories 
by Francis Wyndham.
Cape, 160 pp., £8.50, April 1985, 0 224 02306 3
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... Few things are easier to recognise or harder to define than the way humour works in art. It is only incidentally to do with making us laugh. Being funny is a methodical process and a localising one, whereas humour, like genius, is non-specific and seems inadvertent. It produces not laughter but delight – ‘aesthetic bliss’, as Nabokov called it ...

Inside Out

John Bayley, 4 September 1980

The Collected Ewart 1933-1980 
by Gavin Ewart.
Hutchinson, 412 pp., £10, June 1980, 0 09 141000 2
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Selected Poems and Prose 
by Michael Roberts, edited by Frederick Grubb.
Carcanet, 205 pp., £7.95, June 1980, 0 85635 263 2
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... Towards the end of Gavin Ewart’s delightful and comfortable volume there is a poem called ‘It’s hard to dislike Ewart’. Too true, as Clive James or Peter Porter might say, possibly with a certain wry exasperation. Generally speaking, our fondness and admiration for poets does go with a potential of patronage or dislike, a pleasure in our sense of the absurdities and vulnerabilities of their worlds – Keats blushing to the ears as he writes raptly about womens’ waists; Eliot going on about his delicate apprehension of time and God, not hoping to turn again, and so forth ...

Hottentot in Jackboots

John Bayley: The Cockney School, 10 June 1999

Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School 
by Jeffrey Cox.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £37.50, January 1999, 0 521 63100 9
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... in the Suburbs’,* the genius of this style of gardening was the great horticulturalist John Claudius Loudoun (a road in St John’s Wood is named after him), who in 1838 published his Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion. Loudoun’s idea was the ‘gardenesque’, and his rhetorical style, very much in the mode ...

Strange Things

John Bayley: The letters of Indian soldiers, 2 September 1999

Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters 1914-18 
edited by David Omissi.
Macmillan, 416 pp., £17.50, April 1999, 0 333 75144 2
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... From the recollections of the Roman centurion who tells his story to the children in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, we learn that a Libyan cohort, the Thirds, were stationed as part of the garrison on Hadrian’s Wall, and that when crisis comes and the ships of the Winged Hats attack out of the north, these troops were faithful and resolute: they ‘stood up in their padded cuirasses and did not whimper ...

The Last Cigarette

John Bayley, 27 July 1989

Memoir of Italo Svevo 
by Livia Veneziani Svevo, translated by Isabel Quigly.
Libris, 178 pp., £17.95, April 1989, 1 870352 40 8
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... In the context of modern culture ‘ordinary people’ are not seen as individuals but as representative embodiments of the right sort of social attitudes. Modernism also saw them in the mass, and disliked or ignored it: D.H. Lawrence, like Wyndham Lewis, made a principle out of such generalised contempt. As an ordinary person one would perhaps rather be despised by Modernism than recruited into the socialist pantheon, for there are at least two great writers, usually counted as Modernists, in whose work ordinariness achieves a highly individual and idiosyncratic literary status – James Joyce and Italo Svevo ...

Let the cork out

John Bayley, 26 October 1989

Foucault’s Pendulum 
by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 641 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 0 436 14096 9
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The Open Work 
by Umberto Eco, translated by Anna Cancogni.
Radius, 285 pp., £9.95, October 1989, 0 09 175896 3
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... Stendhal, or Lieutenant Henri Beyle, as he then was, irritated his shivering companions round the campfire on the retreat from Moscow by chuckling aloud over a tattered copy of Voltaire’s Diatribe of Dr Akakia. But laughing at human folly is more often a comfortable activity reserved for the study and the reading-room. At one moment in Foucault’s Pendulum someone snaps his fingers excitedly and says: ‘It’s obvious ...

Hustling off the Crockery

John Bayley: Kipling’s history of the Great War., 4 June 1998

The Irish Guards in the Great War: The First Battalion 
by Rudyard Kipling.
Spellmount, 320 pp., £24.95, January 1997, 1 873376 72 3
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The Irish Guards in the Great War: The Second Battalion 
by Rudyard Kipling.
Spellmount, 223 pp., £24.95, January 1998, 1 873376 83 9
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... Guards in the Great War. He was shaken and humbled, as the British Empire was to be. When his son John, aged barely 17, was rejected by the Navy because of poor eyesight, he wanted to go off and enlist in the ranks, but his father used his friendship with Lord Roberts to get him a commission in the Irish Guards. He disappeared the following year in the Battle ...

Quod erat Hepburn

John Bayley, 3 April 1986

Katharine Hepburn: A Biography 
by Anne Edwards.
Hodder, 395 pp., £12.95, March 1986, 0 340 33719 2
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... to marry her, including Leland Hayward, the agent and producer, and she had been nearly raped by John Barrymore, according to whom she had backed away against the wall of his dressing-room stammering: ‘No, no, my father doesn’t want me to have babies.’ Her mother, after all, apart from her social grandeur, was a serious and distinguished pioneer in the ...

In praise of Brigid Brophy

John Bayley, 5 March 1987

Baroque ’n’ Roll 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 172 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 241 12037 3
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... Dickens – who can tell what the unconscious of that great novelist may have got up to? – made John Jasper more in love with Edwin than he is with Rosa. I also much enjoyed the essay on Lady Morgan, known as ‘Glorvina’ and author of The Wild Irish Girl (the title is ironic – the girl was an animated and cultivated bluestocking), and its guess that ...

The Last Georgian

John Bayley, 13 June 1991

Edmund Blunden: A Biography 
by Barry Webb.
Yale, 360 pp., £18.50, December 1990, 0 300 04634 0
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... gloves, which were unsporting. No gesture was involved, but a certain amount of quiet conviction. John Betjeman and Joan Hunter-Dunn would have approved: indeed Betjeman was a great admirer of Blunden’s poetry. His English Poems ‘was the first book by a living poet I remember saving up to buy. I learned many of his poems by heart and can still recite them ...

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