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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 ...
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). Too curious ...
7 May 1987
The Order of Battle at Trafalgar, and other essays 
by John Bayley.
Collins Harvill, 224 pp., £12, April 1987, 0 00 272848 6
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... was understood to be palpable stuff which it was the duty of learning to shift methodically from one location (a database, a book, the brain of a teacher) to another. Reading English at Oxford with JohnBayley had been more like learning to build boats on the river Xingu. There was no obvious method in the way JohnBayley taught, and no manipulation. I suspect that being a teacher did not interest ...

Never further than Dinner or Tea

Alexander Nehamas: Iris Murdoch

4 March 1999
Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch 
by John Bayley.
Duckworth, 189 pp., £16.95, September 1998, 0 7156 2848 8
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... stopped. To a friend’s question about her writing, she replied that she felt she was ‘sailing into the darkness’. Then the disease deprived her of the ordinary abilities to function on her own. JohnBayley, who had been married to her for more than forty years, had to dress and undress her, feed her and bathe her, reassure her and watch over her constantly to make sure she came to no harm. In ...

Distant Sheep

Penelope Fitzgerald

21 July 1994
Alice 
by John Bayley.
Duckworth, 192 pp., £14.99, May 1994, 0 7156 2618 3
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... JohnBayley’s new novel is largely about those who are had on, or taken in, and this may well include his readers, who need to keep their wits about them. To begin with, he conjures up a couple of innocents ...

Theatre-proof

Anne Barton

2 July 1981
Othello as Tragedy 
by Jane Adamson.
Cambridge, 301 pp., £15, October 1980, 0 521 22368 7
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Shakespeare and Tragedy 
by John Bayley.
Routledge, 228 pp., £9.75, April 1981, 0 7100 0632 2
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... Twenty-one years ago, in The Characters of Love, JohnBayley suggested that ‘there is a sense in which the highest compliment we can pay to Shakespeare is to discuss his great plays as if they were also great novels.’ At that time, Othello seemed to him ...

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. Romance in the Baxter context is ...
16 September 1982
Pea Soup 
by Christopher Reid.
Oxford, 65 pp., £4.50, September 1982, 0 19 211952 4
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... poetry traditionally has a purpose: to embellish the story of the Faerie Queene or of Venus and Adonis, 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 ...

Puffed Wheat

James Wood: How serious is John​ Bayley?

20 October 2005
The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 
by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey.
Duckworth, 677 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 7156 3312 0
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... In their very different ways, the three most prominent Oxford professors of English since the war have all been populist pretenders. John Carey, scourge of Modernist ‘intellectuals’ and reliable dribbler of cold water on all forms of overheated aestheticism, comes across as the last defender of sensible English decency. Terry ...
25 October 1979
Darkness Visible 
by William Golding.
Faber, 256 pp., £4.95, January 1979, 0 571 11646 9
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... more worldly, more pretentious – and the German-style version of Hesse or Grass is too instinctively 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 ...
9 July 1992
Housman’s Poems 
by John Bayley.
Oxford, 202 pp., £25, April 1992, 0 19 811763 9
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... with other scholars, in trenchant notes, rather than fighting over girls or serving the Queen as a soldier for thirteen pence a day. Yet there is an unmistakable authenticity about Housman’s work. JohnBayley starts his explorations by emphasising Housman’s pessimism, and this is not a mere set of ideas: it had grown from a personal disappointment deep into the roots of his mind. The Martyrdom of ...

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 ...

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 ...
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. It is a species of revelation, which includes self-revelation ...

Our Founder

John Bayley: Papa Joyce

19 February 1998
John​ Stanislaus Joyce: The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father 
by John​ Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello.
Fourth Estate, 493 pp., £20, October 1997, 1 85702 417 6
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... the Nineties. Paradoxically, it is not composed but spoken. The voice that echoes through it, the voices rather, and the tones, are those of the old artificer, the father of the tribe, Simon Dedalus, John Stanislaus Joyce. Like the violins of Cremona, Dubliners, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake are the products of a joint concern, a family undertaking. Joyce himself was frank about this. As long as he had ...

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