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Adam to Zeus

Colin Burrow: John Banville, 11 March 2010

The Infinities 
by John Banville.
Picador, 300 pp., £7.99, March 2010, 978 0 330 45025 6
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... There’s a revealing slip near the start of John Banville’s new novel. Ursula Godley, whose husband lies dying upstairs, reflects on her son and daughter: ‘These are the creatures she carried inside her and gave birth to and fed from her own breast, phoenix-like.’ A phoenix can never feed its young because there is only ever one of it at a time ...

Slice of Life

Colin Burrow: Robin Robertson, 30 August 2018

The Long Take 
by Robin Robertson.
Picador, 256 pp., £14.99, February 2018, 978 1 5098 4688 7
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... myths, and is temperamentally a northern island or isthmus dweller. In that respect he’s like John Burnside, to whom he dedicated his best poem so far, ‘At Roane Head’ (LRB, 14 August 2008), in which there is not just a selkie at the bottom of the garden but there might be a selkie in the bedroom that could cuckold you, or make you kill your children ...

Halifax hots up

Colin Burrow: Writing (and reading) charitably, 21 October 2004

Havoc, in Its Third Year 
by Ronan Bennett.
Bloomsbury, 244 pp., £16.99, September 2004, 0 7475 6249 0
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... Halifax, a parish which from 1593 to 1623 was presided over by a hotly Protestant vicar called John Favour (who figures in the novel, although the historical person was dead by the decade in which it is set). Favour made detailed notes in the parish register about the whoring and adultery of his parishioners, and wrote an anti-Catholic polemic of the most ...

In Shanghai

John-Paul Stonard: The West Bund Museum, 20 February 2020

... building, more like transport infrastructure than museum architecture. Its vast galleries burrow underground, a cavernous parking lot for Chinese art. The newest addition, the West Bund Museum, opened in November. For the next five years it will show changing displays from the collection of the Centre Pompidou, arranged around three ...

No Way Out

Colin Burrow: John McGahern, 20 October 2005

Memoir 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 272 pp., £16.99, September 2005, 0 571 22810 0
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... John McGahern is an extraordinary writer of charm and violence. His most recent novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002), has a looseness and a gaiety which it took him nearly seventy years to allow himself. His earlier work marked him as one of the great writers of claustrophobia. His novels tend to evoke small places – single houses or tiny communities – and to crush into those places a set of family and moral ties that make them feel even smaller and tighter ...

A Pickwick among Poets, Exiled in the Fatherland of Pickled Fish

Colin Burrow: British Latin verse, 19 August 1999

The English Horace: Anthony Alsop and the Traditions of British Latin Verse 
by D.K. Money.
Oxford, 406 pp., £38, December 1998, 0 19 726184 1
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... Lost by William Hogg, the versions of Spenser’s Shepeardes Calender by Theodore Bathurst and John Dove (both of which experiment vigorously with Latin metrical form), the stately Latin transformation of Absalom and Achitophel by Francis Atterbury. David Money’s learned book seeks to rescue one exponent of this cliqueish art-form from the dust-heap. His ...

Imparadised

Colin Burrow: Cultivation and desire in Renaissance gardens, 19 February 2004

Green Desire: Imagining Early Modern English Gardens 
by Rebecca Bushnell.
Cornell, 198 pp., £18.95, August 2003, 0 8014 4143 9
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... products of nature rather than art. Artifice was often required to create these sensual paradises: John Evelyn, at the end of the 17th century, describes how to make what he calls a ‘Phonotactic Cylinder, or giant musical box’, which used water to produce sounds similar to birdsong (the alternative was to have an aviary). The synaesthetic delights of ...

Moments

Marilyn Butler, 2 September 1982

The New Pelican Guide to English Literature. Vol. I: Medieval Literature Part One: Chaucer and the Alliterative Tradition, Vol. II: The Age of Shakespeare, Vol. III: From Donne to Marvell, Vol. IV: From Dryden to Johnson 
edited by Boris Ford.
Penguin, 647 pp., £2.95, March 1982, 0 14 022264 2
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Medieval Writers and their Work: Middle English Literature and its Background 
by J.A. Burrow.
Oxford, 148 pp., £9.95, May 1982, 0 19 289122 7
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Contemporary Writers Series: Saul Bellow, Joe Orton, John Fowles, Kurt Vonnegut, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Pynchon 
by Malcolm Bradbury, C.W.E. Bigsby, Peter Conradi, Jerome Klinkowitz and Blake Morrison.
Methuen, 110 pp., £1.95, May 1982, 0 416 31650 6
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... Harding, L.G. Salingar, Peter Ure, Ian Watt, J.C. Maxwell, L.C. Knights, D.J. Enright, Roy Strong, John Broadbent, Arthur Humphreys, Philip Collins, Pat Rogers, D.W. Jefferson and John Preston. What is disturbing is that everyone made his reputation elsewhere, often in the format which is properly Leavisian, the ...

Recribrations

Colin Burrow: John Donne in Performance, 5 October 2006

Donne: The Reformed Soul 
by John Stubbs.
Viking, 565 pp., £25, August 2006, 0 670 91510 6
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... and finding one’s balance, and then wondering if one has really grasped the thing after all. John Donne’s poems in particular are extremely unstable. Critics have often got into a sweat about the way that they argue implausible cases, and very often, too, things happen in the course of them which make it quite clear that while the speaker is busily ...

Tuesday Girl

Colin Burrow: Seraphick Love, 6 March 2003

Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin 
by Frances Harris.
Oxford, 330 pp., £25, January 2003, 0 19 925257 2
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... John Evelyn was a dry old stick – and here that metaphor has an almost literal force, since his first and greatest love was for trees. In Fumifugium (1661) he argued that smoky workshops should be banished from London, and that the environs of the city should be planted with ‘such Shrubs, as yield the most fragrant and odoriferous Flowers’ to sweeten its stench ...

Brattishness

Colin Burrow: Henry Howard, 11 November 1999

Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life 
by W.A. Sessions.
Oxford, 448 pp., £60, March 1999, 9780198186243
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... who also had royal blood. Surrey was unimaginably grand, but was also not unjustly described by John Barlowe, Dean of Westbury as ‘the most foolish proud boy that is in England’. His actions often tread the dividing line between brattishness and defiant aristocratic singularity. In March 1543 he was hauled up before the Privy Council for having eaten ...

A Joke Too Far

Colin Burrow: My Favourite Elizabethan, 22 August 2002

Sir John Harington and the Book as Gift 
by Jason Scott-Warren.
Oxford, 273 pp., £45, August 2001, 0 19 924445 6
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... cold seat in the privy, then they ought to be profoundly grateful to Elizabeth I’s godson Sir John Harington, who in his extraordinary pamphlet The Metamorphosis of Ajax (or ‘A Jakes’ – get it?) invented the flushing water closet. The s-bend was beyond Harington’s technological reach (his privy discharged via a valve directly into a vault ...

Then place my purboil’d Head upon a Stake

Colin Burrow: British and Irish poetry, 7 January 1999

Poetry and Revolution: An Anthology of British and Irish Verse 1625-1660 
edited by Peter Davidson.
Oxford, 716 pp., £75, July 1998, 0 19 818441 7
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... to give a canonical stamp to work which was more appropriately read within a manuscript culture. John Suckling’s Fragmenta Aurea appeared in 1646, four years after the poet’s death, probably by suicide, in France. Its printer places poems to the King at the start of the volume in order to make it look like a piece of aggressive nostalgia from a dead and ...

Time to Mount Spain

Colin Burrow: Prince Charles’s Spanish Adventure, 2 September 2004

The Prince and the Infanta: The Cultural Politics of the Spanish Match 
by Glyn Redworth.
Yale, 200 pp., £25, November 2003, 0 300 10198 8
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... of Buckingham, set off for Madrid incognito. They wore false beards, and they called themselves John and Thomas Smith. Their mission was to win the hand of the sister of the king of Spain, the Infanta María. The courtly duo were not well suited to a life in mufti. The only coins they carried were of a suspiciously large denomination. A ferryman to whom ...

Oxford University’s Long Haul

Sheldon Rothblatt, 21 January 1988

The History of the University of Oxford. Vol. I: The Early Oxford Schools 
edited by J.I. Catto.
Oxford, 684 pp., £55, June 1984, 0 19 951011 3
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The History of the University of Oxford. Vol. III: The Collegiate University 
edited by James McConia.
Oxford, 775 pp., £60, July 1986, 9780199510139
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The History of the University of Oxford. Vol. V: The 18th Century 
edited by L.S. Sutherland and L.G. Mitchell.
Oxford, 949 pp., £75, July 1986, 0 19 951011 3
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Learning and a Liberal Education: The Study of History in the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, 1880-1914 
by Peter Slee.
Manchester, 181 pp., £25, November 1986, 9780719018961
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... teaching and writing of history in English education in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. John Burrow, Reba Softer, Doris Goldstein, Donald Winch, Stefan Collini, Dwight Culler, Deborah Wormell and Rosemary Jann among others have written on one or another dimension. As a secondary but related argument, Slee says that scholars have tended to use ...

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