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Illusionists

Norman Hampson, 20 August 1992

Diderot: A Critical Biography 
by P.N. Furbank.
Secker, 524 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 436 16853 7
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This is not a Story and Other Stories 
by Denis Diderot, translated by P.N. Furbank.
Missouri, 166 pp., £22, December 1991, 0 8262 0815 0
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Diderot: Political Writings 
edited by John HopeMason and Robert Wokler.
Cambridge, 225 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 521 36044 7
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... here. Anyone whose acquaintance with him was confined to the material made available to us in Mason and Wokler’s Political Writings could he pardoned for thinking his reputation a confidence trick played on posterity. In his supplement to Bougainville’s voyage he treats Tahiti as a kind of natural society, not merely managing without intellectual ...

Wordsworth and the Well-Hidden Corpse

Marilyn Butler, 6 August 1992

The Lyrical Ballads: Longman Annotated Texts 
edited by Michael Mason.
Longman, 419 pp., £29.99, April 1992, 0 582 03302 0
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Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Literary Possession 
by Susan Eilenberg.
Oxford, 278 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 19 506856 4
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The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries 
by Nicholas Roe.
Macmillan, 186 pp., £35, April 1992, 0 333 52314 8
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... The best-known publication date in English literature,’ says Michael Mason of 1798. But the terse, intelligent Introduction to his new edition of the Lyrical Ballads seems out to disperse the sense of unique significance sticking to the year. Mason points out that the original version of 1798, which was anonymous, caught on less well than the second (1800), twice as long, and firmly attributed to Wordsworth alone ...

Body Parts

Lawrence Stone, 24 November 1994

The Making of Victorian Sexuality 
by Michael Mason.
Oxford, 338 pp., £17.95, April 1994, 0 19 812247 0
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The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes 
by Michael Mason.
Oxford, 256 pp., £17.99, October 1994, 0 19 812292 6
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... Behn, Defoe, Fielding or Smollett, while Dickens ignored the subject of sex altogether. Michael Mason’s main problem is to determine how prudery affected behaviour. Was it merely a veneer of hypocrisy, covering up a very different sexual reality? Were there fewer, and less enjoyable, sexual acts inside and outside marriage? Wild figures once circulated ...

Flirting

P.N. Furbank, 18 November 1982

The English World: History, Character and People 
edited by Robert Blake.
Thames and Hudson, 268 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 500 25083 9
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The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal 
by Philip Mason.
Deutsch, 240 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 9780233974897
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... downwards.’ The profound patriotism of Shelley and Byron, the inability to think logically of John Stuart Mill and Cardinal Newman and Lewis Carroll? No, it won’t do, and Orwell, for once, was talking through his hat – perhaps relaxing in what he considered an ‘English’ manner. It really seems, then, not quite proper that distinguished experts ...

Plummeting Deep into Cold Pop

Zachary Leader: Colson Whitehead, 13 December 2001

John Henry Days 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fourth Estate, 389 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 84115 569 1
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... Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer and more ambitious than The Intuitionist, and the suggestion in its title ...

Prize Poems

Donald Davie, 1 July 1982

Arvon Foundation Poetry Competion: 1980 Anthology 
by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.
Kilnhurst Publishing Company, 173 pp., £3, April 1982, 9780950807805
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Burn this 
by Tom Disch.
Hutchinson, 63 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 0 09 146960 0
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... North Uist’, and Keith Bosley’s ‘Corolla’; Aidan Carl Mathews’s ‘Severances’, and John Levett’s ‘The Photographs of Paris’. The first two are longish, the others shorter. The only one that won a prize – and that the smallest, £100 – is ‘Corolla’, a sequence of nine exactly rhymed and metred sonnets, culminating in a stunning ...

Slapping the Clammy Flab

John Lanchester: Hannibal by Thomas Harris, 29 July 1999

Hannibal 
by Thomas Harris.
Heinemann, 496 pp., £16.99, June 1999, 0 434 00940 7
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... better footage from their news helicopter. A shoot-out takes place in which Clarice’s friend John Brigham (who has, by the way, coached her to three successive interservice combat pistol championships) is killed, as is one of the two BATF agents who are anti-realistically called Burke and Hare. Clarice kills five baddies, including Evelda Drumgo ...

Hoist that dollymop’s sail

John Sutherland: New Victorian Novels, 31 October 2002

Fingersmith 
by Sarah Waters.
Virago, 549 pp., £12.99, February 2002, 1 86049 882 5
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The Crimson Petal and the White 
by Michel Faber.
Canongate, 838 pp., £17.99, October 2002, 1 84195 323 7
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... and was filmed as a lush Gainsborough melodrama in 1944, launching the careers of James Mason (the villainous Lord Manderstoke) and Stewart Granger (heroic Harry). The Balliol-educated son of an Oxford don, Sadleir was a publisher with Constable and eventually ran the firm. He was also the greatest Victorian bibliophile of his generation and his ...

Enemies of All Mankind

Stephen Sedley: Pirates, 24 June 2010

The Treatment of Prisoners under International Law 
by Nigel Rodley, with Matt Pollard.
Oxford, 697 pp., £85, August 2009, 978 0 19 921507 2
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The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 295 pp., £21.95, November 2009, 978 1 890951 94 8
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The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates 
by Peter Leeson.
Princeton, 271 pp., £16.95, May 2009, 978 0 691 13747 6
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... he is guilty of a crime known to the law. Captured guerrillas may have little ultimately to hope for, but they are entitled not to be summarily executed or tortured or held indefinitely without trial. The Bush administration after 9/11 set out to change all that. With the designation of unlawful combatant it created a self-sustaining doctrine that there ...

Showing the sights

D.J. Enright, 15 August 1991

The New Oxford Book of 16th-Century Verse 
edited by Emrys Jones.
Oxford, 809 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 19 214126 0
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... because it flatters us. I recall somebody claiming that our literary judgments are sounder than Johnson’s because we know much more than he did; while there are certainly moments when we need to defend ourselves against that massive presence, we ought to be able to do so without preening ourselves or knocking the Doctor. It flatters us, it licenses us to ...

Boomster and the Quack

Stefan Collini: How to Get on in the Literary World, 2 November 2006

Writers, Readers and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain 1870-1918 
by Philip Waller.
Oxford, 1181 pp., £85, April 2006, 0 19 820677 1
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... Hugh Benson, Laurence Binyon, Robert Bridges, Hall Caine, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Maurice Hewlett, Anthony Hope, W.J. Locke, E.V. Lucas, J.W. Mackail, John Masefield, A.E.W. Mason, Gilbert Murray, Henry ...

Former Lovers

Michael Mason, 6 September 1984

The Bourgeois Experience. Victoria to Freud Vol. I: Education of the Senses 
by Peter Gay.
Oxford, 608 pp., £18.50, March 1984, 0 19 503352 3
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Austin and Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd 
by Polly Longsworth.
Farrar, Straus, 449 pp., £18.50, September 1984, 0 374 10716 5
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The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds 
edited by Phyllis Grosskurth.
Hutchinson, 319 pp., £14.95, May 1984, 0 09 154170 0
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... to disregard overt positions and look instead for the unspoken context. At the same time, we can hope to notice features of a writer’s thought which lie even deeper, below the level of his or her tendentious consciousness, and are fundamental assumptions of the sexual culture. The range of texts which may have a tendentious element is wide. Professor Gay ...

Poor George

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 7 March 1991

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power 
by Daniel Yergin.
Simon and Schuster, 877 pp., £20, January 1991, 0 671 50248 4
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... On 3 April 1986, at his filling-station in north Dallas, Billy Jack Mason was protesting about the fall in the price of oil. Cars came from as far as Waco, and by breakfast, the queue was six miles long. He was offering unleaded at zero cents a gallon. Reporters sought Billy’s opinion on the future. ‘That’s overseas ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... partly for formal experimentation whose work Wolff did include (among them Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Mary Robison) did not, in the stories Wolff selected, engage with the question of how a story convinces us of its reality. This is not to say that the stories Wolff selected were not interesting stories. Rather, it became abundantly clear that he had ...

He fights with flashing weapons

Katherine Rundell: Thomas Wyatt, 6 December 2012

Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest 
by Susan Brigden.
Faber, 714 pp., £30, September 2012, 978 0 571 23584 1
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Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy 
by Nicola Shulman.
Short Books, 378 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 1 906021 11 5
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... wit nor Wyatt himself can change the mind of Henry VIII. ‘My head sticks’: that is both a hope and a horror, in that botched beheadings were not uncommon. Thomas Cromwell’s was particularly crude and butcherly. The Tower of London has been partially reconstructed since that day in 1536, and we cannot be sure if Wyatt literally saw Anne’s beheading ...

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