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Dennis Nilsen, or the Pot of Basil

John Ryle, 21 February 1985

Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen 
by Brian Masters.
Cape, 352 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 0 224 02184 2
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Queens 
by Pickles.
Quartet, 289 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7043 2439 3
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Ritualised Homosexuality in Melanesia 
edited by Gilbert Herdt.
California, 409 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 520 05037 1
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... sex and death to deliver him and them into such a mess of evil. In Killing for Company Brian Masters attempts, with the active participation of his subject, to explain how a person like Nilsen came to be; how his necrophiliac fantasies invaded real life; how, in Masters’s words, it is possible to wake up in the ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig, 20 December 1984

The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... Like most biographers, Anthony Masters starts by announcing his subject’s date of birth; unlike most biographers, he gets it wrong. Charles Henry Maxwell Knight was born on 9 July 1900, not 4 September, under the sign of Cancer, not Virgo, however tempting it may be, for reasons which become clear in the course of the story, to assign him to the latter ...

In one era and out the other

John North, 7 April 1994

Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History of Classical Scholarship. Vol II: Historical Chronology 
by Anthony Grafton.
Oxford, 766 pp., £65, December 1993, 0 19 920601 5
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... When Swift, in his Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding, insisted that fiddlers, dancing-masters, heralds and masters of the ceremony were greater pedants ‘than Lipsius, or the elder Scaliger’, there must have been readers who asked themselves whether he wasn’t confusing Julius Caesar Scaliger, one of the ...

Diary

John Bayley: On V.S. Pritchett, the Man of Letters, 30 January 1992

... of assuming an audience ‘both universal and homogeneous’. The pamphlet was quoted recently by John Gross in an afterword to a new edition of his book The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters.* Gross assumed a combative stance, calling his piece ‘the man of letters in a closed shop’, and speaking of the ‘cold horror’ that filled him when he ...

Pffwungg

John Bayley, 19 January 1989

The Amis Anthology 
edited by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 360 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 09 173525 4
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The Chatto Book of Nonsense Verse 
edited by Hugh Haughton.
Chatto, 530 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 7011 3105 5
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... has immediate vocal authority. It makes us attend. In a rather memorable and haunting poem, ‘The Masters’, Kingsley Amis stressed the point, substituting other activities for the poetic one, but really talking about the nature of the poem itself. That horse whose rider fears to jump will fall, Riflemen miss if orders sound unsure; They only are secure who ...
From Author to Reader: A Social Study of Books 
by Peter Mann.
Routledge, 189 pp., £8.95, October 1982, 0 7100 9089 7
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David Copperfield 
by Charles Dickens, edited by Nina Burgis.
Oxford, 781 pp., £40, March 1981, 0 19 812492 9
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Martin Chuzzlewit 
by Charles Dickens, edited by Margaret Cardwell.
Oxford, 923 pp., £45, December 1982, 0 19 812488 0
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Books and their Readers in 18th-Century England 
edited by Isabel Rivers.
Leicester University Press, 267 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 7185 1189 1
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Mumby’s Publishing and Bookselling in the 20th Century 
by Ian Norrie.
Bell and Hyman, 253 pp., £12.95, October 1982, 0 7135 1341 1
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Reading Relations 
by Bernard Sharratt.
Harvester, 350 pp., £18.95, February 1982, 0 7108 0059 2
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... to the German Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens. Nor does Britain have an equivalent to John Tebbel’s multivolume history of American publishing. The student of the subject in this country (particularly if he is interested in contemporary matters) will find himself dredging through the pages of more or less hagiographic ‘house histories’ and ...

John Homer’s Odyssey

Claude Rawson, 9 January 1992

Customs in Common 
by E.P. Thompson.
Merlin, 547 pp., £25, October 1991, 0 85036 411 6
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... on as they do, ‘the Poor will be Rulers over the Rich, and the Servants be Governours of their Masters; the Plebij have almost mobb’d the Patricij … in a word, Order is inverted, Subordination ceases, and the World seems to stand with the Bottom upward.’ Defoe’s words, as well as his title, show that apocalyptic visions of a world turned upside ...

Brute Nature

Rosemary Dinnage, 6 March 1997

Masters of Bedlam: The Transformation of the Mad-Doctoring Trade 
by Andrew Scull, Charlotte Mackenzie and Nicholas Hervey.
Princeton, 363 pp., £23, February 1997, 0 691 03411 7
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... oldest lunatic asylum; his portrait of the alienist Sir Alexander Morison stares from the cover of Masters of Bedlam, gauntly silhouetted against a mottled sky. He seems to be looking at something he finds hard to bear. The brief biographies of 19th-century alienists through which Andrew Scull, Charlotte MacKenzie and Nicholas Hervey tell the story of the ...

Chronicle of an Epidemic

John Ryle, 19 May 1988

And the band played on: Politics, People and the Aids Epidemic 
by Randy Shilts.
Viking, 630 pp., £15.95, March 1988, 0 670 82270 1
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Crisis: Heterosexual Behaviour in the Age of Aids 
by William Masters, Virginia Johnson and Robert Kilodny.
Weidenfeld, 243 pp., £9.95, March 1988, 0 297 79392 6
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The Forbidden Zone 
by Michael Lesy.
Deutsch, 250 pp., £11.95, February 1988, 0 233 98203 5
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... tenor of social life has radically altered. Actual behavioural change is more difficult to assess. Masters and Johnson and their colleague Robert Kolodny argue in Crisis that sexual behaviour in the United States among both homosexuals and heterosexuals has not yet altered enough to make a significant difference. In addition to the time-lapse between infection ...

Our Guy

John Barnie: Blair’s Style, 20 January 2011

... for blokes of whom he approves. Bill Clinton is ‘a great guy’, as is the Taoiseach John Bruton. Andrew Smith is ‘a nice guy’, and so is Guy Verhofstadt; Andrew Adonis is ‘a thoroughly nice guy’. John Hutton is also ‘a thoroughly nice guy’, while the footmen at Balmoral are ‘very nice ...

Southern Discomfort

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 8 June 1995

The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism 
by Eugene Genovese.
Harvard, 138 pp., £17.95, October 1994, 0 674 82527 6
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... the writings of an unlikely set of predecessors: Edmund Burke, the eccentric Jeffersonians John Taylor of Caroline and John Randolph of Roanoke, Old School Presbyterian defenders of slavery, T.S. Eliot, Karl Marx, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, the Nashville Agrarians and their latterday apostles, Richard Weaver and ...

Diary

John Naughton: On the Future of the BBC, 17 December 1992

... not to say that there haven’t been tensions in the relationship between the Corporation and its masters. Ever since Harold Wilson’s time the notion that the BBC was conspiring to undermine the government has been received wisdom in 10 Downing Street. Mrs Thatcher’s hostility to the Corporation was unremitting and one of her advisers recently revealed ...

Jesus Christie

Richard Wollheim, 3 October 1985

J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher 
by Donald Lindsay, Roger Young and Hugh Lloyd-Jones.
Plume, 211 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 947656 00 6
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... has eluded them, and its subject is one of the four or five people who stick in my gullet. John Traill Christie was my headmaster for just over four years. I never knew him well, though I have had to think about him a lot. For a brief period I must have occupied his thoughts because he spent about a term and a half, which coincided with some of ...

At the V&A

Rosemary Hill: Constable , 23 October 2014

... that the sketches had a ‘force of sensation’, but found the finished oils a ‘bore’. John Berger took the opposite view, that the completed works were rich in brilliant light effects, but the sketches were weakened by vague Romanticism. More recent left-wing critiques, especially since John Barrell’s The Dark ...

Heroes of Our Time

Karl Miller, 19 May 1988

The Monument 
by T. Behrens.
Cape, 258 pp., £11.95, May 1988, 0 224 02510 4
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The Passion of John Aspinall 
by Brian Masters.
Cape, 360 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 224 02353 5
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... a touch of Lucanian zombiness in The Monument, and the peer himself takes part in The Passion of John Aspinall. Patrician insolence has quite often appeared to express a perception of the activities of the levelling Labour governments which have come and gone since 1945. But there’s more of that in the second of the books than there is in the ...

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