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Under-Labourer

John Mullan

19 September 1996
The Correspondence of Thomas Warton 
edited by David Fairer.
Georgia, 775 pp., $85, September 1995, 9780820315010
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... always intrigued to pursue an allusion, Warton is both Malone’s éminence grise and his unpaid research assistant. A typical letter from Malone asks where he might find a particular prologue by Sir John Denham, wonders whether Warton has come across any mention of ‘Marocco’ (a famous acrobatic horse exhibited around Europe in the 1590s), enquires about any use of ‘the pun on Ajax and A-jakes ...

Female Heads

John​ Bayley

27 October 1988
Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... And it is ironic that Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, themselves ignoring predecessors like Fanny Burney and Jane Austen, should have taken their feminine image from Richardson-Clarissa. As JohnMullan shows in his useful and scholarly book, the early prestige of Richardson went underground, his ‘fairer and better sex’ taking on its vulgar Victorian form, but also appearing metamorphosed ...

Catching the Prester John​ Bug

John Mullan: Umberto Eco

8 May 2003
Baudolino 
by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 522 pp., £18, October 2002, 0 436 27603 8
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... Somewhere in the skirts of the fabled land of Prester John, late in the 12th century, Baudolino, the protagonist of Umberto Eco’s latest novel, encounters a pygmy. He discovers that ‘the greeting to exchange with him was Lumus kelmin pesso desmar lon ...

Unhoused

Terry Eagleton: Anonymity

22 May 2008
Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature 
by John Mullan.
Faber, 374 pp., £17.99, January 2008, 978 0 571 19514 5
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... as they came to be read in as yet unforeseeable situations. He thought much the same about history in general. The past itself is alterable, since the future casts it in a new light. Whether John Milton belonged to a species which ended up destroying itself is up to us and our progeny. The future possibilities of Hamlet are part of the play’s meaning, even though they may never be realised ...

Freak Anatomist

John Mullan: Hilary Mantel

1 October 1998
The Giant, O'Brien 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 211 pp., £14.99, September 1998, 1 85702 884 8
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... In the Council Room of the Royal College of Surgeons hangs the portrait by Joshua Reynolds of the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. It has been much darkened by the bitumen content of Reynolds’s paint, and restoration work in the Fifties has not been able to prevent the fading into the surrounding gloom of many of its ...

Cultivating Cultivation

John Mullan: English culture

18 June 1998
The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the 18th Century 
by John​ Brewer.
HarperCollins, 448 pp., £19.99, January 1997, 0 00 255537 9
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... was publicly available and publicly pursued – pleasure heightened by being taken in public. And they were accessible to all who could pay the price of admission. One of the leading characters in John Brewer’s The Pleasure of the Imagination was a visitor to pleasure gardens. Anna Margaretta Larpent was a moderately prosperous lady living in London in the late 18th century, married to the state ...

Urban Messthetics

John Mullan: Black and Asian writers in London

18 November 2004
London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City 
by Sukhdev Sandhu.
Harper Perennial, 498 pp., £9.99, November 2004, 0 00 653214 4
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... life in the city is again described rather little. There are flashes of the place. Sancho is outraged by the sight of potato-sellers whipping their asses in the street; he visits the theatre to see John Henderson play Falstaff; he takes his family down the Thames to Vauxhall Gardens. He also studies the newspapers, intrigued most of all by the doings of high society. His outraged account of the ...

Noticing and Not Noticing

John Mullan: Consciousness in Austen

20 November 2014
The Hidden Jane Austen 
by John​ Wiltshire.
Cambridge, 195 pp., £17.99, April 2014, 978 1 107 64364 2
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... instant response to his ‘application’ is turned into a perplexing reflex. She is left ‘to fret over her own want of presence of mind’, and we sense the denial of feelings hidden from herself. John Wiltshire’s finely observed study of Jane Austen’s six completed novels is all about the way she conjures characters’ hidden feelings. His title might lead you to expect some revelation of ...

Beastliness

John Mullan: Eric Griffiths

23 May 2019
If Not Critical 
by Eric Griffiths, edited by Freya Johnston.
Oxford, 248 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 880529 8
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The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry 
by Eric Griffiths.
Oxford, 351 pp., £55, July 2018, 978 0 19 882701 6
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... the butt of one of his pedagogic jokes or to be held up as an example of how not to do literary criticism. He usually picked on a big beast – big, that is, in the little world of Oxbridge English. John Carey, for instance, is lampooned for his ‘naivety’ in taking Shakespeare’s plays as ‘a good sample of how vivacious the English language was in the playwright’s day’. (This is really ...

Why always Dorothea?

John Mullan: How caricature can be sharp perception

5 May 2005
The One v. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel 
by Alex Woloch.
Princeton, 391 pp., £13.95, February 2005, 0 691 11314 9
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... When we discuss novels, there is nothing easier or harder to talk about than characterisation. Nothing easier, in that unprofessional readers’ expressions of interest or aversion so often fix on a novel’s characters as vivid or pallid, believable or not. Nothing harder, in that academic critics (and their obedient students) have long since learned to steer away from the illusions of human reality ...

Zone of Anecdotes

John Mullan: Betrothed to Christ and in a muddle

17 February 2005
The Divine Husband 
by Francisco Goldman.
Atlantic, 465 pp., £15.99, January 2005, 1 84354 404 0
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... One day, María de las Nieves Moran, the heroine of Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, unexpectedly receives a letter from a woman who had, many years earlier, been her fellow novice in a convent. This is Guatemala (though it is never named) in the 1870s. The country’s convents have been closed by the government; the nuns have long since fled or gone into hiding. So how strange that María ...

High-Meriting, Low-Descended

John Mullan: The Unpolished Pamela

12 December 2002
Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded 
by Samuel Richardson, edited by Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely.
Oxford, 592 pp., £6.99, June 2001, 0 19 282960 2
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... Samuel Richardson’s account of a servant girl’s defence of her virtue against the advances of her lascivious master (‘Mr B’), given in her own letters, made what we now call ‘the Novel’ (though Richardson never attached this label to his book) respectable. Pamela caused an unprecedented stir, exciting something like a national argument about the purposes and value of fiction. It was the ...

Hidden Consequences

John Mullan: Byron

6 November 2003
Byron: Life and Legend 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 674 pp., £9.99, November 2003, 0 571 17997 5
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... readily misses opportunities to doubt any of his wife Annabella’s accusations and insinuations in the wake of the couple’s acrimonious separation. Byron’s side of the story went up in smoke in John Murray’s grate when the poet’s publisher presided over the burning of his memoirs. If we want Byron’s relationships with those who knew him, why should we not just read his often wonderful ...

Restless Daniel

John Mullan: Defoe

20 July 2006
The Life of Daniel Defoe: A Critical Biography 
by John​ Richetti.
Blackwell, 406 pp., £50, December 2005, 0 631 19529 7
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A Political Biography of Daniel Defoe 
by P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens.
Pickering & Chatto, 277 pp., £60, January 2006, 1 85196 810 5
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... engraved portrait of the proud author for a frontispiece. It is also a work that only Defoe scholars – and perhaps not all of them – could ever bear to read. Defoe always fancied himself a poet. John Richetti notes that he wrote more lines of verse than either Milton or Dryden, though it is now almost all forgotten. ‘To some extent, that is a shame,’ Richetti observes, not quite believing ...

Taking Sides

John Mullan: On the high road with Bonnie Prince Charlie

22 January 2004
The ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising 
by Christopher Duffy.
Cassell, 639 pp., £20, March 2003, 0 304 35525 9
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Samuel Johnson in Historical Context 
edited by J.C.D. Clark and Howard Erskine-Hill.
Palgrave, 336 pp., £55, December 2001, 0 333 80447 3
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... armies were moving to contact in the country to the east of Edinburgh’ is the book’s first sentence: the armies are the Jacobite Highlanders and the Hanoverian forces under Lieutenant General Sir John Cope. Duffy is giving a fair signal of the minute military history to come and a display of what he does best: the careful explanation of tactics (and tactical errors); the arrangement of eyewitness ...

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