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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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... 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 letters? One answer might be that Leslie Marchand’s ...

Short Cuts

Duncan Campbell: Courthouse Hotel, 20 May 2021

... has a long tradition in Britain. Thomas Grant, in his book about the Old Bailey, Court Number One (John Murray, £10.99), gives special credit to Rebecca West, who wrote about treason and spy cases from the 1940s to the 1960s, and Sybille Bedford, whose account of the trial of Dr Bodkin Adams in 1957 is ‘generally regarded as the finest single volume ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires, 31 March 2005

Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... The dust jacket of the final volume of Bevis Hillier’s epic life of John Betjeman shows the poet laureate seized by giggles. In this lengthy coda to Hillier’s authorised biography Betjeman appears in many lights, but he’s rarely carefree. ‘Nothing frightens me more than the thought of dying,’ he told a friend in 1958 ...

Hypnotise Her

Thomas Jones: Axel Munthe’s exaggerations, 29 January 2009

Axel Munthe: The Road to San Michele 
by Bengt Jangfeldt, translated by Harry Watson.
Tauris, 381 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 1 84511 720 7
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... celebrity Axel Munthe. His extraordinary memoir, The Story of San Michele, was published by John Murray in 1929, when Munthe was 72. The first edition rapidly sold out; it went into its 20th impression in January 1931, and has been in print ever since.* The reasons for its wide and enduring appeal have to do partly with its subject-matter ...

The Great NBA Disaster

John Sutherland, 19 October 1995

... In 1851 the trade referred its dispute to a tribunal headed by the author and judge Lord John Campbell. His decision was delivered on 19 May 1852 and published in its entirety by the triumphant Times. Campbell came down uncompromisingly for free trade. The Regulations, they said, were indefensible, and contrary to the freedom which ought to prevail ...

On Joan Murray

Patrick McGuinness: Joan Murray, 20 December 2018

... Joan Murray​ died of a heart defect in 1942, at the age of 24. Her first book, Poems, was published five years later, after her manuscript won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, which was judged by Auden. Murray had been his student at the New School in 1940 and, not caring for any of the manuscripts he had been sent, he asked her mother if he could publish her work instead ...

On Les Murray

Colin Burrow: Les Murray, 27 July 2017

... Bunyah is​ a valley about 300 km north of Sydney in which the Australian poet Les Murray grew up, and to which he returned in 1985 as ‘my refuge and my homeplace’. Over-educated readers might imagine from its title that On Bunyah (Carcanet, £14.99) is a set of philosophical meditations which belongs on the shelves next to, say, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty ...

Looking big

Asa Briggs, 12 March 1992

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-Errant 
by Adrian Vaughan.
Murray, 285 pp., £19.95, October 1991, 0 7195 4636 2
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... of Vaughan comes at the end in the description and evaluation of the role of Brunel’s colleague John Scott Russell in the story of the Great Eastern. Vaughan draws substantially on the important book The SS ‘Great Eastern’ by Russell’s biographer John Emmerson, marine engineer and Professor of Engineering Science at ...


Rosemary Ashton, 17 October 1985

Troubled Lives: John and Sarah Austin 
by Lotte Hamburger and Joseph Hamburger.
Toronto, 288 pp., £19.50, May 1985, 0 8020 2521 8
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... my heart and my judgment are equally satisfied with the man of my choice.’ The chosen one was John Austin, son of an Ipswich corn merchant of similar wealth and dissenting beliefs to the Taylors. Though John was only three years older than Sarah, his prematurely white hair and grave demeanour made him a surprising ...

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 5 October 2017

Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker 
by A.N. Wilson.
John Murray, 438 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 4447 9488 5
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... out ‘it was snowing butterflies,’ and such in fact was the appearance.In 1845 the publisher John Murray reissued the book for a large public. Darwin became a literary celebrity. Voyage of the Beagle (to use the title Murray gave it) is a vivid travelogue, but it also carries heavy theoretical freight. Darwin was ...

Happy Knack

Ian Sansom: Betjeman, 20 February 2003

John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 736 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 7195 5002 5
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... helps explain why Bevis Hillier has written an enormous biography of a dead English minor poet. John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love is the second volume of Hillier’s proposed trilogy and covers, roughly, the years 1933-58, the period when Betjeman, as Larkin put it, ‘became Betjeman’. The book is 736 pages long. Its predecessor, Young Betjeman, was 477 ...

Stag at Bay

Adam Phillips: Byron in Geneva, 25 August 2011

Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816 
by David Ellis.
Liverpool, 189 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 1 84631 643 2
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... there were still the necessary reservations. ‘Poetry is – I fear – incurable,’ he wrote to John Murray in October 1816. ‘God help me – if I proceed in this scribbling – I shall have frittered away my mind before I am thirty, – but it is at times a relief to me.’ To fritter is to waste time, but it also means to break into fragments, a ...

I now, I then

Thomas Keymer: Life-Writing, 17 August 2017

AHistory of English Autobiography 
edited by Adam Smyth.
Cambridge, 437 pp., £64.99, June 2016, 978 1 107 07841 3
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... the Oxford English Dictionary’s hundred most frequently cited authorities (one spot ahead of John Donne) for the earliest evidence of a word. He probably got this one from the German; it doesn’t seem to show up in French until 1820. Soon autobiography was everywhere, and not in a good way. Or so it seemed to the editors of the Quarterly Review, who, as ...

Being there

Ian Hamilton, 7 October 1993

Up at Oxford 
by Ved Mehta.
Murray, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 0 7195 5287 7
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... schools public schools and Mehta tells us why – which seems a bit much in a book published by John Murray. Christopher Hill – he of the little-finger handshake – is asked to explain the attractions of Marxism in the light of the Hungarian Revolution. Lord Oxmanton’s mother is asked to explain the rules and rituals of pheasant-shoots. Useful ...

On the Sofa

Alice Spawls: ‘Killing Eve’, 8 November 2018

... compiled from four ebook novellas by Luke Jennings of the Observer, is called Codename Villanelle (John Murray, £7.99). Eve is going to become a target. But it’s nice to know that neither of the main women will die before the end of the first episode. It’s the men who are collateral damage, or might be: the men Villanelle is instructed to kill (by a ...

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