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Frank Kermode, 5 June 1986

Dear Shadows: Portraits from Memory 
by John Wain.
Murray, 186 pp., £10.95, April 1986, 0 7195 4284 7
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The Oxford Library of English Poetry 
edited by John Wain.
Oxford, 1430 pp., £27.50, April 1986, 0 19 212246 0
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... In the poem which provides John Wain with the title of this book Yeats is addressing the dead Gore-Booth sisters and telling them, quite tenderly at first, that now they’re dead they know it all – all the folly of a fight For a common wrong or right – so that it seems dying has enabled them to catch up with him, for he knew it and stayed alive ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton, 21 March 1991

by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... when we would like to know just how much inventing has been done. Did Philip Larkin really say of John Wain: ‘No advantage of birth or position or looks or talent – nothing, and look where he is now’? If I was John Wain, I would want to be sure of the exact words. According to Amis, ...


Frank Kermode: Angry Young Men, 28 November 2002

The Angry Young Men: A Literary Comedy of the 1950s 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen Lane, 244 pp., £18.99, September 2002, 0 7139 9532 7
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... when the whole company of Angry Young Men was assembled. Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and John Wain knew one another at Oxford, but had little to do with autodidacts like Colin Wilson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe – this last name less often mentioned in this context than might have been expected, doubtless ...

The heart of standing is you cannot fly

Frank Kermode: Empson and Obscurity, 22 June 2000

The Complete Poems of William Empson 
edited by John Haffenden.
Allen Lane, 410 pp., £30, April 2000, 0 7139 9287 5
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... these 16 years, and although his voice was often recorded it now seems difficult to describe it. John Haffenden says he had one voice for poetry and another for prose. Empson himself thought ‘the reader should throw himself into the verse, and not do it with “reserved” English good taste.’ The best idea was to ham it ‘like a provincial Shakespeare ...

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

The Truth about Lorin Jones 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 294 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 7181 3095 2
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by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 248 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 224 02554 6
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Where the rivers meet 
by John Wain.
Hutchinson, 563 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 9780091736170
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About the Body 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 193 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 436 09784 2
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by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 312 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 670 82113 6
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... is poignant and strong. There is a slight wobble of intention evident in the blurb of and John Wain’s own prefatory note to Where the rivers meet. The blurb calls it ‘the first of three projected books on the life of Oxford from the 1930s to the present day’, while Wain writes ‘the fact that its ...
The Movement: English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s 
by Blake Morrison.
Oxford, 326 pp., £8.50, May 1980, 9780192122100
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The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 299 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 19 214108 2
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... Spectator where he found the famous pieces by J.D. Scott and Anthony Hartley, or the scripts of John Wain’s Third Programme magazine First Reading, or copies of the Reading limited editions of Wain and Amis. Mr Morrison claims to have eschewed gossip and attended instead to such questions as: ‘Did the writers ...

Third World

Frank Kermode, 2 March 1989

... any other audience’. Thus it defied Reith’s doctrine of a BBC-unified culture, and Sir John was heard to protest. For less exalted reasons, it also irritated most of the press. But for a time it survived the traumas of its birth, and under George Barnes and Harman Grisewood there was a reasonably permissive, though it would now also be called an ...

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini, 13 August 2020

... nurses and auxiliaries, scanning his patient details, would cheerily address him as ‘John’.) He was already using the name that was to become so familiar, the byline that launched a thousand pieces. Was he already that ‘Frank Kermode’, that effortlessly elegant, perceptive, slyly amusing, wide-ranging critic? Not really, not to judge by ...


Nina Bawden, 2 February 1984

At the Jazz Band Ball: A Memory of the 1950s 
by Philip Oakes.
Deutsch, 251 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 233 97591 8
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... years after the war – Quarto, Departure, the Window. Then, at a party in Kensington, given by John Lehmann and intimidatingly full of ‘famous faces’, he meets John Wain, who is editing a series of books of new poetry. Oakes’s first book of verse is published under the title, Unlucky Jonah. It is well ...


Donald Davie, 7 March 1985

The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid 
edited by Alan Bold.
Hamish Hamilton, 910 pp., £20, August 1984, 0 241 11220 6
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Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1946-1972 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Hutchinson, 323 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 9780091557508
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... the timber that is consumed to fire them.) A name that crops up in both sets of letters is that of John Wain. Wain in 1962 wrote to the Guardian about MacDiarmid: ‘He is simultaneously truculent (to Whitehall) and fawning (to Moscow). He simultaneously praises some hog-wash written by a Government hack in Budapest and ...
Exploding English: Criticism, Theory, Culture 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Oxford, 240 pp., £25, February 1990, 0 19 812852 5
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Professing Literature: An Institutional History 
by Gerald Graff.
Chicago, 315 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 226 30604 6
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... system of English literature’. Unlike those of his contemporaries whom he most envies (John Wain, Kingsley Amis), Bergonzi never managed to break out of the institution. As he admits, it was too comfortable. In the last thirty years he has taught at Manchester, then Warwick University, where he is now professor. True to his Morleyish ...


Julian Symons, 9 November 1989

The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of ‘St George’ Orwell 
by John Rodden.
Oxford, 478 pp., £22.50, October 1989, 0 19 503954 8
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... disconcerted by such friends as Paul Johnson, who believes he would now be a strong Thatcherite, John Wain, who invokes Orwell as an opponent of Arthur Scargill, or in America Norman Podhoretz, who feels sure he would be taking his stand with the ‘neo-conservatives against the Left’. The New York Tribune, Rodden notes, went further and called Orwell ...

Just like Rupert Brooke

Tessa Hadley: 1960s Oxford, 5 April 2012

The Horseman’s Word: A Memoir 
by Roger Garfitt.
Cape, 378 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 224 08986 9
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... Studying poetry spilled over naturally into writing it: Garfitt went to informal workshops with John Wain and Peter Levi, heard Ted Hughes read at the Poetry Society. Coghill read his poems, but wasn’t very enthusiastic; Peter Jay took a photo of him in a green silk smoking jacket looking ‘just like Rupert Brooke!’; he talked about jazz with ...

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 ...

Old Western Man

J.I.M. Stewart, 18 September 1980

C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences 
edited by James Como.
Collins, 299 pp., £6.95, August 1980, 9780002162753
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... above everything else occasions giving scope to the rapid cut and thrust of spoken controversy. John Lawlor, another pupil, has recorded that argument was the only form of conversation ever employed by Lewis in his presence. It must be a question whether such an eristic temperament made Lewis an ideal tutor, although he was assuredly an outstanding one. He ...

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