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Utopian about the Present

Christopher Turner: The Brutalist Ethic

4 July 2019
Alison and Peter Smithson 
by Mark Crinson.
Historic England, 150 pp., £30, June 2018, 978 1 84802 352 9
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Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing 
by John Boughton.
Verso, 330 pp., £9.99, April, 978 1 78478 740 0
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... been vandalised. Indeed, they are dark, smelly, dank passageways where, as Oscar Newman … argued, “crime may occur more frequently than elsewhere.”’ Robin Hood Gardens​ coincided with what JohnBoughton describes as a ‘golden age of council house building’, but in Municipal Dreams he doesn’t include it in his ‘pantheon’, ‘despite the affection in which it is held by the ...

He Tasks Me

Mark Ford: Marilynne Robinson

9 October 2008
Home 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 325 pp., £16.99, September 2008, 978 1 84408 549 1
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... debut, Housekeeping, it explores with unsparing precision and the most delicate subtlety the implications of Frost’s rival definitions of the idea of home. The home in question is that of the Boughton family. The Reverend Robert Boughton, readers of Gilead will remember, was the best friend of the Reverend John Ames, the narrator of that novel, which is written in the form of a memoir addressed to ...

Putting Religion in Its Place

Colm Tóibín: Marilynne Robinson

22 October 2014
Lila 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 261 pp., £16.99, October 2014, 978 1 84408 880 5
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... hasn’t attempted to create a Middlemarch, or a panoramic view of the society. Instead, the three books concentrate fiercely, and indeed lovingly, on just two households, that of the Reverend John Ames, and his lifelong friend the Reverend Robert Boughton, with flashbacks in Lila into the eponymous heroine’s life before she came to Gilead and married Ames and had a son with him. Gilead takes ...

At Tate Britain

Julian Bell: Van Gogh

1 August 2019
... the audience’s sympathies. The draughtsmen of the Graphic, an illustrated London weekly, were to him the ‘deeper thinkers’ of the 1870s, carrying forward the social conscience of Dickens, while John Everett Millais, no less than his French homonym, possessed a manner affectingly and ‘personally intimate’.In chasing the works that Van Gogh looked at in London, the Tate exhibition takes us on ...

Je suis bizarre

Sarah LeFanu: Gwen John

6 September 2001
Gwen JohnA Life 
by Sue Roe.
Chatto, 364 pp., £25, June 2001, 0 7011 6695 9
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... The self-portrait by Gwen John hanging in the National Portrait Gallery was painted in 1899 or 1900. She is dressed in the formal costume of the period: a tight-waisted blouse with leg-of-mutton sleeves and a big black bow at the ...

How to Twist a Knife

Colin Burrow: Wolf Hall

30 April 2009
Wolf Hall 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 653 pp., April 2009, 978 0 00 723018 1
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... make up around their own lives and those of others. Mantel’s ability to pick out vivid scenes from sources and give them life within her fiction is quite exceptional. The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe relates in sketchy detail, with much acknowledgment that his sources are imperfect, the burning of the Lollard Joan Boughton at Smithfield in 1494. ‘The night following that she was burnt ...

How the sanity of poets can be edited away

Arnold Rattenbury: The Sanity of Ivor Gurney

14 October 1999
‘Severn and Somme’ and ‘War’s Embers’ 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85754 348 3
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80 Poems or So 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by George Walter and R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 148 pp., £9.95, January 1997, 1 85754 344 0
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... archives than of mind. After the Second World War, the younger composer Gerald Finzi began amalgamating scattered collections – made by Marion Scott, the Gurney family, Ivor’s Gloucester friend John Haines, Vaughan Williams and others – into a central archive. The process continued after Finzi’s death in 1956. Neither Gurney nor Scott had bothered much about dates and the habit of confusion ...

An Attic Full of Sermons

Tessa Hadley: Marilynne Robinson

21 April 2005
Gilead 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 282 pp., £14.99, April 2005, 1 84408 147 8
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... rather than as failed. If I had my way I would not leave one stone upon another. Gilead is narrated by the Congregationalist minister of just such a small, left-behind community, in Iowa in 1956. John Ames is in his seventies, married to a much younger second wife, Lila, and with a seven-year-old son; the novel is written in the form of a letter for the boy to read when he is an adult. Ames adds ...

Beyond the Cringe

John​ Barrell: British Art

1 June 2016
Art in Britain 1660-1815 
by David Solkin.
Yale, 367 pp., £55, October 2015, 978 0 300 21556 4
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... gentleman than most contemporary portrait painters’, and accordingly one of his works is remarkable for its ‘gentleness and refinement’. On the other hand, the fact that so many portraits by John Opie ‘are thoroughly dull, if not frankly bad’, was owed to the fact that as the son of a carpenter ‘he had no elegance in his make-up, but was commissioned to do portraits of fashionable ...

Last Night Fever

David Cannadine: The Proms

6 September 2007
... the biggest reviewer response of any television broadcast of the time. Sargent was the man of the hour. The following year, there was an all-British programme: Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Delius, Boughton and Walton, before Sargent concluded the programme with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture and Serenade for Strings, followed by ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and the Sea Songs. For this 1948 final Prom ...

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