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16 July 1981
The Lisle Letters 
edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne.
Chicago, 744 pp., £125, June 1981, 0 226 08801 4
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... and in six very large volumes. Newcomers to the Public Record Office in the late 1940s soon heard of the mini-factory established in a cubicle off the Rolls Room upstairs where Miss Muriel St Clare Byrne, author of that well-known and affectionate little book, Elizabethan Life in Town and Country (1925), and editor of Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn (1936), was beavering away, sorting ...

Oque?

John​ Bayley

30 November 1995
Byrne 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 150 pp., £14.99, October 1995, 0 09 179204 5
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... something to be got by trying. You can only make it new if you’ve got it in you. Or if you can fake it. Burgess’s dislike (not envy) of Graham Greene, on these grounds, emerges in a couplet from Byrne: And white men go to pieces, as we’ve seen, In overlauded trash by Graham Greene. Greene achieved a bogus newness, in Burgess’s view, by laboriously making grace and sin the novelties of a kind ...

Diary

Susan McKay: The Irish Border

29 March 2017
... it as a way of keeping Northern Ireland in the EU. The prospect of a poll on unification, known as a border poll, as permitted under the Good Friday Agreement, is being discussed.The artist JohnByrne used to sell replicas of the British army watchtowers that bristled up from the hill tops of Armagh. The fortifications have long gone, and there’s a world of difference between the frightening ...

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 ...
11 December 1997
... In the centre of the room there are two skeletons. Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, faces the front. His skeleton, tainted brown because of the speed and secrecy of its preparation, is seven feet ten inches tall. So towering are the bones, and so impossibly hefty ...

Separating Gracie and Rosie

David Wootton: Two people, one body

22 July 2004
One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal 
by Alice Domurat Dreger.
Harvard, 198 pp., £14.95, May 2004, 0 674 01294 1
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... if she was to be given independence at the expense of her life. None of the judges seems to have been able fully to grasp the force of an argument made by David Harris QC on behalf of Rosie: ‘John Locke’s assertion that "every man has a property in his own person. This no body has any right to but himself” . . . is difficult to apply in the case of conjoined twins.’ I have looked again ...

Who’s in charge?

Chalmers Johnson: The Addiction to Secrecy

6 February 2003
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers 
by Daniel Ellsberg.
Viking, 498 pp., $29.95, October 2002, 0 670 03030 9
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... in Vietnam. He had made a short trip to Saigon in 1961 and concluded (as I did) that the slogan ‘Sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem’ was a recipe for failure. In July 1964, however, he was asked by John McNaughton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, to join him in the Pentagon as his special assistant. The Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had given ...

Imps and Ogres

Marina Warner

6 June 2019
Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies 
by Lynne Vallone.
Yale, 339 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 300 22886 1
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... from the norm – ‘monster’ derives from monstrare, ‘to show’, inflected by monere, ‘to warn’. The Hunterian Museum in London used to exhibit the skeleton of the Irish giant Charles Byrne, whose fate inspired Hilary Mantel to write a fine novel, The Giant, O’Brien, which examines the surgeon John Hunter’s avid pursuit of specimen bodies to study, the more unusual the more ...

House History

John​ Sutherland

24 January 1980
Allen Lane: King Penguin 
by J.E. Morpurgo.
Hutchinson, 405 pp., £9.95, November 1980, 0 09 139690 5
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... they age well, like other British ‘institutions’. It is not just a question of externals: the Tschichold designs, sober covers and superior typography (hangovers, as Morpurgo demonstrates, from John Lane’s Bodley Head). The Penguin aura was of solid, durable literature and (as Pelicans) sensible discussion. To work the paradox to death, one might claim that Penguins were paperbacks which, for ...

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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... Rabelais are clarified with reference to the rhetorical tricks of Dame Edna Everage. Griffiths had a reputation for enjoying popular culture. He once made a TV programme celebrating the work of David Byrne of Talking Heads. In 2008, it was reported in the nationals that he’d set an exam question asking for Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is a Losing Game’ to be compared with a ballad by Walter Raleigh ...

Class Traitor

Edward Pearce

11 June 1992
Maverick: The Life of a Union Rebel 
by Eric Hammond.
Weidenfeld, 214 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 297 81200 9
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... t having any of that.’ So, more seriously, is his dedication to quarrelling. For better or worse, this union in its modern shape and title was born out of the struggle waged by Les Cannon, Jock Byrne and the later deleted Mark Young against the Communist leadership which had rigged elections in a style which would have done credit to the Kennedys or the Daleys in Chicago. The ETU resistance (it ...

Meg, Jo, Beth and Me

Elaine Showalter

23 March 1995
Little Women 
directed by Gillian Armstrong.
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... in Vancouver and, with the exception of Mary Wickes as Aunt March, the characters speak in polished mid-Atlantic accents instead of Alcott’s Yankee vernacular. Laurie’s grandfather is played by John Neville, and the scenes, whether meant for Concord, Boston or New York, have that interchangeable Merchant/Ivory, Masterpiece Theatre look. The Anglo-American effect isn’t totally off base. Both ...

Language Writing

Jerome McGann

15 October 1987
In the American Tree: Language, Poetry, Realism 
by Ron Silliman.
National Poetry Foundation, 628 pp., $34.50, June 1986, 0 915032 33 3
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‘Language’ Poetries: An Anthology 
by Douglas Messerli.
New Directions, 184 pp., $19.95, March 1987, 0 8112 1006 5
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... The film’s culminant song (by the Talking Heads) has the wonderfully ironic refrain: ‘I don’t want freedom, I don’t want justice, I just want someone to love.’ But as director David Byrne laughs at the mindless innocent (and innocence) that sings these words, his filmic narrator continues to drive blandly around Virgil, Texas, accepting what he sees with a correspondent innocence ...

Who will stop them?

Owen Hatherley: The Neo-Elite

22 October 2014
The Establishment and How They Get Away with It 
by Owen Jones.
Allen Lane, 335 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 1 84614 719 7
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... and Stockport and speaks in a sharp Mancunian accent, but he is also an Oxford graduate, with all the connections that can entail. He has Westminster experience as a parliamentary researcher, but to John McDonnell; his parents were Militant activists and his politics are rooted in a Trotskyist version of Labourism, yet he has managed to force a neoliberal Labour establishment to take him seriously ...

Liquid Fiction

Thomas Jones: Francis Spufford

25 April 2002
The Child that Books Built: A Memoir of Childhood and Reading 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 214 pp., £12.99, April 2002, 0 571 19132 0
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A Child’s Book of True Crime: A Novel 
by Chloe Hooper.
Cape, 238 pp., £12.99, February 2002, 0 224 06237 9
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... They can travel thanks to the amulet through time and space, and have adventures in Ancient Egypt, Babylon, a utopian London of the future and elsewhere. It’s a shame that Spufford never read John Masefield’s Box of Delights: I think he’d have liked it; and I’d like to read what he might have to say about it. The Story of the Amulet was number one in a list of the Top Ten Children’s ...

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