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Freaks, Dwarfs and Boors

Thomas Keymer: 18th-Century Jokes

2 August 2012
Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental 18th Century 
by Simon Dickie.
Chicago, 362 pp., £29, December 2011, 978 0 226 14618 8
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... Some of the Penitents in the Magdalen House (1759) raised funds for foundling hospitals, charity schools, refuges for repentant prostitutes or bankrupted merchants. Shortly before his death in 1791, John Wesley looked back on the century as one in which ‘benevolence and compassion toward all the forms of human woe have increased in a manner not known before, from the earliest ages of the world ...
9 October 2013
Mafia Republic: Italy’s Criminal Curse: Cosa Nostra, Camorra and ’Ndrangheta from 1946 to the Present 
by John Dickie.
Sceptre, 524 pp., £25, May 2013, 978 1 4447 2640 4
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... as an independent Mediterranean island state than in its present condition as the most peripheral appendage of a high-cost economy with Germany at its centre. No such contentions are advanced in JohnDickie’s potboiler. He attempts an overview of organised crime groups in the Italian south (and its northern extensions) under their colourful but deeply misleading regional monikers: Cosa Nostra ...

Not a desire to have him, but to be like him

Slavoj Žižek: Highsmith is the One

21 August 2003
Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith 
by Andrew Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £25, June 2003, 0 7475 6314 4
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... Hopper in Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977, based on Ripley’s Game); then, in two strangely symmetrical remakes, Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and John Malkovich in a new Ripley’s Game by Liliana Cavani (2003). Although, on their own terms, all four are good movies, their Ripley is not Highsmith’s Ripley because they somehow humanise his inhuman ...
25 February 1993
Inside the Firm: The Untold Story of the Krays’ Reign of Terror 
by Tony Lambrianou and Carol Clerk.
Pan, 256 pp., £4.99, October 1992, 0 330 32284 2
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Gangland: London’s Underworld 
by James Morton.
Little, Brown, 349 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 356 20889 3
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Nipper: The Story of Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read 
by Leonard Read and James Morton.
Warner, 318 pp., £5.99, September 1992, 0 7515 0001 1
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Smash and Grab: Gangsters in the London Underworld 
by Robert Murphy.
Faber, 182 pp., £15.99, February 1993, 0 571 15442 5
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... Kray did shock him. Just once. An unforgettable occasion. A motor eased alongside Tony at the corner of Blythe Street, Bethnal Green. Ron and Reg were inside, keeping company with a known associate, Dickie Morgan. Reg was nicely cased in a blue three-piece by Woods of Kingsland Road. Dickie matched him. (The Twins were very influential that way. All the faces were expected to dress to a middle ...
21 February 1980
Gya/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 485 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7043 2829 1
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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 719 pp., £15.75, October 1980, 0 300 02286 7
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Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes 
by Margaret Dickie​ Uroff.
Illinois, 235 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 252 00734 4
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Women Writing and Writing about Women 
edited by Mary Jacobus.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 85664 745 4
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... to end up a white goddess, or an ordinary white elephant. (The Kings of Siam used to give a white elephant to hated courtiers, who would then promptly ruin themselves on its costly maintenance.) Yet John Goode notes in Women Writing that Lawrence is here unwittingly acute about something central to sexist ideology: that ‘woman is an image to be uttered’ – uttered, that is, by other people. One ...
4 June 1987
Prime Minister: The Conduct of Policy under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan 
by Bernard Donoughue.
Cape, 198 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 224 02450 7
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Time and Chance 
by James Callaghan.
Collins, 584 pp., £15.95, April 1987, 0 00 216515 5
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... including Gavyn Davies, the Policy Unit’s ‘brilliant adviser’; Kevin Stowe was a ‘very able’ Principal Private Secretary, Elizabeth Arnot a ‘bright young education specialist’, John Lyons a ‘very able’ general secretary, and Tom McNally an ‘excellent political secretary’. They were all quite wonderful, brilliant and magnificent, but unfortunately they could not tackle ...

tarry easty

Roy Foster: Joyce in Trieste

30 November 2000
The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904-20 
by John​ McCourt.
Lilliput, 306 pp., £25, June 2000, 1 901866 45 9
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... A few weeks ago I wandered round inescapably bourgeois Rapallo, at the end of the season: just down the coast from Genoa’s seductive murkiness, and the bay of San Remo where Ripley bludgeoned Dickie Greenleaf to death, but a world away from both. The resort now thrives on conferences, and there was a world congress of Nietzscheans in full swing. This was apposite. Even if its attractions stop ...
13 July 2016
An Encyclopedia of Myself 
by Jonathan Meades.
Fourth Estate, 341 pp., £9.99, February 2015, 978 1 85702 905 5
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... cannon down – the ‘worst storm anyone in north Wales could recall’. The Meades family enjoy wading in the wetness and reach safety in the cafeteria at the summit. But a 34-year-old man called John Mattinson who left the same café half an hour later was struck by lightning and died. When she read about it in the newspaper, Meades’s mother said: ‘Well, if you will stand on a cairn in a ...

Beefcake Ease

Miranda Carter: Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen

14 January 2002
Robert Mitchum: Solid, Dad, Crazy 
by Damien Love.
Batsford, 208 pp., £15.99, December 2001, 0 7134 8707 0
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Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care 
by Lee Server.
Faber, 590 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 571 20994 7
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McQueen: The Biography 
by Christopher Sandford.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £16.99, October 2001, 0 00 257195 1
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... he wanted – which most often was what he called ‘face time’. On the set of the 1960 The Magnificent Seven, which made him a star, he was known as ‘Supie’, short for superstar, and ‘Tricky Dickie’ because of the lengths he would go to to steal scenes. One story goes that every time Yul Brynner – who as the nominal star was always in the centre of the shot – opened his mouth, McQueen, in ...


Anthony Thwaite

26 October 1989
Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath 
by Anne Stevenson.
Viking, 413 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 670 81854 2
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... The blood jet is poetry, There is no stopping it. Yet at the moment when she killed herself, ‘the uncanny faculty of melting’ had become a meltdown. Plath’s doctor during her final months, Dr John Horder, wrote afterwards: My judgment has always been that this was a very determined attempt to end her life ... I believe ... she was liable to large swings of mood, but so excessive that a doctor ...

The Ruling Exception

David Cannadine

16 August 1990
Queen Victoria: Gender and Power 
by Dorothy Thompson.
Virago, 167 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 86068 773 2
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... sovereign, overwhelmed and destroyed by events he could neither control nor comprehend. And Philip Ziegler’s official life of Lord Mountbatten suggested that the royal family’s ‘beloved Uncle Dickie’ was an interfering manipulator of unscrupulous methods, and a shameless adventurer of colossal and inordinate vanity. With so much daylight now being let in, it is hardly surprising that the old ...

Trouble down there

Ferdinand Mount: Tea with Sassoon

7 August 2003
Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet 1886-1918 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 7156 2894 1
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Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches 1918-67 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 526 pp., £30, April 2003, 0 7156 2971 9
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Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil 
by Peter Stansky.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09547 3
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... with Kipling’s the quality of being conspicuously memorable: the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations includes a dozen of them, mostly in their entirety. Interest in his life is sharpening. After John Stuart Roberts’s compact and readable single volume of 1999, we now have Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s double-header, with Max Egremont’s somewhat shorter Life expected soon. Sassoon’s story has ...
13 May 1999
... and the contract moved to a cabal of Swiss bankers, who later broke contact and disappeared. Dee’s concept was revealed to the world, years later, as the Millennium Dome. But, like his namesake Dr John, the Elizabethan magus and imperial geographer, Simon Dee was exploited by the Secret State and then abandoned to provincial obscurity. Now it can be told: the Dome represents the consciousness of ...

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