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Three feet on the ground

Marilyn Butler, 7 July 1983

William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision 
by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Oxford, 496 pp., £25, February 1983, 0 19 812097 4
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William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Grandeur and of Tenderness 
by David Pirie.
Methuen, 301 pp., £14.95, March 1982, 0 416 31300 0
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Benjamin the Waggoner 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Paul Betz.
Cornell/Harvester, 356 pp., £40, September 1981, 0 85527 513 8
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... One evening, declares Jonathan Wordsworth as he begins his new critical book, a poet happened to be walking along a road, when the peasant who was with him pointed out a striking sight:         ’Twas a horse, that stood Alone upon a little breast of ground With a clear silver moonlight sky behind. With one leg from the ground the creature stood, Insensible and still; breath, motion gone, Hairs, colour, all but shape and substance gone, Mane, ears, and tail, as lifeless as the trunk That had no stir of breath ...

Trouble at the FCO

Jonathan Steele, 28 July 2016

... of the war, and it failed to predict the religious and sectarian tensions that came to bedevil post-Saddam politics. The Whitehall papers and internal memos disclosed by Chilcot contain a rag-bag of vague and sometimes contradictory assessments. A long paper called ‘Scenarios for the Future of Iraq after Saddam’, prepared by the FCO’s Directorate for ...


Terry Eagleton, 28 April 1994

What a Carve Up! 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 512 pp., £15.50, April 1994, 0 670 85362 3
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... Gothic horror tale, detective mystery, autobiography, political history: Jonathan Coe’s appealingly ambitious new novel involves a promiscuous intermingling of literary genres, as a potted social history of Thatcherism is tucked inside some meta-textual high jinks. An anatomy of the appalling Winshaw family, Thatcherite predators of one ilk or another, provides the lens for a scabrous critique of Tory Britain; but at the source of the family’s history lies a mysterious murder, so that the text simultaneously yields us a camped-up whodunnit ...

On the highway

Jonathan Coe, 24 March 1994

by Joseph O’Connor.
Flamingo, 426 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 00 224301 6
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Resurrection Man 
by Eoin McNamee.
Picador, 233 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 330 33274 0
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by Emma Donoghue.
Hamish Hamilton, 232 pp., £9.99, January 1994, 0 241 13442 0
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... much good writing, we plead, has come out of oppressive regimes (Eastern Europe, South America) or post-colonial societies (India, Ireland). By comparison, what sort of inspiration are we supposed to find in our own nostalgia for empire and stagnant parliamentary democracy? What do we have to chafe against? Well, setting aside for a moment the fact that ...

Under the Staircase

Karl Whitney: Hans Jonathan, Runaway Slave, 19 October 2017

The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan 
by Gisli Palsson, translated by Anna Yates.
Chicago, 288 pp., £19, October 2016, 978 0 226 31328 3
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... In the spring​ of 1801 a young man called Hans Jonathan left the mansion in Copenhagen where he worked as a slave. Going for a walk was allowed: despite his status, he had a degree of autonomy within the walls of the city, then a thriving port with around one hundred thousand inhabitants. But this time he didn’t return ...

As If

Jonathan Romney: ‘Cahiers du cinéma’, 9 September 2010

A Short History of ‘Cahiers du cinéma’ 
by Emilie Bickerton.
Verso, 156 pp., £12.99, March 2010, 978 1 84467 232 5
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... draw in part on the new-found anti-Gulagism of former Maoists now influential in the media. These post-1960s movers and shakers contributed their own feelgood style to the project – a sense that their embrace of the free-market system was the radicalism du jour.’ There is, it should be said, a pragmatic bottom line to Cahiers’ move towards the ...

Was it better in the old days?

Jonathan Steele: The Rise of Nazarbayev, 28 January 2010

Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan 
by Jonathan Aitken.
Continuum, 269 pp., £20, July 2009, 978 1 4411 5381 4
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... long road to nation-building. Kazakhstan was the last of the 15 republics to declare independence. Jonathan Aitken is an unlikely candidate to write a book on this subject. Since emerging from prison after his conviction for perjury in 1999 he has written books about himself and other public figures who fell from grace: Richard Nixon, his former special ...

Fog has no memory

Jonathan Meades: Postwar Colour(lessness), 19 July 2018

The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Postwar Britain 
by Lynda Nead.
Yale, 416 pp., £35, October 2017, 978 0 300 21460 4
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... depressing words in the language, Traditional Sunday Lunch. She quotes part of a letter to Picture Post from the Reverend Marcus Morris who refers to the society’s members as ‘cranks and fanatics’: there is no indication Nead knows that Morris was the founder and publisher of Eagle, the most instructive of 1950s comics and quite the most colourful. Mass ...

Baffled Traveller

Jonathan Rée: Hegel, 30 November 2000

Hegel: An Intellectual Biography 
by Horst Althaus, translated by Michael Tarsh.
Polity, 292 pp., £45, May 2000, 0 7456 1781 6
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Hegel: Biographie 
by Jacques D'Hondt.
Calmann-Lévy, 424 pp., frs 150, October 1998, 2 7021 2919 6
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... cast off its reputation for beery rowdiness and intellectual torpor. Schiller was given a post there in 1789, and Fichte in 1794, and their passionate lectures – delivered in German rather than the customary Latin – soon attracted audiences from all over Germany, and from France and Britain as well. What everyone wanted was philosophy. In ...
Modernity and Identity 
edited by Scott Lash and Jonathan Friedman.
Blackwell, 448 pp., £45, January 1992, 0 631 17585 7
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Fundamentalisms Observed 
edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby.
Chicago, 872 pp., $40, November 1991, 0 226 50877 3
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The Post-Modern and the Post-Industrial 
by Margaret Rose.
Cambridge, 317 pp., £35, July 1991, 0 521 40131 3
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Under God: Religion and American Politics 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 445 pp., £17.99, February 1992, 0 671 65705 4
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... to continue indefinitely, and yet it has not, for with the appearance of the oxymoronic prefix ‘post-’, modernity has been exiled from the future and consigned, perhaps irrevocably, to history. In return, modernity has gained the right to use its own name, and so the modern, like the man in the iron mask, is now remembered for, and not through, its ...

Doing justice to the mess

Jonathan Coe, 19 August 1993

Afternoon Raag 
by Amit Chaudhuri.
Heinemann, 133 pp., £3.99, June 1993, 0 434 12349 8
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... own greatest gift as a writer. This, for instance, is what he makes of an irresolute visit to a post office late in the day: By evening ... there is hardly anyone left, and the main room looks large and peaceful in the glow of fluorescent lights; a few employees working overtime sit behind counters, looking as porters on a provincial railway-station do ...

God loveth adverbs

Jonathan Glover, 22 November 1990

Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity 
by Charles Taylor.
Cambridge, 601 pp., £25.95, November 1989, 0 521 38331 5
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... used to be different and suggests how they came to be as they are. His aim is make us see our own post-Enlightenment culture in historical perspective, so that we can stand back and see its characteristic strengths and weaknesses. The book is a loose, baggy monster of philosophy. This is partly because it is written in an almost intolerably verbose and ...

Like Father, Unlike Son

Jonathan Spence: Zhu Wen’s China, 6 September 2007

‘I Love Dollars’ and Other Stories of China 
by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell.
Columbia, 228 pp., £16, September 2006, 0 231 13694 3
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... in many aspects of Chinese thinking. Zhu Wen asks what is left of the old value systems in the post-Mao and post-Deng world. How has the old system been modified, or has it been fatally changed? Can it, or should it, be reinvoked? And after so much catastrophic upheaval, what does it mean to be a father, or a son? Can ...

Fill in the Blanks

Jonathan Sawday: On Army Forms, 29 June 2023

... parodying a document which still lingered in the British national consciousness: the Field Service Post Card, or Army Form A. 2042, produced during the First World War.A. 2042 was designed to be sent to family or friends at home by those on active service. It began by warning that ‘nothing is to be written on this side’ other than the sender’s signature ...

Toxin in the System

Michael Peel: In Nigeria, 5 February 2015

... 14 February, is expected to be the most closely contested for 35 years or more. President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are riding on the back of a decade of decent economic growth and there is evidence of better governance in some areas. Jonathan’s supporters claim that if he wins a second ...

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