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Is he winking?

Joseph J. Ellis: Benjamin Franklin, 20 March 2003

Benjamin Franklin 
by Edmund S. Morgan.
Yale, 339 pp., £19.95, October 2002, 0 300 09532 5
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... When Thomas Jefferson was introduced as the new American Ambassador to France in 1784, legend has it that the French minister asked if he was Benjamin Franklin’s replacement, and Jefferson replied that he was merely Franklin’s successor; no one could replace him. Whether or not the story is true, it conveys Franklin’s stature as the only serious rival to George Washington for the title of America’s greatest hero of the age ...

Extraordinarily Graceful Exits from Power

Nicholas Guyatt: George Washington’s Reticence, 17 November 2005

His Excellency George Washington 
by Joseph J. Ellis.
Faber, 320 pp., £20, March 2005, 0 571 21212 3
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... acts, and whose character is shrouded by an almost painful formality? It’s no surprise that Joseph Ellis should now venture an answer to this question, having already produced biographies of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as well as a book about the 1790s, Founding Brothers, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001. Like many Americans, George ...

Sing Tantarara

Colin Kidd, 30 October 1997

Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency 
by Stephen Knott.
Oxford, 258 pp., £19.50, November 1996, 0 19 510098 0
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The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 367 pp., £25, December 1996, 1 85619 637 2
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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson 
by Joseph Ellis.
Knopf, 365 pp., $26, February 1997, 0 679 44490 4
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Slave Laws in Virginia 
by Philip Schwarz.
Georgia, 253 pp., $40, November 1996, 0 8203 1831 0
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... Jefferson more than ever, not least to avoid charges that white America is in denial. Indeed, as Joseph Ellis notes, Jefferson has become ‘a contested prize in the ongoing culture wars’, a dead white male whose life and attitudes illuminate the dark side of the liberal tradition. A deep regard for ethical systems, notably the Epicurean and the ...

At the Shore

Inigo Thomas, 30 August 2018

... the puddle of senile degeneration.’ ‘What is a pebble?’ is the opening sentence of Clarence Ellis’s book The Pebbles on the Beach, first published by Faber in 1954 and now reissued.* If ever there was a beach book, Ellis’s is it. He wrote it with the idea of encouraging beach visitors to collect pebbles, which had ...

Radical Literary Theory

John Ellis, 8 February 1990

Fraud: Literary Theory and the End of English 
by Peter Washington.
Fontana, 188 pp., £4.99, September 1989, 0 00 686138 5
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... denounced as a bigoted member of the old order. RLT brooks no opposition and no questioning. (Joseph Schumpeter’s dictum still goes unheeded: ‘Obviously, we cannot say everywhere else is ideology; we alone stand on the rock of absolute truth.’) Washington looks at some typical RLT feminist arguments and concludes that they assume certain truths as ...

Censorship

John Bayley, 7 August 1986

No, I’m not afraid 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by David McDuff.
Bloodaxe, 142 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 906427 95 9
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Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time 
by Martin Gilbert.
Macmillan, 467 pp., £14.95, April 1986, 0 333 39504 2
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The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History 
by Jane Ellis.
Croom Helm, 531 pp., £27.50, April 1986, 0 7099 1567 5
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... books were available to them, rather than too few? In his brief but authoritative introduction Joseph Brodsky says that Irina Ratushinskaya is ‘a poet with a voice of her own, piercing but devoid of hysteria’, who has been influenced but not taken over by the majestic voices of the Russian poets of the persecuted epoch – Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva and ...

Fear among the Teacups

Dinah Birch: Ellen Wood, 8 February 2001

East Lynne 
by Ellen Wood, edited by Andrew Maunder.
Broadview, 779 pp., £7.95, October 2000, 1 55111 234 5
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... consumed it with fervour; but the austere Harriet Martineau liked it too, as did General Gordon, Joseph Conrad and Edward VII. Its appeal spread far beyond British readers. R.K. Narayan dwells fondly on the ‘bitter tears’ he shed over East Lynne in his 1975 memoir, My Days: ‘Reading and rereading it always produced a lump in my throat, and that ...

What Charlotte Did

Susan Eilenberg, 6 April 1995

The Brontës 
by Juliet Barker.
Weidenfeld, 1003 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 297 81290 4
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... the Victorian reading public, with its prurient speculations about the mysterious authors Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; meddling acquaintances whose reports fuelled those speculations; previous biographers who exploited those reports; close friends such as Ellen Nussey who defied Charlotte’s husband Arthur Nicholls and refused to burn the letters Charlotte ...

Bad Character

Andrew O’Hagan: Saul Bellow, 21 May 2015

The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-64 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 812 pp., £35, May 2015, 978 0 224 08467 3
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... was in his life: His volatility, like the ‘mad fear of being slighted and scorned’ felt by Joseph in Dangling Man, was an inheritance from his father and his family (‘a people of tantrums’) … It was a tendency exacerbated by early struggles against father and family, by the restrictions of his background, by prejudice, and by his immediate ...

End of the Century

John Sutherland, 13 October 1988

Worlds Apart 
by David Holbrook.
Hale, 205 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 9780709033639
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Story of My Life 
by Jay McInerney.
Bloomsbury, 188 pp., £11.95, August 1988, 0 7475 0180 7
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Forgotten Life 
by Brian Aldiss.
Gollancz, 284 pp., £11.95, September 1988, 0 575 04369 5
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Incline Our hearts 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £11.95, August 1988, 0 241 12256 2
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... veins. McInerney (who was five years old in 1960) is the leading connoisseur with Bret Easton Ellis (who was not born in 1960) of a Nineties decadent chic. It’s that time of the century again, and McInerney’s style here and in his earlier bestseller Bright Lights, Big City is strikingly similar to 1890s Fin de Siècle, if one replaces absinthe with ...

The Duckworth School of Writers

Frank Kermode, 20 November 1980

Human Voices 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 177 pp., £5.25, September 1980, 0 00 222280 9
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Winter Garden 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 157 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7156 1495 9
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... up for at least half a century The best-known, or anyway the only one that ever gets mentioned, is Joseph Vance, the first of them, which was published in 1906; the best, or at any rate the most interesting, is Alice-for-Short, which followed, in spite of its great length, only a year later. De Morgan lived to be 88 and wrote seven novels, as well as two more ...

The Unpredictable Cactus

Emily Witt: Mescaline, 2 January 2020

Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic 
by Mike Jay.
Yale, 297 pp., £18.99, May 2019, 978 0 300 23107 6
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... and to dissect one’s private sensations was to miss the point’. Writers such as Havelock Ellis, who published an essay on his peyote experiences in the Lancet in 1897 (it’s likely that he also administered the substance to his friends W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons), instead tended to focus on its visual effects. ...

Come and Stay

Arnold Rattenbury, 27 November 1997

England and the Octopus 
by Clough Williams-Ellis.
CPRE, 220 pp., £10.95, December 1996, 0 946044 50 3
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Clough Williams-EllisRIBA Drawings Monograph No 2 
by Richard Haslam.
Academy, 112 pp., £24.95, March 1996, 1 85490 430 2
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Clough Williams-EllisThe Architect of Portmeirion 
by Jonah Jones.
Seren, 204 pp., £9.95, December 1996, 1 85411 166 3
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... Sir Clough Williams-Ellis is best known nowadays as the owner-architect of Portmeirion, the hotel he built as a partly cliff-hanging, partly tree-nestled village on a North Wales coastal estuary, adding to it building by building across some fifty years. Always astonishing, some think beautiful, it enjoyed its greatest publicity as the setting for the cult TV series, The Prisoner ...

Voyagers

James Paradis, 18 June 1981

Sir Joseph Banks 
by Charles Lyte.
David and Charles, 248 pp., £10.50, October 1980, 0 7153 7884 8
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The Heyday of Natural History: 1820-1870 
by Lynn Barber.
Cape, 320 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 9780224014489
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A Vision of Eden 
by Marianne North.
Webb and Bower, 240 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 906671 18 3
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... the specialist, wrote for circles of experts. The decline in reputation of amateurs such as Sir Joseph Banks and James Audubon, both of whom had counted themselves as naturalists, was largely the result of their failure to contribute to the growing body of specialist literature. Coleridge, a careful student of the Linnaean tradition, objected that the ...

Diary

Patrick Wright: The Cult of Tyneham, 24 November 1988

... a horse-drawn harvester set off against a silver sea – over half a page. Clough Williams-Ellis stretched Tyneham’s view of Worbarrow Bay over the end-papers of his passionately-argued conservationist volume Britain and the Beast. There could scarcely have been a more evocative picture of an England that, in the Thirties, was endangered but still ...

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