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Shopping in Lucerne

E.S. Turner, 9 June 1994

Addicted to Romance: The Life and Adventures of Elinor Glyn 
by Joan Hardwick.
Deutsch, 306 pp., £20, June 1994, 0 233 98866 1
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Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde 
by Joy Melville.
Murray, 308 pp., £19.99, June 1994, 0 7195 5102 1
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... vital parts. Another flamboyant, scandal-lapped, self-dramatising monstre sacrée surfaces in Joy Melville’s Mother of Oscar, a life of Lady Wilde, once famous as ‘Speranza’, the seditious Dublin belle of the potato famine. Born Jane Elgee, she too ran amok in the Classics and fantasised about her ancestors. In the late 1840s she wrote ...

‘Look, look, what ails the ship, she is upsetting’

Peter Nichols: The ship ‘Essex’, 8 March 2001

The Loss of the Ship ‘Essex’, Sunk by a Whale 
by Thomas Nickerson and Owen Chase, edited by Nathaniel Philbrick and Thomas Philbrick et al.
Penguin, 231 pp., £7.99, June 2000, 0 14 043796 7
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... 1704-9), off the coast of Chile. One of the Acushnet’s fo’c’sle crew was the young Herman Melville. The two ships hove to for a few hours while their masters visited each other, and the 22-year-old Melville caught sight of the Wirt’s captain. He was impressed: ‘He was a large, powerful, well-made man; rather ...

Coaxing and Seducing

Richard Jenkyns: Lucretius, 3 September 1998

Lucretius: ‘On the Nature of the Universe’ 
translated by Ronald Melville.
Oxford, 275 pp., £45, November 1998, 0 19 815097 0
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... by the suffering of others, as Lucretius explains in a famous passage. In this translation, A joy it is, when the strong winds of storm Stir up the waters of a mighty sea, To watch from the shore the troubles of another – not, as the poet explains in the next lines, from sadism, but because the philosopher is fortified by an irrefragable ...

Whose Body?

Charles Glass: ‘Operation Mincemeat’, 22 July 2010

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War Two 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 400 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 0 7475 9868 8
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... going to be allowed to do anything of the kind again.’ Yet he was pleased with his handiwork: ‘Joy of joys to anyone, and particularly a Jew, the satisfaction of knowing that they had directly and specifically fooled that monster.’ He estimated the cost of Operation Mincemeat, which saved thousands of Allied lives in a conquest that took only 38 rather ...

Notebook/To Lucian Freud/On the Veil

Mark Doty, 20 January 2005

... light on the pure actual. (No such thing as the body,) Fact of a wrist. Vein troubling a forehead. Melville: How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? *                                     (By the waterfountain in the gym) On the huge man’s left arm TRUST above an image he called the god of ...

On Darwin’s Trouble with the Finches

Andrew Berry: The genius of Charles Darwin, 7 March 2002

Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands 
by Edward Larson.
Penguin, 320 pp., £8.99, February 2002, 0 14 100503 3
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... mentor, John Henslow, Charles Darwin was increasingly anxious to get home: ‘I look forward with joy and interest to [visiting the Galapagos], both as being somewhat nearer to England, & for the sake of having a good look at an active Volcano.’ He had cause to expect some pyrotechnics as the island chain had been produced by continental drift of the ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo, 6 December 2012

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... the poet with the madness of the mathematician’. Perec in particular constantly invokes Herman Melville: W’s narrator identifies not with ‘Ahab’s boiling fury’ but with the sober and scrupulous Ishmael; the puzzle-making central figure in La Vie mode d’emploi is named ‘Bartlebooth’, splicing together Valery Larbaud’s A.O. Barnabooth and ...

Heat in a Mild Climate

James Wood: Baron Britain of Aldeburgh, 19 December 2013

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the 20th Century 
by Paul Kildea.
Allen Lane, 635 pp., £30, January 2013, 978 1 84614 232 1
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Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music 
by Neil Powell.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £25, January 2013, 978 0 09 193123 0
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... or otherwise slightly sexless versions of it (Vere’s chaste love for Billy replaces what Melville called Claggart’s ‘natural depravity’). And curiously, this very repression then effects a release: Vere’s relation to Billy is more tenderly realised than anything in Melville’s novella (‘But he has ...

Having Half the Fun

Jenny Diski, 9 May 1996

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness 
by Kay Redfield Jamison.
Picador, 220 pp., £15.99, April 1996, 0 330 34650 4
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Touched with Fire 
by Kay Redfield Jamison.
Free Press, 250 pp., £19.95, December 1994, 0 02 916030 8
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Welcome to My Country: A Therapist’s Memoir of Medness 
by Lauren Slater.
Hamish Hamilton, 199 pp., £16, April 1996, 0 241 13638 5
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... the ‘possession’ poets speak of with manic states. Byron, Blake, Coleridge, the Jameses, Melville, Van Gogh and, of course, Virginia Woolf are all tested, by their works and their known heredities, for bipolar illness and the findings are positive. While Jamison acknowledges that ‘there are many artists, writers and composers who are perfectly ...


Tim Dee: Derek Walcott’s Birthday Party, 22 May 2014

... exactly as it pleases’. Columbus was impressed by the frigatebird and described it in his log; Melville made a poem from one, and the ‘black hawk’ that lifts Ahab’s hat from his head and ominously drops it, far from the Pequod, into the sea, is most likely a frigatebird too. It is not a raptor – the taxonomists have it between cormorants and herons ...

Stop It and Act

Tim Parks: Pavese’s Road to Suicide, 11 February 2010

This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-50 
by Cesare Pavese, translated by A.E. Murch.
Transaction, 350 pp., £24.50, March 2009, 978 1 4128 1019 7
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... more and more reluctantly. Nor does it matter much that I sometimes have a powerful sense of the joy of invention. The two things seen together can be explained by an acquired facility with metrics that takes away the thrill of digging out the work from a formless mass, and on the other hand by interests arising from ordinary life that add passion and ...

Brown Goo like Marmite

Neal Ascherson: Memories of the Fog, 8 October 2015

London Fog: The Biography 
by Christine Corton.
Harvard, 408 pp., £22.95, November 2015, 978 0 674 08835 1
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... Names for the fog evolved during the 19th century. ‘Pea-souper’ is sometimes attributed to Melville, who wrote in 1850 of encountering ‘the old-fashioned pea soup London fog – of a gamboge colour’. This suggests that the expression was already well-worn. (Corton, given to rather engaging fits of pedantry, here goes off into a disquisition about ...

Post-its, push pins, pencils

Jenny Diski: In the Stationery Cupboard, 31 July 2014

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace 
by Nikil Saval.
Doubleday, 288 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 0 385 53657 8
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... allowed to accompany my father to an office that was once or twice his place of work, I went with joy as to Santa’s grotto. The office had so much more to engage with than mere roundabouts and swings. The secret beating heart of the dream office is the stationery cupboard, the ideal kind, the one that opens to enough depth to allow you to walk in and close ...

What Life Says to Us

Stephanie Burt: Robert Creeley, 21 February 2008

The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1945-75 
California, 681 pp., £12.55, October 2006, 0 520 24158 4Show More
The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1975-2005 
California, 662 pp., £29.95, October 2006, 0 520 24159 2Show More
On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay 
by Robert Creeley.
California, 89 pp., £12.95, April 2006, 0 520 24791 4
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Selected Poems: 1945-2005 
by Robert Creeley, edited by Benjamin Friedlander.
California, 339 pp., $21.95, January 2008, 978 0 520 25196 0
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... have put them in touch. Olson was then a former federal official, the author of a vivid book about Melville, not yet the theorist, impresario and cult figure of The Maximus Poems. The Olson-Creeley letters now comprise ten published volumes; Olson’s most famous formulation, ‘Form is never more than an extension of content,’ originated in a letter from ...


Alan Bennett: Allelujah!, 3 January 2019

... the imagination, so it’s not unlikely.23 March. Barry Cryer brings a good deal of old-fashioned joy into my life, as I’m sure he does for many others. His phone calls always begin, ‘It’s your stalker,’ after which without introduction he tells his latest joke. This morning’s was told originally by Walter Matthau.A newly married couple. The husband ...

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