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Frank Kermode: B. S. Johnson, 5 August 2004

Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson 
by Jonathan Coe.
Picador, 486 pp., £20, June 2004, 9780330350488
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‘Trawl’, ‘Albert Angelo’ and ‘House Mother Normal’ 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 472 pp., £14.99, June 2004, 0 330 35332 2
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... B.S. Johnson died by his own hand in 1973. He was 40, and the author of seven novels, all of them rather odd in ways that put publishers off because their oddities made them expensive to produce and hard to sell. He bullied the publishers haughtily and often got his way, though at some cost to himself: the books were hard to sell ...

It’s great to change your mind

Christopher Ricks, 7 February 1985

Using Biography 
by William Empson.
Chatto, 259 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 7011 2889 5
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Seven Types of Ambiguity 
by William Empson.
Hogarth, 258 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 0 7012 0556 3
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Collected Poems 
by William Empson.
Hogarth, 119 pp., £3.95, September 1984, 0 7012 0555 5
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... that.’ Using Biography is devoted to six authors: Marvell, Dryden, Fielding, Yeats, Eliot and Joyce. The central essays had been printed before, but are here revised and supplemented. Three related principles unify the book, all argued for and all good-naturedly shocked at the pretty pass to which things have come. First, that the knowledge of what a ...

Pwaise the wabbit

Claudia Johnson, 1 August 1996

Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings 
by Hugh Kenner.
California, 114 pp., £12, September 1994, 0 520 08797 6
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... they mirror. With dozens of books on subjects as various as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, geodesic domes and computer poetry to his credit, Hugh Kenner, one of the moving forces behind the California series, is the éminence grise of American Modernism. It is not hard to imagine why he likes cartoons in general and Chuck Jones in ...

Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... When​ Doctor Johnson defined a club as ‘an assembly of good fellows meeting under certain conditions’ he did not mention the essential condition – that each member shall assume that every other member is a good fellow. In practice, of course, it is a law of club life the world over that, apart from very small clubs indeed, no member can know every other member even by sight ...

Leases of Lifelessness

Denis Donoghue, 7 October 1993

Beckett’s Dying Words 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 218 pp., £17.50, July 1993, 0 19 812358 2
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... I doubt Ricks’s general notion here and wonder how it survived his transcription of Samuel Johnson’s reply to Miss Seward: ‘The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horror of annihilation consists.’ Or Swift’s ‘Thoughts on Various ...

A Sad and Gory Land

Claudia Johnson, 23 February 1995

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? 
by Lorrie Moore.
Faber, 148 pp., £14.99, November 1994, 0 571 17310 1
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... In her transgressiveness and in her loyalty to a girlfriend. Berie is similar to the heroines of Joyce Carol Oates’s Foxfire and Jayne Anne Phillips’s formidably severe Shelter, recent novels that also take on the drama of provincial girlhood during the Sixties and Seventies. Different as these two novels are from each other, however, they strive for a ...

Diary

Jeremy Harding: On the Tyson Saga, 31 August 1989

... worked has an abject air, like a community centre starved of resources. Indeed, its manager Bill Johnson, a lean black man with three fighting sons of his own, does sometimes talk like a social worker. Johnson maintains that what is at stake for a fighter from a bad neighbourhood is whether he can stay off the ...

Buckets of Empathy

James Wood, 30 March 2000

On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Yale, 294 pp., £18.95, October 1999, 0 300 07991 5
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... enough. Writers are innocent. Tolstoy was certainly innocent. Even Proust was innocent. Even Joyce was innocent.’ One of the sponsors of Amis’s pessimism, whether he knows it or not, is Schiller’s supple essay, Simple and Sentimental Poetry, written in 1795 (usually translated as Naive and Sentimental Poetry). This, for all its dialectical ...

Ecclefechan and the Stars

Robert Crawford, 21 January 1988

The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect 
by George Davie.
Polygon, 283 pp., £17.95, September 1986, 0 948275 18 9
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... one of his Glasgow auditors, James Boswell, whose marvellous accumulation. The Life of Samuel Johnson, is a major peak in the Scottish eclectic tradition. In Edinburgh, formulating the canon of the new university study of English Literature, Blair tried to inscribe a marked Scottish presence. But works such as the Ossianic poems, Home’s ...

Cold-Shouldered

James Wood: John Carey, 8 March 2001

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... Times and the Spectator. Carey’s cousins in populism sometimes include Simon Jenkins, Paul Johnson, A.N. Wilson and the late Auberon Waugh. An easy moralism animates this worldview. Picasso was a pig; Edmund Gosse was ‘a bore’; D.H. Lawrence hit Frieda and wanted to exterm-inate whole races; Virginia Woolf was a pretentious snob who said horrible ...

Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

Blake 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 399 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85619 278 4
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol I: Jerusalem 
editor David Bindman, edited by Morton D. Paley.
Tate Gallery, 304 pp., £48, August 1991, 1 85437 066 9
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. II: Songs of Innocence and Experience 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Andrew Lincoln.
Tate Gallery, 210 pp., £39.50, August 1991, 1 85437 068 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol III: The Early Illuminated Books 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Morris Eaves, Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 288 pp., £48, August 1993, 1 85437 119 3
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. IV: The Continental Prophecies: America, Europe, The Song of Los 
editor David Bindman, edited by D.W. Dörbecker.
Tate Gallery, 368 pp., £50, May 1995, 1 85437 154 1
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. V: Milton, a Poem 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 224 pp., £48, November 1993, 1 85437 121 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. VI: The Urizen Books 
 editor David Bindman, edited by David Worrall.
Tate Gallery, 232 pp., £39.50, May 1995, 9781854371553
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... heroes – Cassady in t-shirt, Kerouac in a Stetson; the kind of image that is now surfacing, as Joyce Johnson recalls, in hip advertisements for Gap khakis (with ‘black-sweatered girlfriend’ airbrushed out). A predatory colonisation of the past. Carolyn’s own traditional artworks, chalk drawings of ballerinas, pencil sketches of Ginsberg and ...

Her Body or the Sea

Ian Patterson: Ann Quin, 21 June 2018

The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments 
by Ann Quin.
And Other Stories, 192 pp., £10, January 2018, 978 1 911508 14 4
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... lurking in dark corners, and now everybody’s writing about her. Since the rediscovery of B.S. Johnson (if that’s what it was) that followed Jonathan Coe’s biography a few years ago there’s been a wave of enthusiasm for ‘experimental fiction’. A new crop of writers such as Claire-Louise Bennett, Kevin Davey, Will Eaves, Eimear McBride and Eley ...

Introspection and the Body

P.N. Johnson-Laird, 5 March 1987

William James: His Life and Thought 
by Gerald Myers.
Yale, 628 pp., £30, October 1986, 0 300 03417 2
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... have suggested that his concept of the ‘stream of consciousness’ influenced the works of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, but his major literary legacy may have been an unwitting contribution to the prose style of Gertrude Stein. James’s masterpiece, which took him 12 years to write, was the two-volume Principles of Psychology. Published in 1890, it is ...

All in pawn

Richard Altick, 19 June 1986

The Common Writer: Life in 19th-century Grub Street 
by Nigel Cross.
Cambridge, 265 pp., £25, September 1985, 0 521 24564 8
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... with malicious wit in the Dunciad. Their archetype was Richard Savage, whose profligate life Dr Johnson – himself an industrious, ill-paid hack in his earlier years in London – had narrated in 1744. The Grub Street the Victorians knew was the far-off one described by Smollett in his novels and, in their own day, in Macaulay’s celebrated essay on ...

Carry up your Coffee boldly

Thomas Keymer: Jonathan Swift, 17 April 2014

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 573 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 300 16499 2
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Parodies, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises: ‘Polite Conversation’, ‘Directions to Servants’ and Other Works 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Valerie Rumbold.
Cambridge, 821 pp., £85, July 2013, 978 0 521 84326 3
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Journal to Stella: Letters to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley, 1710-13 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Abigail Williams.
Cambridge, 800 pp., £85, December 2013, 978 0 521 84166 5
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... leaves Trinity College Dublin and moves to England in the 1680s as private secretary – or, as Joyce put it, ‘privysuckatary’ – to the retired diplomat and belletrist Sir William Temple. Swift may even have been an illegitimate half-brother of Temple, Damrosch suggests (one might say speculates). But it’s tempting to see him more as the hapless ...

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