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Come along, Alcibiades

John Bayley, 25 January 1996

Terence Rattigan: A Biography 
by Geoffrey Wansell.
Fourth Estate, 428 pp., £20, October 1995, 1 85702 201 7
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... The femme fatale Diana is foiled in her attempt to grab the hero – played by the youthful Rex Harrison while Diana was Kay Hammond – and decides to console herself with the young Lord Heybrook, who is about to arrive at the crammers’ establishment (a perfect and improbable Thirties scenario). She duly makes a languid appearance in her ...

Rough Trade

Steven Shapin: Robert Hooke, 6 March 2003

The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke 1635-1703 
by Stephen Inwood.
Macmillan, 497 pp., £18.99, September 2002, 0 333 78286 0
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... and rejoiced at the royal reaction: ‘The King most graciously pleased with it . . . He promised me a patent’ – though the watch never worked as well as Hooke had hoped and no patent was ever issued for his device. In the mid-1670s, a solution to the longitude problem was worth the astounding sum of £4000 to its inventor, at a time when an annual income ...

On Hope Mirrlees

Clair Wills, 10 September 2020

... We might think of hearsay constructions as late linguistic survivors of what the classicist Jane Harrison called the ‘holophrase’, expressing a state of being in relation to the world. A phrase before subject and predicate, before signs and selves.Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: A Poem, recently reissued by Faber (£9.99), was first published a century ago by ...

Scots wha hae gone to England

Donald Davie, 9 July 1992

Devolving English Literature 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 320 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198112983
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The Faber Book of 20th-Century Scottish Poetry 
edited by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 424 pp., £17.50, July 1992, 9780571154319
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... on behalf of the Scots, avoids this mistake, detecting in a provincial Englishman like Tony Harrison a fury and resentment not surpassed by any Scot. But this is hardly a novel perception, for Harrison has achieved fame on the strength of it. In fact, it’s hard to find any English writer who isn’t provincial in ...

The Pomegranates of Patmos

Tony Harrison, 1 June 1989

... We may be that generation that sees Armageddon. Ronald Reagan, 1980 My brother, my bright twin, Prochorus, I think his bright future’s been wrecked. When we’ve both got our lives before us he’s gone and joined this weird sect. He sits in a cave with his guru, a batty old bugger called John and scribbles on scrolls stuff to scare you while the rabbi goes rabbiting on ...

Victorian Vocations

Frank Kermode, 6 December 1984

Frederic HarrisonThe Vocations of a Positivist 
by Martha Vogeler.
Oxford, 493 pp., £27.50, September 1984, 0 19 824733 8
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Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian 
by Noël Annan.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £16.50, September 1984, 0 297 78369 6
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... Frederic Harrison once climbed Mont Blanc and found Leslie Stephen on the top. Not an improbable location for the encounter of two eminent Victorians: and they might equally have met in George Eliot’s drawing-room. Whereas Stephen was much the more distinguished mountaineer, Harrison probably knew George Eliot better: he helped her work out the legal plot of Felix Holt, a service for which she may have owed him more gratitude than we need to feel ...

My Old, Sweet, Darling Mob

Iain Sinclair: Michael Moorcock, 30 November 2000

King of the City 
by Michael Moorcock.
Scribner, 421 pp., £9.99, May 2000, 0 684 86140 2
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Mother London 
by Michael Moorcock.
Scribner, 496 pp., £6.99, May 2000, 0 684 86141 0
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... and bright new housing projects. King of the City is a very different beast. ‘Believe me, pards,’ it opens, ‘we’re living in an age of myths and miracles.’ (Moorcock, a wily veteran, knows perfectly well, after all those years of TV evangelists and Teflon politicos, how to manage the spin that sends a sentence into reverse, like a ...

Something else

Jonathan Coe, 5 December 1991

In Black and White 
by Christopher Stevenson.
New Caxton Press, 32 pp., £1.95
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The Tree of Life 
by Hugh Nissenson.
Carcanet, 159 pp., £6.95, September 1991, 0 85635 874 6
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Cley 
by Carey Harrison.
Heinemann, 181 pp., £13.99, November 1991, 0 434 31368 8
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... on today’s literary scene, is called gently into question by each of these writers. Carey Harrison, with ostensibly the second (although in fact the first) volume of what looks set to become a monumental tetralogy, puts pressure on the boundaries of the form by insisting that it absorb a near-infinity of characters, events and incidental detail. Less ...

Here comes Amy

Christopher Reid, 17 April 1986

What the light was like 
by Amy Clampitt.
Faber, 110 pp., £4, February 1986, 0 571 13814 4
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Facing Nature 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 110 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 233 97798 8
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Nero 
by Jeremy Reed.
Cape, 128 pp., £4.95, November 1985, 0 224 02346 2
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V. 
by Tony Harrison.
Bloodaxe, 36 pp., £8.95, December 1985, 0 906427 98 3
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Dramatic Verse: 1973-1985 
by Tony Harrison.
Bloodaxe, 448 pp., £20, December 1985, 0 906427 81 9
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Sky Ray Lolly 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, April 1986, 0 7011 3046 6
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The Tower of Glass 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Mariscat, £3, September 1985, 0 946588 07 4
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Making cocoa for Kingsley Amis 
by Wendy Cope.
Faber, 65 pp., £7.95, March 1986, 0 571 13977 9
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... the sequence of eight poems that appear under the collective title of ‘Voyages: A Homage to John Keats’. The ambition here, to anatomise the development of Keats’s imagination at a crucial period of his life, is admirable in itself, but for all Clampitt’s brisk command of her source material, the project never comes to life in such a way as to ...

Each of us is a snowball

Susannah Clapp: Squares are best, 22 October 2020

Square Haunting 
by Francesca Wade.
Faber, 422 pp., £20, January, 978 0 571 33065 2
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... In the end, alongside HD, Sayers and Woolf, Wade decided to concentrate on the classicist Jane Harrison and the historian Eileen Power.Woolf is the most obvious motor for Square Haunting. The title tips its hat to ‘Street Haunting’, her essay about a London meander. Its premise – the difficulty and importance for women of securing what was then a ...

Scenes from Common Life

V.G. Kiernan, 1 November 1984

A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England 1381-1914 
edited by Christopher Hampton.
Penguin, 624 pp., £7.95, January 1984, 0 14 022444 0
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Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales 1790-1810 
by John Bohstedt.
Harvard, 310 pp., £12.50, November 1983, 0 674 77120 6
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The World We have Lost – Further Explored 
by Peter Laslett.
Methuen, 353 pp., £12.95, December 1983, 0 416 35340 1
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... J.F.C. Harrison has recently told us ‘about the people who are usually left out of history’ – such people as the maid-of-all-work in 1909 whose duties kept her busy from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.* Christopher Hampton gives us, in an anonymous 15th-century poem, a lament over women’s perpetual drudgery. His extract from the early feminist Mary Astell, writing in 1721, acknowledges that by comparison with Eastern women, who ‘are born Slaves, and live Prisoners all their Lives’, Englishwomen have an easy servitude, but ‘Fetters of Gold are still Fetters ...

Sweeno’s Beano

Nigel Wheale: MacSweeney, Kinsella and Harrison, 1 October 1998

The Book of Demons 
by Barry MacSweeney.
Bloodaxe, 109 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85224 414 3
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Poems 1980-94 
by John Kinsella.
Bloodaxe, 352 pp., £9.95, April 1999, 1 85224 453 4
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The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony 
by John Kinsella.
Arc, 108 pp., £7.95, January 1997, 1 900072 12 2
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The Kangaroo Farm 
by Martin Harrison.
Paper Bark, 79 pp., £8.95, May 1998, 0 9586482 4 7
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... a nobody I am beneath the cowslip’s shadow, next to the heifers’ hooves. I have a roof over my head, but none in my mouth. All my words are homeless. She leaks truth ‘like a wound’, asking ‘what/does a government do?’ She serves as the poem’s counter-voice to economic and ...

Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

Selected Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Viking, 204 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 670 80040 6
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Palladas: Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Anvil, 47 pp., £2.95, October 1984, 9780856461279
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Men and Women 
by Frederick Seidel.
Chatto, 70 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2868 2
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Dangerous play: Poems 1974-1984 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 110 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 907540 56 2
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Mister Punch 
by David Harsent.
Oxford, 70 pp., £4.50, October 1984, 0 19 211966 4
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An Umbrella from Piccadilly 
by Jaroslav Seifert and Ewald Osers.
London Magazine Editions, 80 pp., £5, November 1984, 0 904388 75 1
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... as an art in its own right. Think of Pater, Valéry, Blanchot. Hartman’s advice seemed bad to me, and I preferred to abide by T.S. Eliot’s assumption that the aim of criticism should be ‘the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste’. But I have to admit that the matters of current interest to critics are miles away from the current ...

Consequences

Christopher Reid, 15 May 1980

Renga 
by Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubaud, Edoardo Sanguineti and Charles Tomlinson.
Penguin, 95 pp., £1.95, November 1979, 0 14 042268 4
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Kites in Spring 
by John Hewitt.
Blackstaff, 63 pp., £2.95, February 1980, 0 85640 206 0
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The Island Normal 
by Brian Jones.
Carcanet, 91 pp., £2.95, February 1980, 9780856353406
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New Poetry 5 
edited by Peter Redgrove and Jon Silkin.
Hutchinson, 163 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 09 139570 4
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... poetry’. As it happens, I do not believe in such a ‘community’. Paz’s formulation strikes me as not so much magnanimous as merely bland. At times, indeed, this whole endeavour (promoted by Claude Gallimard, the French publisher) puts me in mind of one of those optimistic United Nations stunts, where a Finnish ...

Sexual Tories

Angus Calder, 17 May 1984

The Common People: A History from the Norman Conquest to the Present 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Croom Helm and Flamingo, 445 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7099 0125 9
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British Society 1914-45 
by John Stevenson.
Allen Lane/Penguin, 503 pp., £16.95, March 1984, 0 7139 1390 8
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The World We Left Behind: A Chronicle of the Year 1939 
by Robert Kee.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £11.95, April 1984, 0 297 78287 8
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Wigan Pier Revisited: Poverty and Politics in the Eighties 
by Beatrix Campbell.
Virago, 272 pp., £4.50, April 1984, 0 86068 417 2
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... rate truth, and her historical sense collapsed chronology. I was moved to remember this by J.F.C. Harrison’s ‘coda’ to his fine new book: ‘As writers like Thomas Hardy have noted, there is a certain timelessness about the common people, which means that in the last resort their experience can be expressed by myth as well as by history.’ Yes, and the ...

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