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The One We’d Like to Meet

Margaret Anne Doody: Myth, 6 July 2000

Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India 
by Wendy Doniger.
Chicago, 376 pp., £43.95, June 1999, 0 226 15640 0
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The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth 
by Wendy Doniger.
Columbia, 212 pp., £11.50, October 1999, 0 231 11171 1
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... or goddesses get raped? Can beauty become vile? Such problems are raised by Helen of Troy, wife of King Menelaus, and by Sita, wife of Rama. Their stories (in multiple versions) are entertainingly retold and analysed by Wendy Doniger, a professor of the history of religions and of South-East Asian languages and civilisations. As Doniger – who can read ...

All hail, sage lady

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Crown’, 15 December 2016

... Before we come to Philip’s internal strife, we have to contend with the randy bonhomie of old King George. It is said that American viewers are distressed to find the word ‘cunt’ used in the first episode, spoken by George VI (Jared Harris) to his valet, but perhaps this is merely the latest in a long line of gifts from Britain to the former ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Fastsellers, 22 March 2001

... as Times Books, £19.99), a compendium of the Collins Wordpower series, written by the late Graham King, who will be remembered, according to Philip Howard’s Foreword and fortunately for King, as ‘more than the marketing man who transformed the Sun and the Sunday Times’, though we musn’t forget he was that, too. The ...

Mongkut and I

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 30 January 1992

The Romance of the Harem 
by Anna Leonowens, edited by Susan Morgan.
Virginia, 285 pp., £10.50, August 1991, 0 8139 1328 4
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... In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, The King and I, the English governess quarrels with her royal employer over his refusal to provide her with a separate house, outside the harem walls. Alone in her room afterwards, Anna takes her revenge with a spirited patter song, indignantly denouncing the King as a ‘conceited, self-indulgent libertine’ and seizing the occasion to inform him in – absentia – of ‘certain goings on around this place/That I wish to tell you I do not admire ...

Republican King

Philippe Marlière: François Mitterrand, 17 April 2014

Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity 
by Philip Short.
Bodley Head, 692 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84792 006 5
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... verbatim private conversations between Mitterrand and other foreign leaders (in particular Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl). He also conducted interviews with Mitterrand’s wife, Danielle, and Anne Pingeot, his long-time mistress. The result is a rich, detailed and dependable biography, framed as a ‘study in ambiguity’. Who was Mitterrand? Was ...

Downsize, Your Majesty

David Cannadine, 16 October 1997

The Royals 
by Kitty Kelley.
Warner, 547 pp., $27, September 1997, 0 446 51712 7
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... Young Things. Think of George VI, Elizabeth and the two young princesses, ‘we four’, as the King observed with characteristic precision, ‘the royal family.’ And think of Elizabeth and Philip, whose domestic felicity was proclaimed to the world in the BBC documentary which was inevitably entitled Royal Family. At first glance, it might seem ...

Dear Miss Boothby

Margaret Anne Doody, 5 November 1992

The Letters of Samuel Johnson: Vol. I: 1731-1772, Vol. II: 1773-1776, Vol. III: 1777-1781 
edited by Bruce Redford.
Oxford, 431 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 19 811287 4
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... bias. Johnson acknowledges this: ‘I got my lives put neatly together, and sent them to the King ... If the King is a Whig, he will not like them; but is any King a Whig?’ The Lives are indeed a Tory work, and there was soon an anonymous ‘furious fellow’ protesting in print ...

Lunch

Jon Halliday, 2 June 1983

In the Service of the Peacock Throne: The Diaries of the Shah’s Last Ambassador to London 
by Parviz Radji.
Hamish Hamilton, 343 pp., £12.50, April 1983, 0 241 10960 4
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... behaviour. The first mention of torture comes in the very first entry – and from Princess Margaret. Radji is apologising for the demonstrators outside the window. Princess Margaret says she is used to pro-IRA demonstrators in America. ‘“But, of course, you have torture, which we don’t.” I replied that I was ...

Docility Rampant

Margaret Anne Doody, 31 October 1996

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Romance Writings 
edited by Isobel Grundy.
Oxford, 276 pp., £14.50, August 1996, 0 19 812288 8
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... her throne. She and her gloomy husband seek shelter at the court of Le Roi des Bons Enfants, ‘King Goodchild’ (Grundy) or the King of Goodfellows, who rules over a carelessly happy court, where no one is allowed to preach or to gossip, where everyone has affairs but no one indulges sentiment: ‘ce n’estoit pas 1e ...

A Subtle Form of Hypocrisy

John Bayley, 2 October 1997

Playing the Game: A Biography of Sir Henry Newbolt 
by Susan Chitty.
Quartet, 288 pp., £25, July 1997, 0 7043 7107 3
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... paperbacks – and to Newbolt’s great delight Mary Coleridge did almost equally well with The King with Two Faces, a novel based on the murder of the Swedish king, in which the author identified herself closely and obviously with the aristocratic young hero. Newbolt was soon enveloped and adored by these dashing and ...

Dunbar’s Disappearance

Sally Mapstone: William Dunbar, 24 May 2001

The Poems of William Dunbar 
edited by Priscilla Bawcutt.
Association for Scottish Literary Studies, £70, May 1999, 0 948877 38 3
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... In December 1501 the Scottish poet William Dunbar received £5 from the Court of King James IV, a payment which was given to him, according to the Treasurer’s accounts, ‘eftir he com furth of Ingland’. It is not known for sure what he had been doing there. He may well have been in the entourage of the Scottish embassy which was conducting the negotiations with Henry VII that led to the marriage two years later of Princess Margaret Tudor to James IV ...

I just worked it out from the novel

Michael Wood, 24 April 1997

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Harvill, 313 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 86046 199 9
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The Club Dumas 
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Sonia Soto.
Harcourt Brace, 368 pp., $23, February 1997, 0 15 100182 0
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... A Heart So White and Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me. All three are admirably translated by Margaret Jull Costa, who not only catches the meanings of words with grace and precision, but gets rhythms of thought, and even better, rhythms of afterthought to carry over into English. Marías writes the kind of old-fashioned, speculative prose we associate ...

Always the Same Dream

Ferdinand Mount: Princess Margaret, 4 January 2018

Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret 
by Craig Brown.
Fourth Estate, 423 pp., £16.99, September 2017, 978 0 00 820361 0
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... I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend.’ For the older generation, Princess Margaret was the unlucky princess. She was our Diana: capricious, passionate, vindictive, doomed to fall in love with rotters, the breakaway royal who hung out with actors and rogues and who was frozen out by a cold-hearted court, finding contentment only in her ...

‘Just get us out’

Ferdinand Mount, 21 March 2019

... or spiritual within this realm’? Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Margaret Thatcher’s official biographer, turned his fire on the archbishop of Canterbury: ‘I do feel that the archbishop, when looking at Brexit, should remember the Act in Restraint of Appeals. After all, if it had not been passed, his Church would not exist ...

Von Hötzendorff’s Desire

Margaret MacMillan: The First World War, 2 December 2004

Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy 
by David Stevenson.
Basic Books, 564 pp., £26.50, June 2004, 0 465 08184 3
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... fought for something. Indian soldiers, as their letters reveal, for honour, the British for king and country. As one French soldier said simply, ‘I do not want to become a Boche.’ His fellow soldiers who mutinied in 1917 did so more because they did not want to die in futile attacks than to stop the war itself. For Germans, the war was about saving ...

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