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Marina Warner: Girls Are Rubbish, 17 February 2005

Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet: Women in Proverbs from around the World 
by Mineke Schipper.
Yale, 422 pp., £35, April 2004, 0 300 10249 6
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... Dryden and D’Avenant’s debonair travesty of The Tempest pairs the innocent heroine, Dorinda, with Hippolito, a male juvenile lead of equal springtime guilelessness. While Miranda knows only Prospero and Caliban, and barely remembers her mother, neither Dorinda nor Hippolito has ever seen any other member of the opposite sex. Hippolito finds that Prospero left behind a single book, overlooked when he drowned his library ...

Doubly Damned

Marina Warner: Literary riddles, 8 February 2007

Enigmas and Riddles in Literature 
by Eleanor Cook.
Cambridge, 291 pp., £48, February 2006, 0 521 85510 1
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... Oedipus the riddle-breaker finds himself caught in a riddle; the coils of the enigma ‘What am I?’ tighten around him until he comes to the horrific knowledge that he is himself insoluble: husband of his mother, brother of his daughters. The question of his true identity is related to the Sphinx’s original riddle – ‘What walks on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three feet in the evening?’ – and it’s odd that Oedipus’ predecessors couldn’t solve it, since it was an old chestnut ...

I ain’t afeared

Marina Warner: In Her Classroom, 9 September 2021

Black Teacher 
by Beryl Gilroy.
Faber, 268 pp., £12.99, July, 978 0 571 36773 3
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... In​ 1945, 21-year-old Beryl Answick graduated with a first class diploma from the teacher training college in Georgetown, capital of what was then British Guiana. Guyanese education at the time was rigid and the (tamarind) rod much in evidence: ‘Children … were expected to know certain facts, the relevance of which did not always matter,’ she remembered ...

Magic Zones

Marina Warner, 8 December 1994

Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilisation 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 413 pp., £25, October 1994, 9780571173907
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... When Pasolini, disgusted with the fatted values of post-war capitalism in Italy, was dreaming up an alternative in his late Trilogy, he found the imagery he needed in old collections of stories, and made The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron and The Arabian Nights. By turning from the uncanny, contemporary metaphysics of a film like Theorem, he was making common cause with the vulgar imagination and placing his hope in its vigour, in what he perceived to be its unabashed appetites and its laughter ...

What the children saw

Marina Warner, 7 April 1994

Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Bismarckian Germany 
by David Blackhourn.
Oxford, 463 pp., £40, December 1993, 0 19 821783 8
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... The Ave Maria society, based in London, recently issued a book the size of a telephone directory called Supernatural Visions of the Madonna 1981-91. The desktop publication was heralded by large ads in various papers featuring the visionary. Sister Marie or Sofia Marie Gabriel: her revelations and secrets could save mankind. In the book, the author includes a poem, called ‘Child Mystic Child of Destiny’: I live the life of an innocent child Pure and gentle Meek and mild I live just like a cloistered nun And I avoid all worldly fun ...

Harmoniously Arranged Livers

Marina Warner, 8 June 1995

The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity 200-1336 
by Caroline Walker Bynum.
Columbia, 368 pp., £22.50, March 1995, 9780231081269
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... When a djinn appears in one of A.S. Byatt’s fairy tales and grants the fifty-ish academic heroine any wish her heart desires, she asks for her body ‘as it was the last time she really liked it’. And lo, she finds herself once more housed in the ‘serviceable and agreeable’ form she possessed some fifteen years earlier, bearing some marks of experience (an appendix scar), but otherwise compact, neat, strong ...

Diary

Marina Warner: Gone Bananas, 25 May 1995

... The frond of the banana has straight seams, as a good pair of nylons used to have, so it’s easy to tear along them and make squares of bright luminous green, nature’s own shot silk. Which is what Adam and Eve probably did when they made shift with ‘aprons’ to hide their shame from God in the garden. In some countries where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken – which means parts of the Caribbean as well as Latin America – the word for fig is used of the banana, so this may be another example of those inspired clerical slips which result in widespread conventions ...

Diary

Marina Warner: Why I Quit, 11 September 2014

... The professor​ from the West Coast stepped out of the taxi and looked around, head tilted back and swivelling from one looming grey tower to another as she assessed the flint-studded concrete ramparts of the library. ‘Oh, wowww!’ she cried, ecstasy lifting her voice above the wind whipping off the marshes. ‘New brutalism! Rarely seen any so pure ...

Baby Power

Marina Warner, 6 July 1989

The Romantic Child: From Runge to Sendak 
by Robert Rosenblum.
Thames and Hudson, 64 pp., £5.95, February 1989, 0 500 55020 4
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Caldecott & Co: Notes on Books and Pictures 
by Maurice Sendak.
Reinhardt, 216 pp., £13.95, March 1989, 1 871061 06 7
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Dear Mili 
by Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Ralph Manheim and Maurice Sendak.
Viking Kestrel, £9.95, November 1988, 0 670 80168 2
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Grimms’ Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the ‘Tales’ 
by Ruth Bottigheimer.
Yale, 211 pp., £8.95, April 1989, 0 300 04389 9
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The one who set out to study fear 
by Peter Redgrove.
Bloomsbury, 183 pp., £13.95, April 1989, 0 7475 0187 4
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... In 1894, the same year that the Children’s Charter extended new legal protection to the young, the English painter Thomas Gotch portrayed his young daughter in majesty like a Madonna by Duccio, with a huge nimbus around her head, and called the image The Child Enthroned. Concurrently, the Swiss Ferdinand Hodler celebrated the birth of his son with an equally awed work, The Chosen One, in which the newborn and naked baby lies on the ground like a Christ Child in a Nativity painting, with a watch of winged spirits hovering a foot off the ground around him ...

Villa Lampedusa

Marina Warner, 5 January 1989

The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe di Lampedusa 
by David Gilmour.
Quartet, 223 pp., £15.95, November 1988, 0 7043 2564 0
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... In The Leopard, the prince embraces Angelica at the moment of her engagement to his nephew Tancredi, ‘and he felt as if by those kisses he were taking possession of Sicily once more, of the lovely faithless land which now ... had surrendered to him again, as always to his family, its carnal delights and golden crops.’ Though the prince’s personal powers are never in question in the novel, his creator is mindful, at the moment of that embrace, of his hero as the representative of family and its ancient rights of possession ...

Suffering Souls

Marina Warner: Ghosts in the Middle Ages, 18 June 1998

Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society 
by Jean-Claude Schmitt, translated by Theresa Lavender Fagan.
Chicago, 290 pp., £26.50, May 1998, 0 226 73887 6
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... A young priest called Walchelin, returning home one clear night in Normandy around a thousand years ago, heard a great clash and din of an army approaching; he assumed it was the soldiers who followed a local warlord, and hid himself in fear behind some medlar trees. But what he saw, instead, was a ghostly troop: first the lay folk, on foot, weighed down by terrible burdens; then the clergy, bishops as well as monks, all black-cowled and weeping; another black-robed, fiery army of knights then rode by, on black chargers ...

Noonday Devils

Marina Warner, 6 June 1996

Tituba Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies 
by Elaine Breslaw.
New York, 237 pp., $24.95, February 1996, 0 8147 1227 4
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... The French historian Arlette Farge has described coming across a letter, written on linen in a fine strong hand, in which a prisoner, long incarcerated in the Bastille, writes to his wife, affectionately, imploringly; he adds a message, to the laundry woman who will find it among his washing, asking her to embroider a blue cross on one of his socks to tell him she has managed to pass it on ...

The Labile Self

Marina Warner: Dressing Up, 5 January 2012

Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe 
by Ulinka Rublack.
Oxford, 354 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 19 929874 7
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... A 17th-century comic print known as The Cure of Folly shows a surgery-cum-alchemical cabinet in which a doctor is treating patients: one is being administered mind-altering drugs; another is being fired and recast in a furnace. This one, a ‘gallant’ in a most elegant get-up, with little pointy moustaches, a lace ruff with multiple layers, soft boots with spurs, and a silk tunic fashionably slashed in both bodice and sleeves, is undergoing the procedure rather in the manner of a modern full body scan ...

Wrong Kind of Noise

Marina Warner: Silence is Best, 19 December 2013

Silence: A Christian History 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 337 pp., £20, April 2013, 978 1 84614 426 4
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... By a bizarre twist, G.K. Chesterton may be en route to sanctity: it was reported in August that the Bishop of Northampton has begun a suit for his canonisation. Diarmaid MacCulloch doesn’t invoke Chesterton’s miracle-working powers, but he opens this expanded version of his 2012 Gifford Lectures with a Father Brown story, ‘The Oracle of the Dog’: by howling at a certain time, the animal gives the priestly sleuth the clue to the murder weapon ...

At the V&A

Marina Warner: Alexander McQueen, 4 June 2015

... At​  La Mécanique des dessous (‘The Mechanics of Undergarments: An Indiscreet History of the Silhouette’), an unexpected exhibition about underwear in Paris two years ago (Jenny Diski wrote about it in the LRB of 10 October 2013), there was a room where you could try on bustles and lobster tails and panniers and waist cinchers and other cunning elements of the dressmaker’s art made to press the body into different shapes ...

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