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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 ...

Pick the small ones

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 ...

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 ...

At the Hayward

Marina Warner: Tracey Emin, 25 August 2011

... Quilts used to be made from baskets of scraps; old clothes were cut up, the worn and stained bits discarded, the best parts kept for reuse. Every household where a woman lived had such a container – a midden of memories – and when the scraps had become a patchwork quilt, spotting this old dress or that old pair of curtains or that old cushion was part of the pleasure of the bed, a domestic pleasure ...

Performances for Sleepless Tyrants

Marina Warner: ‘Tales of the Marvellous’, 8 January 2015

Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, introduced by Robert Irwin.
Penguin, 600 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 14 139503 6
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... When​ Marie-Antoinette couldn’t sleep, she would ring for a lady-in-waiting to come and read to her; a rota of lectrices was on call at Versailles at any time of day or night; before radio or talking books, this was one of the luxuries of the Ancien Régime. The queen could have lit her bedside candle and read to herself, but it wasn’t just a rich woman’s indolence that made that remedy less appealing ...

Diary

Marina Warner: Why I Quit, 10 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 ...

At Tate Liverpool

Marina Warner: Surrealism in Egypt, 8 March 2018

... Art et Liberté​ was a movement that came into being in 1938 in Cairo. It was affiliated to Surrealism through contact with André Breton in Paris, and shared Surrealism’s spirit of rebellion and provocation, its desire for dream knowledge and penchant for manifestos. ‘Long live degenerate art’ was the title of its opening blast, printed in Arabic and French alongside a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica and signed by writers and artists from a great variety of backgrounds but united in their political leanings and belief in culture without borders ...

Imps and Ogres

Marina Warner, 6 June 2019

Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies 
by Lynne Vallone.
Yale, 339 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 300 22886 1
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... In​ 1956, Lorenza Mazzetti, then a student at the Slade, made a film called Together, with her fellow artists Michael Andrews and Eduardo Paolozzi playing the main parts. She shot it in the bombed-out East End, which gaggles of children had made their territory; her camera catches the wild scrambling, dash and hurtle of scores of boys and girls playing together in the puddles and the rubble ...

Diary

Marina Warner: Medea, 3 December 2015

... powerful female interpreters: Maria Callas in Pasolini’s film (1969), Fiona Shaw in Deborah Warner’s production (2001), and among writers, Toni Morrison, who slants the myth through her novel Beloved (1987), as does Marina Carr more directly in her play By the Bog of Cats (1998), which is set in a traveller ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 Virtue of Incest

Marina Warner, 7 October 1993

Elizabeth’s Glass 
by Marc Shell.
Nebraska, 365 pp., £30.95, July 1993, 0 8032 4216 6
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... The romance of Apollonius of Tyre opens with the classic fairy-tale couple: the king and his daughter. Antiochus is powerful, she is beautiful, and of marriageable age – there is no mother. The difference is that, in this variation, she will not leave home to marry a prince, for her father Antiochus ‘began to love her in a way unsuitable for a father ...

You must not ask

Marina Warner, 4 January 1996

Lewis Carroll: A Biography 
by Morton Cohen.
Macmillan, 592 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 333 62926 4
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The Literary Products of the Lewis Carroll-George MacDonald Friendship 
by John Docherty.
Edwin Mellen, 420 pp., £69.95, July 1995, 0 7734 9038 8
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... Bachelor uncles can be popinjays who wear moustache trainers in bed in order to cut a dash the next day, as in Fellini’s Amarcord; or they might take the children aside at Christmas and show them how to trumpet a tune in farts, as in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. In stories like that of Freud’s ‘Katharina’, they interfere with little girls, though for many reasons Freud substituted Katharina’s uncle for her father ...

Ventriloquism

Marina Warner: Dear Old Khayyám, 9 April 2009

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 
by Edward Fitzgerald, edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 167 pp., £9.99, January 2009, 978 0 19 954297 0
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... A glass-fronted Regency bookcase in a corner of the London Library opposite the lift holds a collection of rare and beautiful editions of Edward FitzGerald’s poem, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Since its first publication in 1859, it has appeared in every size and shape, giant and toy, on vellum and silk, in fabulous bindings stamped with peacocks’ tails and nightingales’ eyes; it has been printed by masters for tiny private presses, handwritten and illustrated by artists – beginning with the trio of William Morris, Burne-Jones and Charles Fairfax Murray, who helped launch the work after some friends came across it in a remainders box outside Quaritch’s ...

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