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My God, the Suburbs!

Colm Tóibín: John Cheever, 5 November 2009

Cheever: A Life 
by Blake Bailey.
Picador, 770 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 330 43790 5
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... The feeling always was that if I could express myself erotically I should come alive. Later, Mary Cheever would report that she knew that there was something wrong with her marriage. ‘I sensed that he wasn’t entirely masculine.’ When asked if she discussed it with Cheever, she said: ‘Oh Lord, no. Oh Lord, no. He was terrified of it ...

Tuesday Girl

Colin Burrow: Seraphick Love, 6 March 2003

Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin 
by Frances Harris.
Oxford, 330 pp., £25, January 2003, 0 19 925257 2
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... one of Evelyn’s friends for most of his life. He also enjoyed what was called, after Robert Boyle had popularised the term, ‘seraphick love’ with Anne Russell (whom he dubbed ‘Platona’) and Elizabeth Carey (who became his ‘Electra’). It is exceptionally hard to describe what Evelyn felt for these women: probably it is best to say that the ...

Death in Plain Sight

Marina Warner: Emily Davison, Modern Martyr, 4 July 2013

... When he created the spectacular story of the nation for the opening of the Olympic Games, Danny Boyle rightly included a glimpse – it was only a glimpse – of a suffragette march. Davison’s ideas for political actions prefigure Act-Up interventions and demos; she’s a natural precursor of the Occupy movement with its stratagems of performative ...

Grail Trail

C.H. Roberts, 4 March 1982

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail 
by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.
Cape, 445 pp., £8.95, January 1982, 0 224 01735 7
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The Foreigner: A Search for the First-Century Jesus 
by Desmond Stewart.
Hamish Hamilton, 181 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 241 10686 9
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Satan: The Early Christian Tradition 
by Jeffrey Burton Russell.
Cornell, 258 pp., £14, November 1981, 0 8014 1267 6
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... well-known. A few belong to both categories; those in the second include Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo; others, however, are nonentities. The temptation to dismiss the list out of hand is, as the authors agree, almost irresistible. They have, however, succeeded in establishing to their satisfaction that, apart from the common ...

The First New War

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Crimea, 25 August 2011

Crimea: The Last Crusade 
by Orlando Figes.
Penguin, 575 pp., £12.99, June 2011, 978 0 14 101350 3
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... Others achieved more. Rejected as a nurse by Nightingale, no doubt because she was partly black, Mary Seacole set up a canteen and general store near Sevastopol, and called it the British Hotel. And Alexis Soyer, chef of the Reform Club and author of the Shilling Cookery Book, sailed to the Crimea, where he showed that it was possible to cook ...

More than Machines

Steven Shapin: Man or Machine?, 1 December 2016

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick 
by Jessica Riskin.
Chicago, 544 pp., £30, March 2016, 978 0 226 30292 8
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... automata, carrying saintly souls to their reward; and a mechanical Assumption of the Virgin – Mary blissfully hoisted up to heaven by an ‘endless screw’. Pre-Reformation Catholicism had no problem with such mechanical icons for, Riskin says, the Catholic world ‘held no sharp distinction between the material and the spiritual, earthly and divine ...

It isn’t your home

Toril Moi: Sarraute gets her due, 10 September 2020

Nathalie Sarraute: A Life Between 
by Ann Jefferson.
Princeton, 425 pp., £34, August 2020, 978 0 691 19787 6
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... Work in Progress (later known as Finnegans Wake), as well as early texts by Samuel Beckett, Kay Boyle, H.D., Laura Riding and Paul Bowles. Sarraute found a kindred spirit in Jolas, someone who shared her own aesthetic sensibilities. She would remain a lifelong friend, and later became Sarraute’s translator. Jolas and her friends must have inspired ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1999, 20 January 2000

... My grandmother in 1949 was still wearing the long duster coats she had worn in 1920 and Queen Mary looked like an Edwardian lady all her life: dying in the Fifties, she still dressed as she had in 1910. Look at Ford Madox Brown’s Work: only the middle and upper classes are dressed in a contemporary way; the workmen, the flower-seller and the poorer ...


Colm Tóibín: The Great Irish Famine, 30 July 1998

... at Cambridge). We need information.That ‘second brief study’ which Bradshaw castigates is Mary Daly’s The Famine in Ireland, first published in 1986. This is a briskly-written, useful book, short on emotion, long on detail and cautious examination. Daly is careful not to blame the Administration. ‘The major distortion which the potato failure ...

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