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Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley, 2 April 1987

Randall Jarrell’s Letters 
edited by Mary Jarrell.
Faber, 540 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 571 13829 2
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The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore 
edited by Patricia Willis.
Faber, 723 pp., £30, January 1987, 0 571 14788 7
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... home in the prolonged minutiae of Marianne Moore’s criticism, and in the small talk of Randall Jarrell’s correspondence. Both have great collective charm, giving the effect of looking through the glass into a well-matured aquarium. ‘American literary culture’ seems far-off, sweetly homogeneous, infinitely attractive, whether mirrored in the ...

Ashamed of the Planet

Ian Hamilton, 2 March 2000

No Other Book: Selected Essays 
by Randall Jarrell, edited by Brad Leithauser.
HarperCollins, 376 pp., $27.50, June 1999, 0 06 118012 2
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Remembering Randall: A Memoir of Poet, Critic and Teacher Randall Jarrell 
by Mary von Schrader Jarrell.
HarperCollins, 173 pp., $22, June 1999, 0 06 118011 4
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... In April 1965, Randall Jarrell’s just published book of verse, The Lost World, was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by Joseph Bennett. Bennett quite liked four of the poems but the rest of them, he said, were ‘taken up with Jarrell’s familiar, clanging vulgarity, corny clichés, cutenesses, and the intolerable self-indulgence of his tear-jerking bourgeois sentimentality ...

Places Never Explained

Colm Tóibín: Anthony Hecht, 8 August 2013

The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht 
edited by Jonathan Post.
Johns Hopkins, 365 pp., £18, November 2012, 978 1 4214 0730 2
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... of Lowell’s war poems are driven as much by his fervid Catholic faith and devotion to the Virgin Mary as by his anti-war sentiments. The diction is clotted and dense; the tone is earnest and overwrought. ‘The Dead in Europe’ begins: After the planes unloaded, we fell down Buried together, unmarried men and women; Not crown of thorns, not iron, not ...

Terrible to be alive

Julian Symons, 5 December 1991

Randall JarrellA Literary Life 
by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 335 pp., $25, April 1990, 0 374 24677 7
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Randall JarrellSelected Poems 
edited by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 115 pp., $17.95, April 1990, 0 374 25867 8
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... of Sidney Keyes. In America, Wilson seems in later years to have sensed that the youthful Randall Jarrell might emulate his discernment of the Twenties about a new generation of writers. In 1940 he gave Jarrell a run as poetry reviewer in the New Republic, and suggested to the New Yorker that they should publish his ...

Door Closing!

Mark Ford: Randall Jarrell, 21 October 2010

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy 
by Randall Jarrell.
Chicago, 277 pp., £10.50, April 2010, 978 0 226 39375 9
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... Born in 1914, Randall Jarrell belonged to the first generation of American poets who found a ready home in the country’s burgeoning university system. Of the great modernists of the previous era, only Robert Frost assumed the role of pedagogue to undergraduates, taking his first job at Amherst College in 1917. Pound, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane all lived by other means; though it’s worth pointing out that the poetry and criticism of Eliot in particular, and to a lesser extent of Pound, played a significant role in shaping the curriculum and methodologies these expanding departments adopted ...

Other Selves

John Bayley, 29 October 1987

How I Grew 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 297 79170 2
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Myself and Michael Innes 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 206 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 575 04104 8
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... by Proust, instead of a novel by Marcel, is a depressing thought. Such reflections are prompted by Mary McCarthy’s latest book. There was something challenging and stimulating, a bracing offer of American romance, about A Charmed Life, and Cast a Cold Eye, and The Group, and other novels and tales of hers. Even Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood had a zing to ...

How to do the life

Lorna Sage, 10 February 1994

Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... Bloody Mary, the blurb suggests, has found her match in her biographer Carol Brightman. Not that this is a hatchet job: if Brightman is a woman in some sense after her subject’s own heart it’s not in the way Randall Jarrell was thinking of when he put Mary McCarthy in Pictures from an Institution, saying that people couldn’t mention her style ‘without using the vocabulary of a salesman of kitchen knives ...

Sour Plums

John Lanchester, 26 October 1989

The Letters of John Cheever 
edited by Benjamin Cheever.
Cape, 397 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 224 02689 5
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Mary McCarthy 
by Carol Gelderman.
Sidgwick, 430 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 283 99797 4
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The company she keeps 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 246 pp., £4.50, October 1989, 0 297 79649 6
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... then he doesn’t seem to have reflected on what he was doing. One of the surprising things in Mary McCarthy, Carol Gelderman’s new biography, is just how adventitious and chancey the lifelong engagée’s entrance into politics was. At a New York publisher’s party in November 1936, James Farrell, author of Studs Lonigan, asked the 24-year-old ...

Amor vincit Vinnie

Marilyn Butler, 21 February 1985

Foreign Affairs 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 291 pp., £8.95, January 1985, 0 7181 2516 9
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... dwarf railway engineer’, and, more disturbing to Vinnie, the pubescent Camden Town schoolgirl Mary Mahoney, a punk goblin who demands payment before she will recite her obscene playground rhymes. Not only is this variety of tone a relief: it operates cunningly as the objective correlative of the psychic drama inside Vinnie Miner-Minor’s head, as she ...

Toad in the Hole

Geoffrey Wall: Tristan Corbière, 16 July 1998

These Jaundiced Loves: A Translation of Tristan Corbière’s ‘Les Amours Jaunes’ 
by Christopher Pilling.
Peterloo, 395 pp., £14.95, April 1997, 1 871471 55 9
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... Breton festival held every year at the end of August in honour of St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary and especially revered in Brittany, where she was regarded as a local deity, related to the Celtic goddess Ana. In Pilling’s translation, the poem begins: Blessed is the barren strand Where, like the sea, all is bare. Holy the chapel of Saint-Anne- of-the ...

Thinking without a Banister

James Miller, 19 October 1995

Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger 
by Elzbieta Ettinger.
Yale, 139 pp., £10.95, October 1995, 0 300 06407 1
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Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Uncollected and Unpublished Works 
by Hannah Arendt, edited by Jerome Kohn.
Harcourt Brace, 458 pp., $39.95, May 1994, 0 15 172817 8
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Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought 
by Margaret Canovan.
Cambridge, 298 pp., £12.95, September 1995, 0 521 47773 5
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Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 
edited by Carol Brightman.
Secker, 412 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 436 20251 4
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Hannah Arendt/Karl Jaspers: Correspondence, 1926-1969 
edited by Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner, translated by Robert and Rita Kimber.
Harcourt Brace, 821 pp., $49.95, November 1992, 0 15 107887 4
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... appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. She established friendships with Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and W.H. Auden, who went so far as to propose marriage (she declined). Arendt has never inspired universal admiration, however. ‘She seems to me to be inaccurate in argument and ...

Golden Boy

Denis Donoghue, 22 December 1983

W.H.Auden: The Critical Heritage 
edited by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 535 pp., £19.95, September 1983, 0 7100 9350 0
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Auden: A Carnival of Intellect 
by Edward Callan.
Oxford, 299 pp., £12.50, August 1983, 0 19 503168 7
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Drawn from the Life: A Memoir 
by Robert Medley.
Faber, 251 pp., £12.50, November 1983, 0 571 13043 7
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... were exceptions. Joseph Warren Beach thought Auden’s textual shenanigans were treachery, Randall Jarrell thought Auden’s wit and elegance quite enjoyable up to a point – or rather, up to the point of their becoming needlepoint – but after that a pretty dispiriting spectacle. Reviewing The Shield of Achilles, he said that ‘Auden is using extraordinary ...

Lethal Pastoral

Paul Keegan: Housman’s Lethal Pastoral, 17 November 2016

Housman Country: Into the Heart of England 
by Peter Parker.
Little, Brown, 446 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 4087 0613 8
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... were at the helm. A biographer can but do as Housman exhorts in one of his blasphemous squibs: ‘Mary-Jane the train is through yer:/Hallelujah, Hallelujah!/We will gather up the fragments that remain.’ In Housman Country, Peter Parker does it by writing the life and times not of the man but of his most famous book: the growing pains of A Shropshire ...

Short is sweet

Christopher Ricks, 3 February 1983

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs 
edited by J.A. Simpson.
Oxford, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 19 866131 2
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A World of Proverbs 
by Patricia Houghton.
Blandford, 152 pp., £5.95, September 1981, 0 7137 1114 0
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... in Dylan; in the poets who keep a sharp eye for the ephemeral: Auden and Larkin. And Randall Jarrell: ‘You can’t break eggs without making an omelette. That’s what they tell the eggs.’ ‘The old adage might well be applied in many cases. Every man for himself’ (D. Yancey, 1795). ‘The captain ... ordered the sailor to leave the boat. “Every ...

Magical Orange Grove

Anne Diebel: Lowell falls in love again, 11 August 2016

Robert Lowell in Love 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Massachusetts, 288 pp., £36.50, December 2015, 978 1 62534 186 0
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... critical of Hardwick, whom he portrays as a less pretty, less talented, more status-obsessed Mary McCarthy, but sympathetic to the girlfriends and mistresses, whose encounters with Lowell make good material for easy sermonising. ‘His women,’ Meyers argues, ‘were drawn to his genius and madness … and became the sacrificial muses who inspired his ...

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