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Stand the baby on its head

John Bayley, 22 July 1993

The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales 
edited by Alison Luire.
Oxford, 455 pp., £17.95, May 1993, 0 19 214218 6
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The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales 
edited by Angela Carter.
Virago, 230 pp., £7.99, July 1993, 1 85381 616 7
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... separates old from new fairy stories, like the glass wall round the princess in Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book. In the new ones, however accomplished and diverting they may be, the meaning is clear but coyly hidden, as in many modern fictions; although the examples sought out by Alison Lurie have as much cunning and high spirits in them as the old ...

Morgan to his Friends

Denis Donoghue, 2 August 1984

Selected Letters of E.M. Forster: Vol. I: 1879-1920 
edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank.
Collins, 344 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 00 216718 2
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... used for transporting live bees. But the conversation was evidently more searching than Forster’s account suggests. Nearly seven years later, Lawrence writing from Taos assured Forster that ‘Yes, I think of you – of your saying to me, on top of the downs in Sussex – “How do you know I’m not dead?” ’ It was a good question, but nothing in ...

But Stoney was Bold

Deborah Friedell: How Not to Marry if You’re a Millionaire, 26 February 2009

Wedlock 
by Wendy Moore.
Weidenfeld, 359 pp., £18.99, January 2009, 978 0 297 85331 2
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... of Claus von Bülow, When Husbands Come Out of the Closet, Romola, Hard Times. Wendy Moore’s history of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, might not have been written to make lonelyhearts feel better, but its purpose would otherwise be obscure. The countess was as unimportant as she was wealthy, and though ...

The general tone is purple

Alison Light: Where the Poor Lived, 2 July 2020

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps 
edited by Mary S. Morgan.
Thames and Hudson, 288 pp., £49.95, October 2019, 978 0 500 02229 0
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... Charles​ Booth’s survey of London poverty was an epic Victorian undertaking. Beginning in the late 1880s with East London, Booth and his army of investigators launched a systematic study which went on to cover nearly all of the metropolis, then the largest in the world with around four million inhabitants. The accounts of their walks around London filled 450 notebooks ...

We stop the words

David Craig: A.L. Kennedy, 16 September 1999

Everything you need 
by A.L. Kennedy.
Cape, 567 pp., £16.99, June 1999, 0 224 04433 8
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... Near the start of A.L. Kennedy’s latest novel, its chief character and overriding consciousness, Nathan Staples, a successful writer of horror fiction, emerges slowly from a bout of compulsive masochistic fantasies, puts Glenn Gould on his CD player, and gets ready to hang himself from an iron hook in the central beam of his cottage, or almost hang himself – well, just enough to give himself ‘that big, blank, hot-mouthing, hair-lifting, sexy, sexy fear that he only ever met at times like this ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters, 8 September 2011

The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... novels of the 18th century and of the founding text in the philosophy of anarchism, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, the father of Mary Shelley, and the friend or acquaintance of almost everyone on the liberal left over 50 of the most intellectually exciting years in British history. In November last year his voluminous ...

At the Hydropathic

T.J. Binyon, 6 December 1984

Agatha Christie 
by Janet Morgan.
Collins, 393 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 00 216330 6
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... At first sight Janet Morgan does not seem the obvious person to choose as the official biographer of Agatha Christie. She describes herself on the jacket of the book as a ‘writer and consultant’, who now ‘advises governments, companies and other organisations on long-range strategic planning, new technology and different approaches to whatever they find themselves doing ...

In praise of Brigid Brophy

John Bayley, 5 March 1987

Baroque ’n’ Roll 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 172 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 241 12037 3
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... have no existence, and that the motives to morality are for that reason clearer and more cogent. So-called personality is a matter of self-interest: bees in a hive have no moral problems. Examining their own world and using their own vocabulary, empirical and linguistic philosophers quite naturally and rightly come to such conclusions. Hume could perceive ...

All hail, sage lady

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

... the queen liked me. She’d seen it all before, the snooping anti-monarchist with the new tie, so she simply passed me to her husband, who asked if a novelist wrote books. As often with the duke, his question lay somewhere between existential brilliance and intergalactic dunce-hood. I merely smiled in imitation of his lovely wife. Prince Philip is a pure ...
The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning 
by Alain Desrosières, translated by Camille Naish.
Harvard, 368 pp., £27.95, October 1998, 0 674 68932 1
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... around the turn of this century? And why are international population and medical statistics so hard to standardise? On the other hand, statistical entities are robust and vigorous: GDP and the unemployment rate guide government planning and affect the outcome of elections. Actuarial statistics, which correlate the risk of car accidents primarily with ...

Mr Trendy Sicko

James Wolcott, 23 May 2019

White 
by Brett Easton Ellis.
Picador, 261 pp., £16.99, May 2019, 978 1 5290 1239 2
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... of all the debutantes promenading into print and creating a stir: Donna Tartt, David Leavitt, Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Nancy Lemann, Susan Minot, Mary Robison, Anderson Ferrell – a cast of dozens. Many of those rookies trained at the literary dojo of the author, editor, creative writing teacher and ...

Puellilia

Pat Rogers, 7 August 1986

Mothers of the Novel: One Hundred Good Women Writers before Jane Austen 
by Dale Spender.
Pandora, 357 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 86358 081 5
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Scribbling Sisters 
by Dale Spender and Lynne Spender.
Camden Press, 188 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 948491 00 0
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A Woman of No Character: An Autobiography of Mrs Manley 
by Fidelis Morgan.
Faber, 176 pp., £9.95, June 1986, 0 571 13934 5
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Cecilia 
by Fanny Burney.
Virago, 919 pp., £6.95, May 1986, 0 86068 775 9
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Millenium Hall 
by Sarah Scott.
Virago, 207 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86068 780 5
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Marriage 
by Susan Ferrier.
Virago, 513 pp., £4.50, February 1986, 0 86068 765 1
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Belinda 
by Maria Edgeworth.
Pandora, 434 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86358 074 2
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Self-Control 
by Mary Brunton.
Pandora, 437 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 9780863580840
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The Female Quixote: The Adventures of Arabella 
by Charlotte Lennox.
Pandora, 423 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 86358 080 7
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... We shouldn’t, but we probably do, and the truth remains salutary, even though Spender’s book is about as flawed in execution as it is possible to get without the pages flying apart as you read. Mothers of the Novel has a perfectly defensible, indeed defence-worthy, thesis. A very good case could be made in favour of Spender’...

Breeds of New Yorker

Christine Smallwood: ‘The Group’ Revisited, 11 February 2010

A Fortunate Age 
by Joanna Smith Rakoff.
Scribner, 399 pp., $26, April 2009, 978 1 4165 9077 4
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The Group 
by Mary McCarthy.
Virago, 448 pp., £7.99, December 2009, 978 1 84408 593 4
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... attempt at spousal murder-by-scissors, a brief stay in a Manhattan mental institution, and Lil’s freak death after a bad case of flu. Lil hadn’t even planned to get married. At her college-sponsored commencement brunch she’d told her parents of her opposition to the ‘outmoded institution’. Her stand was dismissed by the company as naivety ...

So much was expected

R.W. Johnson, 3 December 1992

Harold Wilson 
by Ben Pimlott.
HarperCollins, 811 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 00 215189 8
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Harold Wilson 
by Austen Morgan.
Pluto, 625 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 7453 0635 7
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... seen playing tennis only three weeks before. Gladys (who later came to prefer her second name, Mary) was somewhat bemused, particularly since Harold, already, in Pimlott’s words, ‘cheerful, boastful, absurdly sure of himself and confidently planning the future’, went on to tell Gladys that he intended to become an ...

One word says to its mate

Claire Harman: W.S. Graham, 4 October 2001

The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters of W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Snow and Margaret Snow.
Carcanet, 401 pp., £12.95, November 1999, 1 85754 445 5
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... In the Tate Gallery St Ives exhibition catalogue for 1995 there is a comical photograph of the painter Bryan Wynter and some friends at Zennor in themid-1950s. They are seated round a bottle-strewn table. Wynter is smiling absently, Karl Weschke is looking down at his hands or the tablecloth, a woman lies slumped in an armchair and a young man holds his head in an attitude of total weariness ...

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