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God’s Iceberg

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 4 December 1986

The ‘ Titanic’: The Full Story of a Tragedy 
by Michael Davie.
Bodley Head, 244 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 9780370307640
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The IT Girls: Elinor Glyn and Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon 
by Meredith Etherington-Smith and Jeremy Pilcher.
Hamish Hamilton, 258 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11950 2
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... eventually went up on deck, they left the lights on in their cabin, and the electric heater – so that it ‘would be warm on our return’. John Thayer, a young neighbour of the Eustis’s in Pennsylvania, shared a suite of rooms with his parents. After the impact, which he noticed hardly at all (‘if I had had a ...

Tilting the day

Lisa Cohen: Writing about Clothes, 7 November 2019

Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes 
by Shahidha Bari.
Cape, 312 pp., £25, June 2019, 978 1 78733 149 5
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... About​ clothes, it’s awful,’ the protagonist thinks in Jean Rhys’s novel Voyage in the Dark (1934). Everything makes you want pretty clothes like hell. People laugh at girls who are badly dressed … And the shop-windows sneering and smiling in your face. And then you look at the skirt of your costume, all crumpled at the back ...

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Andrew O’Hagan: If something happens to me…, 5 May 2005

... called Hazel who dabbled in spiritualism while her philandering husband went out to fix people’s Hotpoint twin-tubs, and she quite often spoke of people who had ‘crossed to the other side’. I thought that was sick. Hazel had a lot of anger in her, as people now say, and I felt that must explain her hazardous use of words. She’d met Sandy, her ...

Not in My House

Mark Ford: Flannery O’Connor, 23 July 2009

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor 
by Brad Gooch.
Little, Brown, 448 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 0 316 00066 6
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... a line of misguided, cartoonishly presented liberals whom the narratives developed in O’Connor’s brilliant but remorseless short stories and novels are designed to punish. Asbury is not suffering from some incurable artistic disease of the sort that struck down Kafka, but from undulant fever. Undulant fever is debilitating, but not lethal: ‘It’ll keep ...

Diary

Paul Foot: Awaiting the Truth about Hanratty, 11 December 1997

... Alphon was, and after the burial in Wembley, I was none the wiser. There was nothing to report, so I gladly accepted the invitation of James and Mary Hanratty to join the wake for their son in their council house in Kingsbury. The Hanrattys were warm, gentle, determined people, unlikely parents of a man who had been ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... is liable to enter your head at least once a day. This morning it was ‘Order of Service’. It’s not as good as ‘High Windows’ or ‘Dockery and Son’, but it has the same doleful ebb. Searching in an old folder, I found an order of service for Larkin’s memorial at Westminster Abbey on 14 February ...

On Michael O’Brien

August Kleinzahler: Michael O’Brien, 16 February 2017

... the smallest, most fleeting details in the world at hand. The world in nearly all of O’Brien’s city poetry is Manhattan: the Upper West Side during his years at Columbia; Chelsea, where he lived for decades; the financial district, where he had an office job; and Midtown, where he spent the last decade or so of his ...

Kitty still pines for his dearest Dub

Andrew O’Hagan: Gossip, 6 February 2014

Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
by David Plante.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 1 4088 3975 1
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The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 
edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 481 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7011 8678 4
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... talking behind their hands. The year she took up with a married man was also the year Ruskin’s wife revealed her husband’s impotence during court proceedings. ‘Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it,’ Eliot wrote ironically in Daniel Deronda. But she also meant ...

Gobblebook

Rosemary Hill: Unhappy Ever After, 21 June 2018

In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter 
by Miranda Seymour.
Simon and Schuster, 560 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 1 4711 3857 7
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Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist 
by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin and Adrian Rice.
Bodleian, 128 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 85124 488 1
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... disillusioned. The Rev. Thomas Noel had been promised some ‘substantial’ token of the groom’s appreciation. He received instead one of the rings of which Byron kept a plentiful supply to distribute to admirers. Noel was used to disappointment. An illegitimate cousin of Annabella, he knew full well that the vast fortune of his father, Viscount ...

How to be a wife

Colm Tóibín: The Discretion of Jackie Kennedy, 6 June 2002

Janet & Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 
by Jan Pottker.
St Martin’s, 381 pp., $24.95, October 2001, 0 312 26607 3
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Mrs Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 389 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 297 64333 9
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... In many ways, however, they are closer to the heroines and adventuresses who people James’s fiction. With all the ambition and greed and betrayal and tribulation that surrounded her, the question about Jacqueline Kennedy is not who she would have been in Greek drama, but who she would have been in Henry James. She was, to begin with, Maisie in What ...

Ten Poets

Denis Donoghue, 7 November 1985

Selected Poems 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 124 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 9780856355950
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Collected Poems: 1947-1980 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 837 pp., £16.95, April 1985, 0 670 80683 8
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Instant Chronicles: A Life 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 58 pp., £4.50, April 1985, 9780019211970
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Selected Poems 
by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 139 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 596 8
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Selected Poems 
by Jeffrey Wainwright.
Carcanet, 79 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 598 4
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Selected Poems 
by Gillian Clarke.
Carcanet, 112 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 594 1
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The Price of Stone 
by Richard Murphy.
Faber, 92 pp., £4, May 1985, 0 571 13568 4
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Selected Poems 
by Iain Crichton Smith.
Carcanet, 121 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 597 6
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Selected Poems 
by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Carcanet, 95 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 585 2
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From the Irish 
by James Simmons.
Blackstaff, 78 pp., £3.95, May 1985, 0 85640 331 8
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... One of Donald Davie’s early poems, and one of his strongest, is ‘Pushkin: A Didactic Poem’, from Brides of Reason (1955). As in Davie’s ‘Dream Forest’, Pushkin is taken as a model, a poet Who recognised no checks Yet brooked them all – a mind Molten and thereby fluent, Unforced, easily strict. In this didactic poem the speaker is professional, drawing his comparisons with rehearsed casualness: In the matter of Pushkin, Emily Brontë Is the best analogy in some ways Among our poets ...

Ruthless Young Man

Michael Brock, 14 September 1989

Churchill: 1874-1922 
by Frederick Earl of Birkenhead, edited by Sir John Colville.
Harrap, 552 pp., £19.95, August 1989, 0 245 54779 7
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... given access to the Chartwell Papers: his book was not to be published until the last of Gilbert’s volumes had appeared. Biographical work projected on such a scale is unlikely to be completed quite as planned. Randolph’s scheme had been to publish a volume each year. His successor increased the main volumes to ...

Booker Books

Frank Kermode, 22 November 1979

... which this competition differs from a golf tournament is that nobody gets appearance money. It’s all or nothing, an award for literary merit is made to look as much like a win on the pools as possible. By now the world as well as the contenders knows who’s in, who’s out, the matter ...

Our Soft-Shelled Condition

Katha Pollitt: Corsets, 14 November 2002

The Corset: A Cultural History 
by Valerie Steele.
Yale, 204 pp., £29.95, September 2001, 0 300 09071 4
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Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset 
by Leigh Summers.
Berg, 302 pp., £15.99, October 2001, 9781859735107
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... girdles, and items used in secretarial work, too. The epithet – coined by the feminist Robin Morgan as a counterpart for ‘draft-card burner’ – shows how deeply the women’s movement both was and was perceived to be about female sexuality. What was it? Who would define it, shape it, control it? Who were ...

Berenson’s Elixir

Simon Schama, 1 May 1980

Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur 
by Ernest Samuels.
Harvard, 477 pp., £9.50, June 1979, 0 674 06775 4
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Being Bernard Berenson 
by Meryle Secrest.
Weidenfeld, 473 pp., £8.50, January 1980, 0 297 77564 2
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... Ernest Hemingway. Meryle Secrest discloses that Hemingway was desperate in his suit for Berenson’s favours, and would have prostrated himself for a petal from the Great Man’s boutonnière. He clambered out of plane wrecks and gutted hotels, eager to make the pilgrimage to Settignano, If only the manicured finger would ...

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