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Winner’s History

Howard Erskine-Hill, 20 August 1981

Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution 
by Christopher Hill.
Weidenfeld, 100 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 297 77780 7
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The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714 
by Christopher Hill.
Nelson, 296 pp., £5.95, September 1980, 0 17 712002 9
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... human thought … echoed from England all over Europe … Harrington, Locke, Newton, Hume and Adam Smith gave the lead to the whole of Europe. Richardson and Fielding, building on 17th-century spiritual autobiographies, and on the writings of Bunyan and Defoe, created the novel, the dominant literary form of the modern age.’ If we consider these claims, we ...

Our Island Story

Stefan Collini: The New DNB, 20 January 2005

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison.
Oxford, sixty volumes, £7,500, September 2004, 9780198614111
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... familiar truths of national character. The dictionary had been undertaken by the publisher George Smith as a piece of private enterprise, with no official or institutional backing, and it had been brought to completion in record time by a very small staff. Less fortunate nations, in whom the spirit of liberty and energy of ‘character’ had been suppressed ...

Making a Costume Drama out of a Crisis

Jenny Diski: ‘Downton Abbey’, 21 June 2012

Downton Abbey: Series One and Two 
Universal DVD, £39.99, November 2011Show More
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series One and Two 
BBC DVD, £17.99, April 2012Show More
Park Lane 
by Frances Osborne.
Virago, 336 pp., £14.99, June 2012, 978 1 84408 479 1
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Habits of the House 
by Fay Weldon.
Head of Zeus, 320 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 908800 04 6
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... storyline and script for Gosford Park, minus Altman’s cinematic originality but retaining Maggie Smith as stock upper-class matriarch, found its proper level when Fellowes, understanding what it really was, both stretched and slackened it into a TV soap opera with frocks and pinnies. Although of course the pre and post-Great War setting permits a ...


Blake Morrison: On the Independent on Sunday , 27 May 1993

... If he’d chosen to reveal in 1989 what he chooses to reveal now about himself and his co-founders Matthew Symonds and Andreas Whittam-Smith he might have found recruits hard to come by. Comparing his book with my own memory of events is an odd experience: the office furniture is the same, even the faces are, so why does ...


Raymond Williams, 24 January 1985

The Taliesin Tradition: A Quest for the Welsh Identity 
by Emyr Humphreys.
Black Raven, 245 pp., £10.95, April 1984, 0 85159 002 0
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Jones: A Novel 
by Emyr Humphreys.
Dent, 144 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 460 04660 8
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Wales! Wales? 
by Dai Smith.
Allen and Unwin, 173 pp., £9.95, March 1984, 0 04 942185 9
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The Matter of Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country 
by Jan Morris.
Oxford, 442 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 19 215846 5
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... should be so largely unknown to readers of strict literary interests. A general impression from Matthew Arnold will not do. The major verse of Dafydd ap Gwilym and the romances of Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi (in English the Mabinogion) are evident classics in the writing of this island. Moreover the interest of several Welsh verse forms is considerable. Even ...

‘Wisely I decided to say nothing’

Ross McKibbin: Jack Straw, 22 November 2012

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor 
by Jack Straw.
Macmillan, 582 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4472 2275 0
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... founding fathers anyway. (Both things are more or less right.) It is probably because John Smith, who led the party from July 1992 until his death in 1994, would not be prematurely enrolled in New Labour that the depiction of him here is so bleak. The man who might have led Labour to victory, thus bypassing the possibility of a Blair leadership, is not ...

Blowing over the top of a bottle of San Pellegrino

Adam Mars-Jones: Protest Dance Pop, 15 December 2005

Plat du Jour 
by Matthew Herbert.
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... Matthew Herbert’s Plat du Jour is an album of dance tracks united by the theme of food. Herbert has made a name for himself as a producer from collaborations with Róisín Murphy and Björk, but Plat du Jour is a different kettle of fish, a personal project that has taken a couple of years to devise and record. As the opening track makes clear – it’s called ‘The Truncated Life of a Modern Industrialised Chicken’ – he is obsessed by the ethics of eating ...
Possible Dreams: A Personal History of the British Christian Socialists 
by Chris Bryant.
Hodder, 351 pp., £25, July 1996, 0 340 64201 7
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... John Smith was ‘one of them’. Tony Blair is ‘one of them’. And so are Chris Smith and Jack Straw and half the Shadow Cabinet and many more on the backbenches including Frank Field, that one-man think-tank of the Labour Right. ‘They’ are the Christian socialists, architects of New Labour, ready to provide the movement with the ethical foundations which seem sorely missing ...

Blame Robert Maxwell

Frederick Wilmot-Smith: How Public Inquiries Go Wrong, 17 March 2016

... better for ten guilty men to escape criminal sanction than for one innocent man to be convicted. Matthew Hale put the ratio at five to one, Benjamin Franklin at a hundred to one. Bismarck, customarily robust, thought Blackstone had it backwards: better, he said, for ten innocents to suffer than for one guilty person to escape.) In 2001, the judiciary tried ...


James Francken: Toby Litt, 7 August 2003

Finding Myself 
by Toby Litt.
Hamish Hamilton, 425 pp., £14.99, June 2003, 0 241 14155 9
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... for the murder weapon (‘As this catalogue goes to press, the .40 ESP has testfired over 37,000 Smith & Wesson rounds without malfunction’), the central character’s hospital records and a tabloid report of the crime make their way into the early pages of the novel. The reader is expected to fit together the pieces of the puzzle. deadkidsongs ...

Little was expected of Annie

Dinah Birch: The Story of an English Family, 19 October 2006

Faith, Duty and the Power of Mind: The Cloughs and Their Circle 1820-1960 
by Gillian Sutherland.
Cambridge, 262 pp., £40, March 2006, 0 521 86155 1
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... making it impossible for him to declare his Anglican beliefs as the job required. Like his friend Matthew Arnold, Clough was rescued by the rapid professionalisation of education. It offered what his increasingly accomplished and innovative poetry could not: a gentleman’s occupation, and the salary he needed in order to marry. But his post in the Education ...

Leisure’s Epitaph

John Pemble: The Victorians, 8 March 2007

Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain 
by Judith Flanders.
HarperPress, 604 pp., £20, August 2006, 0 00 717295 8
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... and of moral improvement, as well as by the partisans of ‘culture’ who rallied behind Matthew Arnold. Her account of the debate about the function of the Royal Academy reveals the early skirmishes in the unending combat between market forces and artistic high-mindedness. But, having opened, the view quickly closes again. The wider perspective ...

At Tate Britain

Rosemary Hill: Aubrey Beardsley, 24 September 2020

... vent to his feelings in a series of Bons Mots, small format collections of the sayings of Sydney Smith, Sheridan and others, published by Dent, which Beardsley adorned with skeletons, Pierrots, angry animals and mythic beasts, wilfully at odds with the subject matter. These anti-illustrations have now been collected by Beardsley’s biographer ...

Funny Mummy

E.S. Turner, 2 December 1982

The Penguin Stephen Leacock 
by Robertson Davies.
Penguin, 527 pp., £2.95, October 1981, 0 14 005890 7
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Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography 
by Joseph Connolly.
Orbis, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85613 349 3
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Three Men in a Boat 
by Jerome K. Jerome, annotated and introduced by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green.
Joseph, 192 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 907516 08 4
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The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert 
edited by Peter Haining.
Robson, 255 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 86051 200 2
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... omnibus as readers devoured the Pitman’s Advanced Shorthand version published (as Christopher Matthew reminds us) that year. Jerome would surely have relished such a spectacle; or would he have felt, as the Almighty may have thought when the Bible was first rendered into Pitman’s, that the finer elements of the text must inevitably be lost on someone ...

Were you a tome?

Matthew Bevis: Edward Lear, 14 December 2017

Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 608 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 571 26954 9
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... with whom you want to spend prolonged periods of time. Reviewing Noakes’s biography, Stevie Smith observed that ‘another thing that bit upon poor Lear’s nerves when they were ageing – and bites upon ours as we read of them – are those endless travels.’ He was infuriating to himself and to others, an interminably perplexed celebrant of what he ...

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