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Athenian View

Michael Brock, 12 March 1992

Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930 
by Stefan Collini.
Oxford, 383 pp., £40, September 1991, 0 19 820173 7
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... depicts the denizens of the Athenaeum in its great days. T.H. Huxley, having left his umbrella at Matthew Arnold’s, asks his friend to ‘bring it next time you come to the club’. Leslie Stephen, elected in 1877 on the strength of his History of English Thought in the 18th Century, enjoys the irony that this defence of free thought has given him ...

The Warning

Matthew Sweeney, 22 November 2012

... the lawn, beneath the totem pole I’d brought back from Nevada, and painted white and black, to ward off ghouls, ghosts and evil men. I had Coltrane playing from the hallway and was humming along. The black cat was poking and hissing at the white cat, when a crow landed a couple of feet away. Both cats scarpered when he opened his beak and cawed, dropping a ...

Misguided Tom

Eric Stokes, 5 March 1981

Letters of Thomas Arnold the Younger 1850-1900 
edited by James Bertram.
Auckland/Oxford, 276 pp., £15, August 1980, 0 19 647980 0
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... public life of 19th-century Britain: second and favourite son of Dr Arnold of Rugby, brother of Matthew and William Delafield Arnold, brother-in-law of W.E. Forster, father of Mrs Humphry Ward, grandfather of Julian and Aldous Huxley and of Mrs G.M. Trevelyan. His knockabout career helped enlarge his connections. At ...

The Great Mary

Dinah Birch, 13 September 1990

Mrs Humphry WardEminent Victorian, Pre-Eminent Edwardian 
by John Sutherland.
Oxford, 432 pp., £16.99, August 1990, 0 19 818587 1
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... No Arnold can write a novel; if they could, I should have done it.’ That was Matthew Arnold’s reaction to his niece’s first significant attempt at fiction, Miss Bretherton, published in 1884. It can’t have been very encouraging. But Mary Ward was used to the magisterial arrogance of the Arnold men ...


Philip Davis: Thomas Arnold’s Apostasies, 15 April 2004

A Victorian Wanderer: The Life of Thomas Arnold the Younger 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Oxford, 274 pp., £25, July 2003, 0 19 925741 8
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... classic linear imperative that characterised the religious quest of Pilgrim’s Progress. What Matthew Arnold detected in their friend the poet Clough, he also found in his younger brother Thomas: a want of ‘rest’. It had all started so well: Tom gained the first at Oxford that eluded both Matthew and Clough; he was ...

The Meaninglessness of Meaning

Michael Wood, 9 October 1986

The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Cape, 368 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 224 02302 0
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Writing Degree Zero and Elements of Semiology 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith.
Cape, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 224 02267 9
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The Fashion System 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard.
Cape, 303 pp., £15, March 1985, 0 224 02984 3
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The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art and Representation 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 312 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 0 631 14746 2
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The Rustle of Language 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 373 pp., £27.50, May 1986, 0 631 14864 7
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A Barthes Reader 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 495 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 224 02946 0
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Barthes: Selected Writings 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Fontana, 495 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 00 636645 7
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Roland Barthes: A Conservative Estimate 
by Philip Thody.
University of Chicago Press, 203 pp., £6.75, February 1984, 0 226 79513 6
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Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After 
by Annette Lavers.
Methuen, 300 pp., £16.95, September 1982, 0 416 72380 2
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by Jonathan Culler.
Fontana, 128 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 635974 4
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... A diary, Roland Barthes suggested, provokes in its writer not the tragic question, ‘Who am I?’ but the comic question: ‘Am I?’ This elegant and amused remark goes some way towards explaining why Barthes, who reflected much on his life and published a book called Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, should not have kept a diary. The comic question can’t be confronted, it can only be circumvented, played with, smiled at ...


Thomas Lynch, 3 October 1996

... has fed no grave, all your people are alive. Seamus Heaney, Sweeney Astray My friend the poet, Matthew Sweeney, is certain he is dying. This is a conviction he has held without remission, since 1952 when he first saw the light, in its grey Irish version, in Ballyliffin, in northernmost Donegal. He knew even then, though he was some years from the ...

Burning isn’t the only way to lose a book

Matthew Battles, 13 April 2000

The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World 
edited by Roy MacLeod.
Tauris, 196 pp., £39.50, February 2000, 1 86064 428 7
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... consolidated institutional model to the peripatetic tradition of the Hellenes. In contrast, J.O. Ward puts his erudition to dubious use, ranting in great detail about the implausibility of the fictional medieval library at the heart of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. In doing so, he leaves unanswered a number of intriguing questions about the library ...

Mastering the Art of Understating Your Wealth

Thomas Keymer: The Tonsons, 5 May 2016

The Literary Correspondences of the Tonsons 
edited by Stephen Bernard.
Oxford, 386 pp., £95, March 2015, 978 0 19 870085 2
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... view of the Tonsons as patrons doesn’t tell quite the whole story. Perhaps the Tory libeller Ned Ward gets it right in calling Tonson ‘an Amphibeous Mortal, Chief Merchant to the Muses’: a man successfully inhabiting quite separate spheres, deftly mediating between Mammon and Parnassus, always with an eye to the main chance. That’s what Tonson saw in ...

The Enlightened Vote

Stefan Collini: Ernest Renan, 19 December 2019

‘What Is a Nation?’ and Other Political Writings 
by Ernest Renan, translated and edited by M.F.N. Giglioli.
Columbia, 328 pp., £62, September 2018, 978 0 231 17430 5
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... for his extraordinarily wide reach.To take an obvious example, Renan is everywhere in the work of Matthew Arnold, arguably his nearest British homologue. Arnold quickly recognised the kinship when Renan’s Essais appeared, confiding to one correspondent before the end of 1859 that ‘with respect both to morality and intelligence I think we are singularly at ...

This is not a ghost story

Thomas Jones: Nathan Filer, 20 February 2014

The Shock of the Fall 
by Nathan Filer.
Borough, 320 pp., £7.99, January 2014, 978 0 00 749145 2
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... a better person’, though that may be the last thing anyone should ask of a novel. The narrator, Matthew Homes, is 19 years old. He lives in Bristol. When he was nine, his older brother, Simon, who had Down’s syndrome, died during a family holiday at a caravan park on the Dorset coast. The exact circumstances of his death aren’t revealed until ...

Was Ma Hump to blame?

John Sutherland: Aldous Huxley, 11 July 2002

Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual 
by Nicholas Murray.
Little, Brown, 496 pp., £20, April 2002, 0 316 85492 1
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The Cat's Meow 
directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
April 2002
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... was, I suspect, someone mentioned only parenthetically here: Aldous’s aunt, Mrs Humphry Ward. Aldous’s mother, Julia, was among the first generation of girls able to compete for the benefits of higher education. After attending Oxford High School she was a home student at Somerville. In 1882, she got a first-class degree in English, the first of ...

People Like You

David Edgar: In Burnley, 23 September 2021

On Burnley Road: Class, Race and Politics in a Northern English Town 
by Mike Makin-Waite.
Lawrence and Wishart, 274 pp., £17, May, 978 1 913546 02 1
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... factory (‘people like you’). In 2019, the Ukip biographer turned right-populist advocate Matthew Goodwin identified the Brexit Party’s core vote in the European elections as the self-employed, aspirational plumbers, electricians and factory workers. But the BNP vote was not confined to those sectors, any more than the Brexit vote was dominated by ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Internet Misfit, 18 October 2007

... only to consume the web, and didn’t give up. was set up in 1999 by the programmer Matthew Haughey, as a place where people could put links to the good stuff they found on the web. He describes it as a special kind of group weblog that ‘exists to break down the barriers between people, to extend a weblog beyond just one person, and to foster ...

Ways of Being Interesting

Theo Tait: Ian McEwan, 11 September 2014

The Children Act 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 215 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 0 224 10199 8
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... a life-saving blood transfusion on the grounds that it was contrary to his faith. Mr Justice Ward, as he was then, gave the hospital leave to treat E against his will, declaring that the courts ‘should be very slow to allow an infant to martyr himself’. Where a child has sufficient intelligence and understanding to comprehend their medical ...

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