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History is always to hand

Douglas Johnson, 8 December 1988

Notre Siècle: 1918-1988 
by René Rémond.
Fayard, 1012 pp., frs 190, February 1988, 2 213 02039 6
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Histoire de la Vie Privée: De la Première Guerre Mondiale à nos Jours 
edited by Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby.
Seuil, 634 pp., frs 375, May 1988, 2 02 008987 4
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France since the Popular Front: Government and People 1936-1986 
by Maurice Larkin.
Oxford, 435 pp., £30, July 1988, 0 19 873034 9
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France Today 
by John Ardagh.
Penguin, 647 pp., £6.95, June 1988, 0 14 010098 9
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... from the Centre rather than by any real, or pure, representative of a Left or a Right. Certainly Maurice Larkin does not seem to think it has, although he does not address himself specifically to the problem in any analytical manner. He prefers to write about ‘the traditional multi-directional split of the electorate’ on certain deeply-felt ...


Donald Davie, 21 March 1991

The Oxford Book of Essays 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 680 pp., £17.95, February 1991, 0 19 214185 6
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... in their day, not least in the classrooms – whom he has not scrupled to exclude: ‘E.V. Lucas, Maurice Hewlett, “Alpha of the Plough”, Robert Lynd, Christopher Morley in America, and a hundred others.’ The Lucases and the Lynds, I remember, were still esteemed presences in or behind the book that I got as a school prize; and the anathema that has ...


Philip Terry, 6 May 2021

... were the ones everybody was reading, all published by Faber: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell and, of course, Heaney. It seems extraordinary, now, that my father had known several of them. Larkin had been his friend in Belfast (and my mother’s boss in the library at Queen’s), and, later, at the ...

The Best of Betjeman

John Bayley, 18 December 1980

John Betjeman’s Collected Poems 
compiled by the Earl of Birkenhead.
Murray, 427 pp., £2.50, June 1980, 0 7195 3632 4
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Church Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 7195 3797 5
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... joys and sorrows go straight back to the early Romantics. He is not a bit like Hardy and Philip Larkin, who are often associated with him. No comparison could be more misleading. Their idiom is one of deprivation, of that pleasure in things going wrong, or never having been right, which has become so much a part of English culture and consciousness. But ...

Unhappy Man

P.N. Furbank, 22 July 1993

The Lives of Michel Foucault 
by David Macey.
Hutchinson, 599 pp., £20, June 1993, 0 09 175344 9
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The Passion of Michel Foucault 
by James Miller.
HarperCollins, 491 pp., £18, June 1993, 0 00 255267 1
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... Only a few months after the first, revelatory, biography of Philip Larkin there come two new lives – whether they are ‘revelatory’ will need pondering – of Michel Foucault. It is a suggestive coincidence. The one an exemplar of humanism, the other a grand exponent of anti-humanism, they are about the best in the way of writers their two countries have lately produced, and at their death they seemed to leave as great a hole ...

Do you think he didn’t know?

Stefan Collini: Kingsley Amis, 14 December 2006

The Life of Kingsley Amis 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 996 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 224 06227 1
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... much sign that Micheldene or his creator did feel sorry afterwards. The Cambridge historian Maurice Cowling, who overlapped with Amis’s circle in the early 1960s when Amis was in his pomp, spoke of their having ‘a doctrine about being rude’, a topic on which Cowling spoke with some authority. One of the phrases that crops up most often in ...

With a Da bin ich!

Seamus Perry: Properly Lawrentian, 9 September 2021

Burning Man: The Ascent of D.H. Lawrence 
by Frances Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 488 pp., £25, May 2021, 978 1 4088 9362 3
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... if a reader construes a poem in a way you felt you didn’t mean?’ an interviewer once asked Larkin. ‘I should think he was talking balls,’ came the robust reply. But most writers might accept that, in reality, proceedings are only ever partially under their conscious control: the old poets would have called this ‘inspiration’. ‘I don’t ...

The analyst is always right

Mark Ford: Tessimond and Spencer, 17 November 2011

Collected Poems with Translations from Jacques Prévert 
by A.S.J. Tessimond.
Bloodaxe, 188 pp., £10.95, November 2010, 978 1 85224 857 4
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Complete Poetry, Translations and Selected Prose 
by Bernard Spencer.
Bloodaxe, 351 pp., £15, February 2011, 978 1 85224 891 8
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... the sickness of our age; Offers the ugly, glamour; the hopeless, hope. Compare these pieces to Larkin’s advertising poems, such as ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ or ‘Send No Money’; or ‘Essential Beauty’, with its ambivalent response to the vast billboards that ‘Screen graves with custard, cover slums with praise/Of motor-oil and cuts of ...

We were the Lambert boys

Paul Driver, 22 May 1986

The Lamberts: George, Constant and Kit 
by Andrew Motion.
Chatto, 388 pp., £13.95, April 1986, 0 7011 2731 7
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... Motion’s book is intended to portray a family’s rich self-destructiveness. He begins with Larkin’s famous quatrain: Man hands on misery to man.   It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can,   And don’t have any kids yourself. The Lamberts – painter George (1873-1930), composer-conductor Constant (1905-51), and manager of ...

Untouched by Eliot

Denis Donoghue: Jon Stallworthy, 4 March 1999

Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems 
by Jon Stallworthy.
Carcanet, 247 pp., £14.95, September 1998, 1 85754 163 4
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... to try for a Blue. (My jealousy is out of control.) Gardner arranged to have him supervised by Maurice Bowra, who in turn introduced him to Bethel Solomons, who gave him tea and persuaded Mrs Yeats to receive him. Stallworthy charmed her, too, and she gave him the run of the manuscripts. Singing School recites these occasions and brings the story of ...

Wire him up to a toaster

Seamus Perry: Ordinary Carey, 7 January 2021

A Little History of Poetry 
by John Carey.
Yale, 303 pp., £14.99, March 2020, 978 0 300 23222 6
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... discernible gift was for burning his visitors’ toast: ‘Any normal person would want to wire Maurice up to this obsolete toaster and pass several hundred volts through him,’ Carey wrote, which is just the sort of Tom and Jerry violence that Jim Dixon wishes he could direct at his own appalling head of department – he wants ‘to tie Welch up in his ...

Out of the jiffybag

Frank Kermode, 12 November 1987

For Love and Money: Writing, Reading, Travelling 1969-1987 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins Harvill, 350 pp., £11.50, November 1987, 0 00 272279 8
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Original Copy: Selected Reviews and Journalism 1969-1986 
by John Carey.
Faber, 278 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 571 14879 4
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... he gives us the notorious ‘Down with Dons’ (1975), which hammers donnish cults such as that of Maurice Bowra, claims that dons tend to be insolent and bumptious and to have insolent and bumptious children, calls them ‘envious careerists’ devoting their time to petty intrigue, and snobs who despise the non-dons who support them. Undergraduates are not ...

Putting Religion in Its Place

Colm Tóibín: Marilynne Robinson, 23 October 2014

by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 261 pp., £16.99, October 2014, 978 1 84408 880 5
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... Philip Larkin​ ’s ‘Church Going’, when I read it first, came as a relief. For once, someone had said something true, or almost true, about religion and its shadowy aftermath. The poem seemed to have a lovely assuredness and finality. The self-deprecating voice – resigned and a bit sad – was having an argument with no one ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2010, 16 December 2010

... lichen but chewing gum. 23 March. That Ted Hughes should have got into Poets’ Corner ahead of Larkin wouldn’t have surprised Larkin, though he must surely have a better claim. Two deans back, and not long after Larkin’s death, I remember Michael Mayne saying that ...

What most I love I bite

Matthew Bevis: Stevie Smith, 28 July 2016

The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith 
edited by Will May.
Faber, 806 pp., £35, October 2015, 978 0 571 31130 9
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... of such encounters because Smith’s admirers often treat her as something of a pet. Although Larkin’s review of Selected Poems in 1962 drew attention to her achievement, he called her drawings ‘cute’ while noting that some of her phrases, though not ‘full-scale’ poems, hung around in one’s mind ‘long after one has put the book down in ...

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