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Why Literary Criticism is like Virtue

Stanley Fish, 10 June 1993

... you will hit a stalled car. The car has only one occupant, but it is Saul Bellow, or Madonna, or Michael Jordan, or Margaret Thatcher. What do you do? I submit that if you are seeking counsel at a crucial moment of decision the last person you want to turn to is someone who spends his time thinking up hypotheticals like this one so that he can amaze students ...

Laertes has a daughter

Bee Wilson: The Redgraves, 6 June 2013

The Redgraves: A Family Epic 
by Donald Spoto.
Robson, 361 pp., £25, November 2012, 978 1 84954 394 1
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The House of Redgrave: The Lives of a Theatrical Dynasty 
by Tim Adler.
Aurum, 336 pp., £20, July 2012, 978 1 84513 623 9
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... In the National Theatre’s inaugural season in 1963 Michael Redgrave played Claudius to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet. Apart from Olivier, the theatre’s first director, Redgrave, then aged 55, was its greatest star. Known to the public from his many film roles, and having just been named actor of the year by the Evening Standard for his Uncle Vanya at Chichester, which one critic called ‘the highest level of acting the contemporary theatre has to offer’, he was good box-office ...

Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... prose to celestial poetry. (They hadn’t read, these promoters of the Penman in Hollywood fable, Michael Moorcock’s minatory letters to J.G. Ballard, the grind of lost years and aborted projects.) So, obviously, when I met Penman, this Schrader yarn was the one I put to him. Why did he come back? Where did it all go wrong? The truth was less ...

After Hartlepool

James Butler, 3 June 2021

... embrace of the polluting Silvertown Tunnel – positioned the Greens as London’s third party; in Bristol they attracted substantial parts of the city’s left-wing vote and now have the same number of council seats as Labour. Bristol West is a tempting prospect for the next general election. In Scotland, Green MSPs will ...

At the V&A

Marina Warner: ‘Hollywood Costume’, 20 December 2012

... Deborah Nadoolman Landis, is herself a celebrated Hollywood designer (Raiders of the Lost Ark; Michael Jackson’s Thriller) and now a professor of design history at UCLA; the show consists of some pieces of her own, and many others from Debbie Reynolds’s collection, recently sold – she had pioneered salvaging costumes from studio wardrobes. Landis has ...

Beetle bonkers in the beams

Michael Wood: Tony Harrison, 5 July 2007

Collected Film Poetry 
by Tony Harrison.
Faber, 414 pp., £20, April 2007, 978 0 571 23409 7
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Collected Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Viking, 452 pp., £154, April 2007, 978 0 670 91591 0
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... than the picture did or could. Elsewhere, labels like ‘The Bronx, New York’, ‘Restaurant in Bristol’, ‘Long Hospital Corridor’ are not evocations of places or meanings, they are empty gestures to what is not there on the page. With Harrison’s Collected Poems, the works are their own movies, so to speak, complete entities in their own right and ...

Powers of Darkness

Michael Taylor: Made by Free Hands, 21 October 2021

Not Made by Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition 
by Bronwen Everill.
Harvard, 318 pp., £31.95, September 2020, 978 0 674 24098 8
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... to East Indians? What would happen to the hundreds of thousands of British subjects in Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow whose livelihoods depended on sugar?It wasn’t lost on West Indians that many leading abolitionists had significant investments in the East India Company and that any swing to the canefields of Bengal would enormously enrich their ...

Balloons and Counter-Balloons

Susan Eilenberg: ‘The Age of Wonder’, 7 January 2010

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science 
by Richard Holmes.
HarperPress, 380 pp., £9.99, September 2009, 978 0 00 714953 7
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... and balloons; in Thomas Beddoes, the doctor, and his Pneumatic Institute, and his wife, Anna; in Michael Faraday, the physicist; in Charles Babbage, the mathematician and inventor of the difference engine; in Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Byron; in Mary Shelley, Frankenstein’s monster’s creator; in everyone’s connections and ...

Get the placentas

Gavin Francis: ‘The Life Project’, 2 June 2016

The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives 
by Helen Pearson.
Allen Lane, 399 pp., £20, February 2016, 978 1 84614 826 2
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... In November​ 1981 at a function in London, Neville Butler, a professor of paediatric medicine at Bristol University, contrived to drop a cup of coffee at Margaret Thatcher’s feet. He stooped down to mop it up, then sprang up and asked her for money. ‘I’m Professor Butler,’ he’s reported to have said. ‘We’re doing a national study looking at thousands of children ...

Time to think again

Michael Neve, 3 March 1988

Benjamin Disraeli: Letters 1838-1841 
edited by M.G Wiebe, J.B. Conacher, John Matthews and M.S. Millar.
Toronto, 458 pp., £40, March 1987, 0 8020 5736 5
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Salisbury: The Man and his Policies 
edited by Lord Blake and Hugh Cecil.
Macmillan, 298 pp., £29.50, May 1987, 0 333 36876 2
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... onto the shadowy screen that is called ‘Disraeli’ by loyal Tories in Winchester and Watford, Bristol and Bolton remains one of the few genuinely intriguing features of the modern British political vocabulary. A politician who could deploy verbal advantage as a form of life, whose grasp on the non-linguistic world was virtually non-existent, whose grip on ...

Those Suits

Paul Foot, 7 September 1995

Jeffrey Archer: Stranger than Fiction 
by Michael Crick.
Hamish Hamilton, 456 pp., £17.50, May 1995, 0 241 13360 2
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... sacking them. We crept away, licked our wounds and determined never to forget. Halfway through Michael Crick’s magnificently rigorous biography of Jeffrey Archer, he deals with the story of the Toronto suits. All the main characters are here again – George Wool, Larry Park, Doug Hunt – all repeating what they’d been told about the man called Archer ...

Sweetly Terminal

Edward Pearce, 5 August 1993

by Alan Clark.
Weidenfeld, 421 pp., £20, June 1993, 0 297 81352 8
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... my friends, I mean my close friends. Then he made matters worse by saying he had had a talk with Michael (Heseltine). ‘He is formidable.’ ‘He’, pause, ‘is’, pause, ‘formidable’. I got him back to the station at four thirty, smelling powerfully of brandy. Seeing I was a bit dejected, Bruce said he would plug me with John Major and David ...

Wordsworth and the Well-Hidden Corpse

Marilyn Butler, 6 August 1992

The Lyrical Ballads: Longman Annotated Texts 
edited by Michael Mason.
Longman, 419 pp., £29.99, April 1992, 0 582 03302 0
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Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Literary Possession 
by Susan Eilenberg.
Oxford, 278 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 19 506856 4
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The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries 
by Nicholas Roe.
Macmillan, 186 pp., £35, April 1992, 0 333 52314 8
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... The best-known publication date in English literature,’ says Michael Mason of 1798. But the terse, intelligent Introduction to his new edition of the Lyrical Ballads seems out to disperse the sense of unique significance sticking to the year. Mason points out that the original version of 1798, which was anonymous, caught on less well than the second (1800), twice as long, and firmly attributed to Wordsworth alone ...

We are all Scots here

Linda Colley: Scotland and Empire, 12 December 2002

The Scottish Empire 
by Michael Fry.
Tuckwell/Birlinn, 580 pp., £16.99, November 2002, 9781841582597
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... and galleries; or the Empire gets reimagined as an indulgence merely of the English. Yet, as Michael Fry argues in this vast, contentious volume, alongside the Reformation, the Treaty of Union and the Enlightenment, Empire was ‘one of the great formative experiences’ in Scotland’s past. The Scottish Empire is a remarkable book that could probably ...

In Coleridge’s Bed

Ange Mlinko: Dead Poets Road Trip, 20 April 2017

Deaths of the Poets 
by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
Cape, 414 pp., £14.99, February 2017, 978 0 224 09754 3
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... Horace and Ovid threw down the gauntlet to oblivion: come and get me if you can. Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts are poets and professors of poetry, and the authors of a previous collaboration, Edgelands, which took as its subject the dejected spaces that buffer suburban developments, industrial parks, highways and airports. They have now teamed up ...

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