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4 April 1985
The Missing Will 
by Michael Wharton.
Hogarth, 216 pp., £10.95, November 1984, 0 7011 2666 3
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... For 27 years MichaelWharton has written the ‘Peter Simple’ column in the Daily Telegraph. He was only 43 when he secured this good, steady job and now he has published an autobiographical account of his 43 apprentice years ...
7 March 1991
A Dubious Codicil: An Autobiography by 
by Michael Wharton.
Chatto, 261 pp., £15.99, December 1990, 0 7011 3064 4
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The House the Berrys built 
by Duff Hart-Davis.
Hodder, 299 pp., £16.95, April 1990, 3 405 92526 6
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Lords of Fleet Street: The Harmsworth Dynasty 
by Richard Bourne.
Unwin Hyman, 258 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 04 440450 6
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... reliable Telegraph. This bizarre phenomenon is, in rather different ways, a central feature of Duff Hart Davis’s history of the Daily Telegraph under the Berry family, and of the second volume of MichaelWharton’s autobiography. Hart-Davis was a fairly junior member of the Telegraph’s staff for some years. As the author of the ‘Peter Simple’ column for thirty-odd years, Wharton must be ...

I met murder on the way

Colin Kidd: Castlereagh

24 May 2012
Castlereagh: Enlightenment, War and Tyranny 
by John Bew.
Quercus, 722 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 85738 186 6
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... it easier to romanticise the Provisional IRA than to sympathise with the resilient negativity of Ulster Unionism. Unsurprisingly, Unionists had few friends in the newspapers. A bizarre exception was MichaelWharton, a satirical and outrageously reactionary fantasist at the Daily Telegraph, who wrote under the pseudonym Peter Simple. Yet Wharton’s attempts to ridicule the enemies of Unionism were funny ...
10 February 1994
The Age of Innocence 
directed by Martin Scorsese.
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The Age of Innocence 
by Edith Wharton, introduced by Peter Washington.
Everyman, 308 pp., £9.99, September 1993, 1 85715 202 6
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... spectacle now, or we are its spectacle, caught in this monstrous, many-headed social gaze. Throughout these scenes a mocking voice-over – the voice is Joanne Woodward’s – reads some of Edith Wharton’s funniest lines (‘Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it’), which complicate and perturb the meaning of these already complicated and ...

I can’t, I can’t

Anne Diebel: Edel v. the Rest

21 November 2013
Monopolising the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship 
by Michael​ Anesko.
Stanford, 280 pp., £30.50, March 2012, 978 0 8047 6932 7
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... the event would bring his work to the American public’s attention, but he feared that the venture would fail and be rebranded with the name of a more popular writer: ‘best of all as the Edith Wharton!’ In 1902, when he made this prediction, James was hardly lacking in fame. And in the two years that followed he published The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. After his ...

Cute, My Arse

Seamus Perry: Geoffrey Hill

12 September 2019
The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 148 pp., £20, April, 978 0 19 882952 2
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... of ‘formality under duress’ which Hill once attributed admiringly to the American poet Allen Tate. ‘With what concentration, effort, agony he must have laboured on these marvellous poems!’ MichaelWharton exclaimed in a review in the Spectator, praise which was prominently reprinted on the jacket of the 1985 Collected Poems to sum up a whole school of regard. Wharton was best known for a ...


José Harris

24 July 1986
Wallis and Edward: Letters 1931-1937 
edited by Michael​ Bloch.
Weidenfeld, 308 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 297 78804 3
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Rat Week: An Essay on the Abdication 
by Osbert Sitwell.
Joseph, 78 pp., £7.95, May 1986, 0 7181 1859 6
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... relation with Mrs Simpson in any normal historical light. The historian who sets out to establish the facts of ‘what really passed between them’ is doomed to failure in advance. Neither Michael Bloch’s cautious scholarship nor Osbert Sitwell’s posthumous malice will erode posterity’s obstinate penchant for romantic love. Having said that, it has to be admitted that both the volumes ...

A Conversation with Gore Vidal

Thomas Powers: Meeting Gore Vidal

30 July 2014
... and I don’t think Wilson much liked him.’ He said he’d read Wilson’s letters straight through, liked them very much, but still didn’t know why Wilson had been fired by the New Republic. Michael Straight was his sister’s husband – can that be right? the chains of relation are sometimes bewildering in Vidal’s world, where literally everybody seems to know everybody – but when Vidal ...


Karl Miller

2 April 1987
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories 
by Michael​ Cox and R.A. Gilbert.
Oxford, 504 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 19 214163 5
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The Ghost Stories of M.R. James 
by Michael​ Cox.
Oxford, 224 pp., £12.45, November 1986, 9780192122551
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Supernatural Tales 
by Vernon Lee.
Peter Owen, 222 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7206 0680 2
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The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural 
edited by Jack Sullivan.
Viking, 482 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 670 80902 0
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Ghostly Populations 
by Jack Matthews.
Johns Hopkins, 171 pp., £11.75, March 1987, 0 8018 3391 4
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... In John Buchan’s, dear old glamorous Fullcircle wins over what he presents as a bloody awful married couple – ‘Hampstead’ progressives – to a pagan-Catholic frame of mind, while Edith Wharton’s house, Bells, nearest post-office Thudeney-Blazes, tries the strength of the sensible grand lady who inherits it. ‘ “Fudge!” muttered Lady Jane,’ who is ‘interested in old houses’ and ...

Always the Bridesmaid

Terry Castle: Sappho

30 September 1999
Victorian Sappho 
by Yopie Prins.
Princeton, 278 pp., £40, May 1999, 0 691 05918 7
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... of the poet’s 19th-century legacy. In the first section, ‘Sappho’s Broken Tongue’, Prins provides a useful potted chronology of English translations of Sappho, up to and including Dr Henry Wharton’s highly influential Sappho: Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings and a Literal Translation (1885). The much-translated (and notoriously strange) Fragment 31 – quoted below in Anne Carson’s ...


Paul Foot

2 March 1989
The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Discrediting of a Prime Minister 
by David Leigh.
Heinemann, 271 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 434 41340 2
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A Price too High 
by Peter Rawlinson.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £16, March 1989, 0 297 79431 0
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... to sell old aircraft to the Russians, were more than once sabotaged by MI5. The young intelligence heroes of the time had mostly been in active service in colonial wars, notably in Palestine. Harry Wharton, Anthony Cavendish, Maurice Oldfield, the arch-racialist George Kennedy Young – all these were in MI5 or MI6 either during or after the war. All of them shared the deeply reactionary ideas which ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home

3 January 2008
The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... death. Lubbock found Mrs William James, the formidable widow of Henry James’s elder brother, moving ‘in a cloud of fine discretions and hesitations and precautions’. She disliked Edith Wharton ‘thoroughly – and morbidly’, as Edel put it, and this meant that Wharton or anyone else deemed disreputable could not be involved in any aspect of the estate. Miss Bosanquet, James’s highly ...

Making sentences

Philip Horne

21 November 1991
The Jameses: A Family Narrative 
by R.W.B. Lewis.
Deutsch, 696 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 233 98748 7
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Meaning in Henry James 
by Millicent Bell.
Harvard, 384 pp., £35.95, October 1991, 9780674557628
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... William James (1984); Gerald Myers in William James: His Life and Thought (1986); Jane Maher in Biography of Broken Fortunes: Wilky and Bob, Brothers of William, Henry and Alice James (1986); Michael Anesko in ‘Friction with the Market’: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship (1986); Rayburn Moore in Selected Letters of Henry James to Edmund Gosse (1988); and Lyall Powers in Henry James ...

A Short History of the Trump Family

Sidney Blumenthal: The First Family

16 February 2017
... could never escape being a ‘Queens-born casino operator’, as Spy stamped him. But he wasn’t scorned only for his unrelieved vulgarity. The reaction to him wasn’t the antique snobbery Edith Wharton dissected in her society novels, but the worldly perspicacity of New Yorkers high and low. Trump’s quest for respectability only deepened his problems. It wasn’t that he had missed his moment ...


R.W. Johnson

4 June 1987
Traitors: The Labyrinths of Treason 
by Chapman Pincher.
Sidgwick, 346 pp., £13.95, May 1987, 0 283 99379 0
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The Secrets of the Service: British Intelligence and Communist Subversion 1939-51 
by Anthony Glees.
Cape, 447 pp., £18, May 1987, 0 224 02252 0
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Freedom of Information – Freedom of the Individual? 
by Clive Ponting, John Ranelagh, Michael​ Zander and Simon Lee, edited by Julia Neuberger.
Macmillan, 110 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 333 44771 9
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... 1974, and the pot he had stirred so hard for so long continued to boil for some while after that. An indication of the prevailing climate within MI5 is given by the fact that it was in 1975 that Michael Bettaney (later jailed for trying, unsuccessfully, to sell secrets to the KGB) was recruited. What is usually forgotten in the Pincheresque version of events is that Bettaney was a deeply unstable ...

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