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The Real Johnny Hall

Penelope Fitzgerald

3 October 1985
Our Three Selves: A Life of Radclyffe Hall 
by Michael Baker.
Hamish Hamilton,​ 386 pp., £13.95, June 1985, 0 241 11539 6
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... but overemphatic. The Times Literary Supplement also called it sincere, and Vera Brittain said it was ‘admirably restrained’. It sold quite well, going into a second impression, and Radclyffe Hall, with her lover Una Troubridge, thought of taking a cottage in Rye. She may have felt some disappointment, having planned her novel in a crusader’s spirit. She claimed to have written the first ...

Grand​ Theories

W.G. Runciman

17 October 1985
The Return of Grand​ Theory in the Human Sciences 
edited by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 215 pp., £17.50, July 1985, 0 521 26692 0
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by Erik Olin Wright.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, September 1985, 0 86091 104 7
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Powers and​ Liberties: The Causes and​ Consequences of the Rise of the West 
by John Hall.
Blackwell, 282 pp., £19.50, September 1985, 0 631 14542 7
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... they do about Einsteins Grand Theory of Relativity. If not frankly pejorative, the term is at best ironic, implying a loftiness of tone, an inflation of aim, and a pretentiousness of content which no serious academic author could possibly want to be charged with. Professor Skinner begins his Introduction by quoting from a celebrated attack on Talcott Parsons by C. Wright Mills, for whom Grand ...


John​ Sutherland

9 January 1992
The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony​ Trollope 
by R.H. Super.
Manchester, 528 pp., £29.95, July 1990, 0 472 10102 1
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Anthony​ Trollope: A Victorian in his World 
by Richard Mullen.
Duckworth, 767 pp., £25, July 1990, 0 7156 2293 5
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Trollope: A Biography 
by N. John Hall.
Oxford, 581 pp., £25, October 1991, 0 19 812627 1
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... been delivered. Is this a good thing, or too much of a good thing? There are problems facing the biographer of Trollope. His adult life was not (as far as we know) sensationally exciting. There is no Ellen Ternan,no mad Mrs Thackeray, no flagrantly unconventional union of the Lewes-Eliot kind. Trollope did not, like Wilkie Collins, steep himself in laudanum and keep two mistresses. He did no...
26 November 1998
The Restraint​ of Beasts 
by Magnus Mills.
Flamingo, 215 pp., £9.99, September 1998, 0 00 225720 3
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... breaks, eat, go to the pub and then retire to their dingy caravan. This procedure is punctuated only by accidental homicides and the protagonists’ growing unease about the obscure activities of Hall Brothers, a local family business. Initially, the Halls appear to run a rival fencing company, but it emerges that their main concern is a large meat factory, producing sausages and pies. As the ...

Crusoe was a gentleman

John​ Sutherland

1 July 1982
The Gentleman in Trollope: Individuality and​ Moral Conduct 
by Shirley Letwin.
Macmillan,​ 303 pp., £15, May 1982, 0 333 31209 0
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The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel 
by Robin Gilmour.
Allen and​ Unwin, 208 pp., £10, October 1981, 0 04 800005 1
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... the centenary of Trollope’s death. On the whole, the anniversary has been taken calmly by his countrymen: with far less celebration than, for instance, George Eliot received in 1980. There is to be no British Library exhibition (although they hold significant manuscripts); no plaque in the Abbey (although Trollope was more devout than the other novelist); no portrait stamp, no commemorative pillar ...


John​ Sutherland

5 November 1992
Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and​ the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson,​ 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson,​ James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June​ 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson,​ 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... memoir, In Search of J.D. Salinger. Keepers of the Flame is a further cogitation on the woes of biography, this time in a more objectively historical context. Hamilton offers 22 case studies, from John Donne – the first properly biographed English author – to Philip Larkin of last month’s Observer fame. Hamilton could not, if he tried, write an unreadable book. Keepers of the Flame is that ...

Two Poems

Donald Hall

19 August 1993
... dead now; soon the rest of the wedding party. The Advocate         On the Advocate in nineteen- forty-eight, we argued all         night about whether a poem was good enough for us. John         Ashbery sat in a corner shelling pistachio nuts;         Robert E. Bly wore a three- piece suit and a striped tie; Kenneth         Koch was always sarcastic. Once as ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors

11 March 2010
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... The subtitle of James Shapiro’s engagingnew book is a tease. Shapiro, the author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), is in no doubt that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon is the author of the works published in his name: not Sir Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or Christopher Marlowe, living on in  ...

What’s not to like?

Stefan Collini: Ernest Gellner

2 June 2011
Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography 
by John Hall.
Verso, 400 pp., £29.99, July 2010, 978 1 84467 602 6
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... set, greeting the festivities of the time as a new Belle Epoque.’ It is hardly surprising that these contrasting allusions both choose to make their point by invoking the name of Max Weber. Perhaps no other proper name crops up so frequently in discussions of Gellner’s work. There was, for all their evident – indeed, almost laughably obvious and incongruous – differences, an important ...


Charles Nicholl: ‘The Shakespeare Circle’

18 May 2016
The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography 
edited by Paul Edmondson andStanley Wells.
Cambridge, 358 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 1 107 69909 0
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... the poignant fact of his death at the age of 11 in 1596. Graham Holderness rises to this challenge with an eight-page meditation centred on the echo of ‘Hamnet’ in ‘Hamlet’: the names have no etymological link, but one senses their emotional assonance, to which the old theatrical tradition that Shakespeare acted the part of Hamlet’s ghostly father (first mentioned by Nicholas Rowe in  ...


John​ Burnside

8 January 2004
... amusements; a tidy marina; boys in their hot-cars, waiting for someone to see them; fishermen; coaches; pleasure boats; tailored poodles. It’s warmer at night, when the lights go on in the pool hall, the moon on the empty firth like the spirit of neon, girls from the Glasgow Fair drifting down to The Ship for vodka and cranberry, Budweiser, rum and black, but days are best: these days of salt ...
30 October 1997
Noel Coward and​ Radclyffe HallKindred Spirits 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 150 pp., £15.95, November 1996, 0 231 10596 7
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Your JohnThe Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall 
edited by Joanne​ Glasgow.
New York, 273 pp., £20, March 1997, 0 8147 3092 2
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Radclyffe HallA Woman Called John 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, June​ 1997, 9780719554087
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... Honey, she’s a forerunner, that’s what she is, a kind of pioneer that’s got left behind. I believe she’s the beginning of things like me.’ Radclyffe Hall has long since been left behind, along with Joan Ogden, the heroine of her first novel, The Unlit Lamp, and the character to whom these words refer. The young women she had overheard, Ogden thought ...

Sour Notes

D.A.N.​ Jones

17 November 1983
Peter Hall’s Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle 
edited by John​ Goodwin.
Hamish Hamilton,​ 507 pp., £12.95, November 1983, 0 241 11047 5
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... Sir Peter Hall is a man of Notes. He is a director of plays who has become Director of the National Theatre. The skills of play directors are not those of performers (like his predecessor at the National, Lord ...
3 May 1984
The Letters of Anthony​ Trollope 
edited by John Hall.
Stanford, 1082 pp., $87.50, July 1983, 0 8047 1076 7
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Anthony​ Trollope: Dream and​ Art 
by Andrew Wright.
Macmillan,​ 173 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 34593 2
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... to Baron Tauchnitz, the Leipzig mogul of the cheap reprint trade: ‘I have perhaps had more dealings with publishers than any man living.’ His letters to his chief publishers, Chapman andHall, Blackwood, and Smith, Elder, are those of a hard-headed bargainer, civil but firm, who knew the market value of his product and was determined to get the best price for it. In a day when the royalty ...

Beware Bad Smells

Hugh Pennington:​ Florence Nightingale

4 December 2008
Florence Nightingale: The Woman and​ Her Legend 
by Mark Bostridge.
Viking, 646 pp., £25, October 2008, 978 0 670 87411 8
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... Her forte was administration, and her main weapon was statistics. Did she even stalk the wards of the Barrack Hospital at Scutari at night? Yes – but with what to light her way? Mark Bostridge is no revisionist, but he does point out that the evidence from the 1850s has little or nothing to say about the lamp. Nightingale’s path was enormously eased by her circumstances. Her family was wealthy ...

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