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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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... fuzzes the shadowy outline of Ian Penman, a laureate of marginal places, folds in the map, is that Paul Schrader, the director of a sassy remake of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, admired Penman’s review so much that he invited him over to Los Angeles to talk product. Penman in California was truly the vision of a man who fell to earth, a pale alien in an X ...

Fiction and the Poverty of Theory

John Sutherland, 20 November 1986

News from Nowhere 
by David Caute.
Hamish Hamilton, 403 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 241 11920 0
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by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 469 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 241 11948 0
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Ticket to Ride 
by Dennis Potter.
Faber, 202 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 9780571145232
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... brought about the desired upsurge. An older generation of Marxists (led by the unvanquished E.P. Thompson) have counter-attacked with the ‘poverty of theory’ and continued to assert the validity of a traditional British socialist heritage going back at least to the 17th century. All this is given full play in Caute’s narrative. Richard Stern is a young ...

Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

For the Sake of Argument 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 353 pp., £19.95, May 1993, 0 86091 435 6
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... often very funny. There are hilarious set-pieces at the expense of, for example, John Braine and Paul Johnson. For the Sake of Argument is not an easy book to précis. There are eight parts and 72 essays, the allocation of which is somewhat random. Most of the pieces in ‘Rogues’ Gallery’, for instance, could go equally well into ‘Studies in ...

And after we’ve struck Cuba?

Thomas Powers, 13 November 1997

The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Harvard, 728 pp., £23.50, October 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 420 pp., £25, September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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... KENNEDY: Then you let them build the missiles? MCNAMARA: Then you talk. AMBASSADOR LLEWELLYN THOMPSON: Is this on the assumption that he would run the blockade? MCNAMARA: No, no. They have enough inside that they can continue the construction. ROBERT KENNEDY: We tell them they can build as many missiles as they want? MCNAMARA: Oh, no. What we say ...

Up the Levellers

Paul Foot, 8 December 1994

The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645-53 
by Ian Gentles.
Blackwell, 590 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 631 19347 2
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... John Lilburne ‘long-winded and conceited’; Rainborowe ‘truculent’ and ‘sour’; William Thompson, who fought to a heroic death in the 1649 Leveller mutiny, ‘at bottom was one of those figures who is familiar in all revolutions; the man of violent or criminal propensities who for a time camouflages his lawlessness beneath the rhetoric of resistance ...


R.W. Johnson, 2 June 1988

Passion and Cunning, and Other Essays 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Weidenfeld, 293 pp., £18, March 1988, 0 297 79280 6
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God Land: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Harvard, 97 pp., £9.95, April 1988, 0 674 35510 5
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... come to assume that the thorn in the flesh of the Nato culture was one of their own, but when E.P. Thompson attempted to presume O’Brien onto his side in the matter of CND there was a predictable and pyrotechnic response, with great carnage in the Thompson ranks. O’Brien is not a man to accept that presumptive arm around ...

When Neil Kinnock was in his pram

Paul Addison, 5 April 1984

Labour in Power 1945-1951 
by Kenneth Morgan.
Oxford, 546 pp., £15, March 1984, 0 19 215865 1
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... In the 1940s Labour was soundly élitist. The analysis can be extended to external affairs. E.P. Thompson and others have explained that in the 1890s the British working classes became deeply implicated in imperialism. Indeed, one need look no further than Bevin, or (if he counts as working-class) Morrison, for confirmation. Bevin grew very attached to the ...

The Matter of India

John Bayley, 19 March 1987

... or it can make pseudo-epic. Does J.G. Farrell take the Celtic line in The Siege of Krishnapur, and Paul Scott follow a more plodding and literal Anglo-Saxon formula in the four-novel sequence of The Raj Quartet?There might be something in that. I suspect, for one thing, that those who cannot read Tolkien find Paul Scott ...

On the Rant

E.P. Thompson, 9 July 1987

Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians 
by J.C. Davis.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £22.50, September 1986, 0 521 26243 7
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... gnostic and Behmenist), but it may also (less esoterically) find authority in St Paul’s Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians. These passages, which originated in Paul’s polemics against the slavish observance of Jewish ceremonial and ritual regulations, might be taken to have a much wider ...

Playboy’s Paperwork

Patrick Collinson: Historiography and Elizabethan politics, 11 November 1999

The World of the Favourite 
edited by J.H. Elliott and L.W.B. Brockliss.
Yale, 320 pp., £35, June 1999, 0 300 07644 4
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The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-97 
by Paul Hammer.
Cambridge, 468 pp., £45, June 1999, 0 521 43485 8
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... shared in government, whether by royal appointment or congenital right. According to I.A.A. Thompson, the favourite, or valido as he was known in Spain, on which Thompson is an authority, emerged ‘at a particular moment in the development of the central administration’. He represented ‘a window of transition ...

Can the virtuous person exist in the modern world?

Jonathan Lear: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Virtues, 2 November 2006

The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays, Vol. I 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Cambridge, 230 pp., £40, June 2006, 0 521 67061 6
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Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, Vol. II 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Cambridge, 239 pp., £40, June 2006, 0 521 67062 4
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... I don’t think they flow from his religious commitment. In giving his own interpretation of John Paul II’s encyclical ‘Faith and Reason’, MacIntyre says: It is characteristic of human beings that, whatever our culture, we desire to know and to understand, that we cannot but set ourselves the achievement of truth as a goal. And among the truths to ...

Reach-Me-Down Romantic

Terry Eagleton: For and Against Orwell, 19 June 2003

George Orwell 
by Gordon Bowker.
Little, Brown, 495 pp., £20, May 2003, 0 316 86115 4
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Orwell: The Life 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 448 pp., £20, June 2003, 0 7011 6919 2
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Orwell: Life and Times 
by Scott Lucas.
Haus, 180 pp., £8.99, April 2003, 1 904341 33 0
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... his paedophilic housemaster. If Williams’s notion does not take sufficient account of the Paul Foots of this world, it also fails to take account of the army of ex-working-class socialists who are not averse to swapping their political beliefs for a Jacobean farmhouse in Kent. Orwell did not get a bullet through his throat in Spain because he was ...

He’s Bad, She’s Mad

Mary Hannity: HMP Holloway, 9 May 2019

Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison 
by Caitlin Davies.
John Murray, 373 pp., £10.99, February 2019, 978 1 4736 4776 3
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... not feel themselves to possess such agency. ‘We all imagine we can mould our own lives,’ Edith Thompson wrote from Holloway, where she was executed in January 1923, having been found guilty of inciting the murder of her husband by her lover. ‘We seldom can, they are moulded for us – just by the laws and rules and conventions of this world.’ ...

Tortoises with Zips

David Craig: The Snow Geese by William Fiennes, 4 April 2002

The Snow Geese 
by William Fiennes.
Picador, 250 pp., £14.99, March 2002, 0 330 37578 4
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... North-East Canada and his alternation between dependence on home and an urge to hive off. Having Paul Gallico’s Snow Goose read to him at prep school, rediscovering the novella in a hotel when he was convalescing from a major operation in his mid-twenties: these experiences inspired him to follow the snow geese as they made their flight north-eastwards in ...

Paisley’s Progress

Tom Paulin, 1 April 1982

... and is fond of dressing up in other people’s personalities. After the Almighty, after St Paul – for whom he confesses ‘a strange liking’ – his most influential model, or imaginative icon, is John Bunyan, whose life and work obsess him. Bunyan is ‘this dreamer and penman’, ‘the most prominent man of letters as far as English literature ...

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