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17 July 1980
The Lord of Greenwich 
by Juliet Dymoke.
Dobson, 224 pp., £4.95, April 1980, 0 234 72165 0
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A Flight of Swans 
by Barbara Willard.
Kestrel, 185 pp., £4.50, May 1980, 0 7226 5438 3
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Fanny and the Battle of Potter’s Piece 
by Penelope​ Lively.
Heinemann, 45 pp., £3.50, June 1980, 9780434949373
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John Diamond 
by Leon Garfield.
Kestrel, 180 pp., £4.50, April 1980, 9780722656198
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Friedrich 
by Hans Peter Richter.
Kestrel, 150 pp., £4.50, June 1980, 0 7226 5285 2
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I was there 
by Hans Peter Richter.
Kestrel, 187 pp., £4.50, June 1980, 0 7226 6434 6
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The Time of the Young Soldiers 
by Hans Peter Richter.
Kestrel, 128 pp., £3.95, June 1980, 0 7226 5122 8
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The Runaway Train 
by Penelope Farmer.
Heinemann, 48 pp., £3.50, June 1980, 0 434 94938 8
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... it may be more difficult to write a good, escapist story if every sordid truth about the past is to be borne in mind. If the intention is merely to entertain in an avowedly lightweight work, as in Penelope Lively’s Fanny and the Battle of Potter’s Piece, only a pedant would insist that it is always necessary to include glimpses of less pleasant aspects of the past as well. But although it is fun to ...

Disconnected Realities

Mary Hawthorne: In the Munro mould

17 February 2005
Runaway 
by Alice Munro.
Chatto, 325 pp., £15.99, February 2005, 0 7011 7750 0
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... didn’t play with other children because the family was poor and lived on the outskirts of town; for a time, before his business failed and he became a night watchman, her father was a fox and mink farmer. The climate was dramatic: winters were bitterly cold, and summers fiercely hot and pestilent. Munro was a pretty and precocious child who did recitations on the radio when she was three or four ...

Megawoman

Penelope​ Fitzgerald

13 October 1988
Olive Schreiner: Letters. Vol.1:1871-1899 
edited by Richard Rive.
Oxford, 409 pp., £30, February 1988, 0 19 812220 9
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... necessary claim on her attention was weakness. She needed, as she freely admitted, to be needed. For women’s right to financial and sexual independence, for the Boers against the British, the small farmer against the capitalist, the blacks (always ‘Kaffirs’ or ‘niggers’ to Olive) against the whites, she spent herself recklessly. All this was in the face of a chronic illness, apparently asthma ...

Luck Dispensers

Penelope​ Fitzgerald

11 July 1991
The Kitchen God’s Wife 
by Amy Tan.
HarperCollins, 415 pp., £14.99, June 1991, 0 00 223708 3
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... returns to more or less the same material, seen in a more comic but at the same time a sadder light. The Kitchen God, surely one of the most irritating minor deities ever conceived, was once a rich farmer called Zhang, with a kind and patient wife. But he chased her out of the house, spent all his substance on another woman and reduced himself to beggary. Nearly at death’s door, he was carried into ...

Obstacles

Penelope​ Fitzgerald

4 July 1996
Edward Thomas: Selected Letters 
edited by R. George Thomas.
Oxford, 192 pp., £30, March 1996, 0 19 818562 6
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... company of two or more people. But his salvation, he said as early as 1906, would depend on the one right person. In 1913 Robert Frost arrived with his family from New Hampshire, unsuccessful as a farmer and not well known as a poet. George Thomas includes some of the first notes between them (‘My dear Frost – I wish you were nearer so that we could see one another easily with our children ...

Lotti’s Leap

Penelope​ Fitzgerald

1 July 1982
Collected Poems and Prose 
by Charlotte Mew, edited by Val Warner.
Carcanet/Virago, 445 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 85635 260 8
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... what she had undergone in this one.’ The biographer has not so much to reconstruct her life as to account for what life did to her. Charlotte Mew was the third child (out of eight) of Fred Mew, a farmer’s son from the Isle of Wight, who had come to London to be trained as an architect by H.E. Kendall. In 1863 he married Kendall’s daughter, a tiny, silly woman who was ‘above’ him, and always ...

Misbehavin’

Susannah Clapp

23 July 1987
A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... musical about gossip columnists flopped, he took off for the Continent with his designer – leaving his wife surrounded by gossip columnists. A year or so later he took off from Jocelyn Rickards for Penelope Gilliatt. Rickards, who expresses indulgence towards her lovers, reserves her main darts on this occasion for Gilliatt, who didn’t iron her dresses, cooked watery scrambled eggs and sent express ...

Stand-Up Vampire

Gillian White: Louise Glück

26 September 2013
Poems 1962-2012 
by Louise Glück.
Farrar, Straus, 634 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 374 12608 7
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... that ‘we look at the world once, in childhood./The rest is memory.’ Meadowlands in particular shows the power of fantasy to shape our experience of the world. In ‘Ithaca’, Glück’s Penelope dreams as she weaves. Her suitors have failed to realise that Odysseus is powerfully present in her memory: The beloved doesn’t need to live. The beloved lives in the head … He was the body ...

Time for Several Whiskies

Ian Jack: BBC Propaganda

30 August 2018
Auntie’s War: The BBC during the Second World War 
by Edward Stourton.
Doubleday, 422 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 85752 332 7
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... of his most memorable phrases, ‘the upper nation’, described the rich: ‘The upper nation of the Mayfair type of snob feeds on the lower nation whom it robs. How long is this going to last?’ A farmer in Yorkshire wrote to the BBC to protest that ‘with over forty years’ close contact with the working classes I am appalled at the accumulating and increasing interest taken by them in this swine ...

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