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I want to love it

Susan Pedersen: What on earth was he doing?

18 April 2019
Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History 
by Richard J. Evans.
Little, Brown, 800 pp., £35, February, 978 1 4087 0741 8
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...  but anyone coming afterwards will have to start from Evans’s prodigious and revelatory work. Eric Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria in 1917, the product of a chance meeting in 1913 between Percy Hobsbawm, the son of Jewish immigrants to Britain from Poland, who had followed his brother Ernest into a job with the British-run Egyptian postal service, and Nelly Grün, a cultured and attractive ...
20 February 1986
Music and Civilisation: Essays in Honour of Paul Henry Lang 
edited by Edmond Strainchamps, Maria Rika Maniates and Christopher Hatch.
Norton, 499 pp., £35, March 1985, 0 393 01677 3
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The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy​ Grainger 1901-1914 
edited by Kay Dreyfus.
Macmillan, 542 pp., £25, December 1985, 0 333 38085 1
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by Joseph Kerman.
Collins/Fontana, 255 pp., £10.95, March 1985, 0 00 197170 0
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... highly respected until the advent of the historical performance movement tarnished its reputation for good. Wolff reflects on the spiritual link (as the late 18th century probably saw it) between a young genius and a revered master, and sets the tone of Lang’s Festschrift with some cogent remarks on the diplomat and music patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the guardian angel of Mozart’s late ...


Christopher Reid

3 September 1981
Some Americans: A Personal Record 
by Charles Tomlinson.
California, 134 pp., £6.50, June 1981, 0 520 04037 6
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... proved amenable, even generous, when Tomlinson paid them visits on his first trip to the United States. Both, however, were old and ailing. Recovering from a series of strokes, Williams gave his young British acolyte as boisterous a welcome as he could, evidently glad to meet a poet from our benighted land who was ready to take account of his radical ideas about versification. Marianne Moore ...

North and South

Raphael Samuel

22 June 1995
Coming Back Brockens: A Year in a Mining Village 
by Mark Hudson.
Cape, 320 pp., £16.99, October 1994, 0 224 04170 3
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... a phenomenon of the Fifties, and the very basis of the Folk Club movement, powerfully renewed these memories, and cast them in epic form (Arthur Scargill’s first job, when he joined the Barnsley Young Communist League, was to be made ‘Ballads and Blues’ secretary). Aneurin Bevan, a glittering representative of the South Wales coalfield, and the most accomplished orator of his day, made the ...

Lord Fitzcricket

P.N. Furbank: The composer’s life

21 May 1998
Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric 
by Mark Amory.
Chatto, 274 pp., £20, March 1998, 1 85619 234 2
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... He was homosexual but seems not to have had much of a sex-life, remarking bitterly later on that sex had almost always just been a nuisance to him. However, in 1932, he got to know the young, beautiful and dotty Robert Heber Percy, otherwise known as ‘the Mad Boy’, for whom he fell and who became a fixture in his household, eventually inheriting Berners’s estate. ‘No one,’ Mark ...
21 August 1980
On the Edge of Paradise 
by David Newsome.
Murray, 405 pp., £17.50, June 1980, 0 7195 3690 1
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... in 1925, at the age of 63. He left instructions that the diaries were to be deposited in specially-constructed boxes and not opened for 50 years. A heavily inhibited edition was brought out by Percy Lubbock in 1927, but Newsome is the first to have carte blanche to sift through this vast storehouse. While intimate diaries don’t necessarily yield intimate revelations of the true self, On the ...

Rivonia Days

R.W. Johnson: Remembering the trial

16 August 2007
The State v. Nelson Mandela: The Trial That Changed South Africa 
by Joel Joffe.
Oneworld, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2007, 978 1 85168 500 4
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... The political climate in South Africa when the Rivonia trial began in November 1963 was so poisonous that Joel Joffe, then a young lawyer, took the case on only because he had already decided to emigrate. Two years later, he wrote up his lively insider’s view of the trial and allowed Lionel Bernstein, the only defendant to get ...

A Little ‘Foreign’

P.N. Furbank: Iris Origo

27 June 2002
Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Murray, 351 pp., £22, October 2000, 0 7195 5672 4
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... to be regarded as ‘somebody’ and when it became time for her to ‘come out’, she had to do it in three separate countries (Italy, England and the US). Her parents had met when, as a very young man, Bayard had come to London as private secretary to the US Ambassador. They got married in 1901, and Bayard toyed with various schemes for a career: diplomacy, university work, politics and so on ...

Coe and Ovett & Co

Russell Davies

1 October 1981
Running Free 
by Sebastian Coe and David Miller.
Sidgwick, 174 pp., £6.95, May 1981, 0 283 98684 0
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... sometimes reinforced by the hint of beaky arrogance in his face. It may well be the arrogance that is traditionally the soul-food of champions, but there has been dark talk of links with the Young Conservatives. Coe’s sister Miranda is an elegant model – the family is strong on legs – though she doubles (possibly a concession here to the Ovett style of things) as a ‘cabaret dancer ...
3 April 1980
John Ruskin and Rose La Touche: Her Unpublished Diaries of 1861 and 1867 
edited by Van Akin Burd.
Oxford, 192 pp., £6.95, January 1980, 0 19 812633 6
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... It was in the winter of 1929 that the young American scholar Helen Gill Viljoen went to Brantwood, Ruskin’s old home on Coniston Water, to pursue her postgraduate researches. In that dilapidated building, stripped of its more saleable ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: How We Are

5 July 2007
... from abroad. The four performers of the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance, taken by Benjamin Stone in 1899, stare at the camera as grimly as Papuan warriors. There was a need to face the facts of war. Percy Hennell made records of reconstructive surgery; in the exhibition you can see a soldier who has had the socket of his lost eye patched over with a flap of skin. The police wanted mugshots for their ...
16 August 1990
... first entry of the clown in The Two Gentlemen of Verona), but the much more complicated character who, charged by the Lord Chief Justice with having led astray the Prince of Wales, answers: ‘The young Prince hath misled me. I am the Fellow with the great belly, and he my Dogge.’ No one now quite follows this joke, which may be an airy reference (to distract attention) to the Man in the Moon ...

Pushing on

John Bayley

18 September 1986
The Old Devils 
by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 09 163790 2
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... is the theme of the novel: that the past is never safely in place but keeps coming round again in the obsessive chatter of the continuum. Older people need each other because of it. It keeps them young by reminding them that youth is a state we carry helplessly around in our peer-group: those who are just beginning life can be seen to be much more grown-up. All the infirmities of age – white ...

Oh, Lionel!

Christopher Hitchens

3 December 1992
P.G. Wodehouse: Man and Myth 
by Barry Phelps.
Constable, 344 pp., £16.95, October 1992, 9780094716209
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... We know from his immense correspondence that P.G. Wodehouse was at once omnivorous and discriminating in his reading (garbage in; synthesis out – a good maxim for any young reader-for-pleasure setting out on life’s road). He cited authors as various as Lion Feuchtwanger and Rudyard Kipling, and didn’t bluff about a book he hadn’t read. And we know that he was ...


Anne Barton: Mary Shelley

8 February 2001
Mary Shelley 
by Miranda Seymour.
Murray, 665 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7195 5711 9
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Mary Shelley in Her Times 
edited by Betty Bennett and Stuart Curran.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £33, September 2000, 0 8018 6334 1
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Mary Shelley's Fictions 
edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.
Palgrave, 250 pp., £40, August 2000, 0 333 77106 0
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... regrettably true and, although the balance is to some extent redressed by such excellent studies in the accurately entitled Literary Lives series (published by Palgrave) as Michael O’Neill’s Percy Bysshe Shelley (1989) or Caroline Franklin’s Byron (2000), not-very-literary biographies, some running to four hundred and more pages, continue to accumulate in the bookshops. There (presumably ...

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