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Making them think

J.I.M. Stewart

18 September 1986
G.K. Chesterton 
by Michael Ffinch.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £16, June 1986, 0 297 78858 2
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... must be the chief concern of any biography of Chesterton, for the expounding of it was the chief concern of his life.’ On the following page Mr Ffinch tells of being admitted by Miss Dorothy Collins, Chesterton’s literary executor, to archival material so rich that he ‘remained happily stranded in the attic for twelve hours a day for several weeks’. ‘As each chest, trunk, suitcase or box ...
17 February 1983
Sir William Rowan Hamilton 
by Thomas Hankins.
Johns Hopkins, 474 pp., £19.50, July 1981, 0 8018 2203 3
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Gentlemen of Science: Early Years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 
by Jack Morrell and Arnold Thackray.
Oxford, 592 pp., £30, August 1981, 0 19 858163 7
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The Parliament of Science: The British Association for the Advancement of Science 1831-1981 
edited by Roy MacLeod and Peter Collins.
Science Reviews, 308 pp., £12.25, September 1982, 0 905927 66 4
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... In the London Review of Books, John Maynard Smith said about scientists: ‘however interested they may be in politics or history or philosophy, their first love is science itself.’ If only I could follow this bent, and tell something of Hamilton as a mathematician. As it happens, he also wrote a good deal of poetry, but his poems lack the magic of his equations, which seem more beautiful and moving ...

My Missus

John Sutherland

13 May 1993
Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914-1950 
by Joseph McAleer.
Oxford, 284 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 19 820329 2
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American Star: A Love Story 
by Jackie Collins.
Heinemann, 568 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 434 14093 7
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... through London bookstalls – that middle-class litterateurs like himself knew (and cared) less about working-class literature than about Lapland. In a much quoted essay twenty years later, Wilkie Collins, after a similar expedition, coined the phrase ‘the Unknown Public’. It was something of a misnomer since the public was well enough known. It was their ‘entertaining literature’ that was the ...

The butler didn’t do it

Bee Wilson: The First Detectives

19 June 2008
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 334 pp., £14.99, April 2008, 978 0 7475 8215 1
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... it be the garment the murderer was wearing as she killed the infant? A general feeling gathered that if only the guilty – bloodied – nightdress could be found, the case would be solved. Wilkie Collins borrowed this clue for The Moonstone, though he turned it from a bloody garment to one splattered with fresh paint. Because of the breast flannel and the nightdress, every woman at Road Hill House ...
6 December 1984
Agatha Christie 
by Janet Morgan.
Collins, 393 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 00 216330 6
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... Miss Nancy Neele. An impossible three months followed. Archie blew hot and cold, moving from his London club to Styles, and then back to the club. Agatha’s only friend was her wire-haired terrier, Peter. In December she cracked. Packing a suitcase with an odd assortment of effects, and putting on a money belt containing several hundred pounds, she drove south. At Newlands Corner she seems to have ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: What’s in a name?

19 October 2000
... Peter Lilley, an international fraud investigator and no relation of the Tory MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has written a book called Dirty Dealing: The Untold Truth about Global Money Laundering (Kogan ...

What’s in the bottle?

Donald MacKenzie: The Science Wars Revisited

9 May 2002
The One Culture? A Conversation about Science 
edited by Jay Labinger and Harry Collins.
Chicago, 329 pp., £41, August 2001, 0 226 46722 8
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... do. Against this background, The One Culture? is a brave initiative. Its editors are a leading chemist and science administrator (Labinger), and a well-known, controversial sociologist of science (Collins). The volume brings together the science warriors – Sokal, the Nobel laureates Steven Weinberg and Kenneth Wilson, and their fellow physicists Jean Bricmont and David Mermin – with a selective ...
27 June 1991
Ngaio Marsh: A Life 
by Margaret Lewis.
Chatto, 276 pp., £18, April 1991, 0 7011 3389 9
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... her inner self, whether in conversation, letters, diaries or autobiography. Her memoirs, Black Beech and Honeydew, should, she later remarked, have been called ‘Other People’, and her editor at Collins describes it as ‘pretty dull, largely because of her reticence’. Ngaio Marsh was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1895. Reference works give her date of birth as 1899, the year in which it ...
18 September 1997
Trial of Strength: The Battle Between Ministers and Judges over Who Makes the Law 
by Joshua Rozenberg.
Richard Cohen, 241 pp., £17.99, April 1997, 1 86066 094 0
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The Politics of the Judiciary 
by J.A.G. Griffith.
Fontana, 376 pp., £8.99, September 1997, 0 00 686381 7
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... to the Bridgewater Four when, with overwhelming new evidence of their innocence, they first went to the Court of Appeal in 1981. Rozenberg quotes ‘a brave and decent judgment’ from Mr Justice Collins: ‘I find it impossible to believe that Parliament intended that an asylum seeker who was lawfully here, and who could not lawfully be removed from the country, should be left destitute, starving ...

At the British Museum

Peter​ Campbell: Samuel Palmer’s dream landscapes

17 November 2005
... etchings and landscapes, and even Henry Moore, were influenced by him, but it was illustrators such as John Minton who absorbed most from these works, and visionaries of a different sort – Cecil Collins, for example – who were able to go on tapping an analogous vein. Palmer’s gift to posterity was a kind of dream landscape, best seen in the early night scenes. It finds echoes in English romantic ...
27 May 1993
Body Work 
by Peter​ Brooks.
Harvard, 325 pp., £39.95, May 1993, 0 674 07724 5
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... or desirous: it is becoming harder, given this fashionable turn to the somatic, to distinguish the literary theory section of the local bookshop from the soft porn shelves, sort out the latest Jackie Collins from the later Roland Barthes. Many an eager masturbator must have borne away some sexy-looking tome only to find himself reading up on the floating signifier. Sexuality began in the late Sixties, as ...


Anne Enright: Mrs Robinson Repents

28 January 2010
... He certainly suffered some kind of fatigue from working with Iris Robinson. Her remarks about homosexuality struck him as ‘bizarre’, in that the interview took place on the day her husband, Peter Robinson, went to Downing Street to accept the role of First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly ‘and there really was a sense that Iris had stolen his thunder’. Black, who was hired as her ...

Making Do and Mending

Rosemary Hill: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Letters

25 September 2008
So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald 
edited by Terence Dooley.
Fourth Estate, 532 pp., £25, August 2008, 978 0 00 713640 7
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... presented herself, often, as one of the numerous ‘potty’ lady biographers whose overabundant outpourings had a depressing effect on her in bookshops, and as a novelist of improbable incompetence. Collins ‘said they’d have to have a typescript by mid-January’, she told Francis King, ‘so I had to sit down and write a novel and, worse still, type it’. On the reverse side of this fabric, woven ...

Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland

8 April 1993
by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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by Peter​ Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... Victorian biography has recently come in clusters. In the last decade there have been four authoritative biographies of Trollope; two of Dickens; two of Wilkie Collins; three of Stevenson (one down, two to come); and – with the present centennial haul – three of Tennyson. Given the huge expenditure of scholarly energy modern biography demands it would be ...

Descent into Oddness

Dinah Birch: Peter​ Rushforth’s long-awaited second novel

6 January 2005
Pinkerton’s Sister 
by Peter​ Rushforth.
Scribner, 729 pp., £18.99, September 2004, 0 7432 5235 7
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... indulgence or evasion. Yet reading, like every other exercise of the imagination, can be abused, can turn into an addiction. The connection between this and other kinds of abuse is something that Peter Rushforth has been thinking about for a long time. In 1979 he published his first novel, Kindergarten, a short and desolate work which won the Hawthornden Prize. A meditation on ‘Hansel and Gretel ...

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