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E.S. Turner

23 February 1995
Edward Lear: A Biography 
by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 362 pp., £20, January 1995, 0 333 58804 5
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... Which famous Victorian poet-painter was the 20th child of a dodgy stockbroker? Yes, it was the man in the runcible hat, Edward Lear. His latest biographer, PeterLevi, confides to us that, like Lear’s mother, his own grandmother also had 21 children. Easily lured into digression, Levi adds that ‘it is not uncommon in such families that by some mysterious ...

Young Marvin

Frank Kermode

24 January 1991
A Tenured Professor 
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 197 pp., £12.95, November 1990, 1 85619 018 8
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Shade those laurels 
by Cyril Connolly and Peter Levi.
Bellew, 174 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 0 947792 37 6
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... He uneasily adapted methods proper to the detective story and tried to unite them with a more congenial inheritance from Petronius Arbiter, Peacock and Aldous Huxley, with a soupçon of Firbank. PeterLevi, who was a friend of Connolly’s and married his widow, has brought the tale to an ending, making his task possible by briskly disposing of all the clues Connolly himself had perhaps despaired ...
8 February 1990
Boris Pasternak: The Tragic Years 1930-1960 
by Evgeny Pasternak.
Collins Harvill, 278 pp., £15, January 1990, 0 00 272045 0
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Boris Pasternak 
by Peter Levi.
Hutchinson, 310 pp., £17.95, January 1990, 0 09 173886 5
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Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography. Vol.I: 1890-1928 
by Christopher Barnes.
Cambridge, 507 pp., £35, November 1989, 0 521 25957 6
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Poems 1955-1959 and An Essay in Autobiography 
by Boris Pasternak, translated by Michael Harari and Manya Harari.
Collins Harvill, 212 pp., £6.95, January 1990, 9780002710657
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The Year 1905 
by Boris Pasternak, translated by Richard Chappell.
Spenser, £4.95, April 1989, 0 9513843 0 9
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... first collection of poems, A Twin in the Clouds, and the name of his third collection, My Sister, Life, a quotation from one of them, is if anything worse.) After this, it is a relief to learn from PeterLevi’s lively and delightful biography that Dr Zhivago (Dr Alive) was a name Pasternak had seen on the cover of a Moscow manhole, rather as Dickens claimed to have spotted a Copperfield and a ...

Mad John

Gabriele Annan

28 June 1990
McEnroe: Taming the Talent 
by Richard Evans.
Bloomsbury, 216 pp., £14.99, June 1990, 0 7475 0618 3
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... friend standing up for the brilliant, wayward hero. The comparison may sound pretentious, but then Evans compares McEnroe to Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, with quotations from Shakespeare and from PeterLevi on Shakespeare. He uses adjectives like ‘pavonine’, and describes McEnroe’s style as pointilliste – rather a good idea, except that it leads to an analysis of pointillism: ‘tiny jabs ...


Tom Paulin

1 August 1985
On the Contrary 
by Miroslav Holub, translated by Ewald Osers.
Bloodaxe, 126 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 906427 75 4
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The Lamentation of the Dead 
by Peter Levi.
Anvil, 40 pp., £2.95, October 1984, 0 85646 140 7
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Collected Poems 
by Peter Levi.
Anvil, 255 pp., £12, November 1984, 0 85646 134 2
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by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 64 pp., £7.50, March 1985, 0 571 13570 6
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Poems: 1963-1983 
by Michael Longley.
Salamander, 206 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 904011 77 1
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Making for the Open: The Chatto Book of Post-Feminist Poetry 
edited by Carol Rumens.
Chatto, 151 pp., £4.95, March 1985, 0 7011 2848 8
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Direct Dialling 
by Carol Rumens.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, March 1985, 0 7011 2911 5
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The Man Named East 
by Peter​ Redgrove.
Routledge, 137 pp., £4.95, March 1985, 0 7102 0014 5
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... and that Holub speaks also to this society. He is a magnificent, astringent genius and this volume sings with an oblique and cutting candour, a tubular coolness we must praise and praise again. PeterLevi, alas, is one of those dwindling, disinterested Arnoldians who can still be uncovered in the home of lost causes. Last year he became Professor of Poetry at Oxford and in his inaugural lecture ...

Hellenic Tours

Jonathan Barnes

1 August 1985
The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. Vol. I: Greek Literature 
edited by P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox.
Cambridge, 936 pp., £47.50, May 1985, 0 521 21042 9
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A History of Greek Literature 
by Peter Levi.
Viking, 511 pp., £14.95, February 1985, 0 670 80100 3
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... more than a catalogue of ascertained fact and scholarly conjecture. Its various chapters contain criticism and assessment, and they are generously illustrated with quotations, many of them in Greek. PeterLevi’s history purposes to give ‘a short lucid description in easy, continuous prose of most of ancient Greek literature’. The description is again accompanied by critical reflections and ...

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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... to the television soap opera Neighbours,’ he informs us. I think he is right. Probably, too, he would admit that, while telling a good story, his biography offers little close reading of the poems. PeterLevi’s Tennyson is particularly strong in this department; ‘Poetry is what makes him mysterious,’ he tells us. Levi’s long first section, ‘The Birth of the Poet’, is an illuminating ...
5 May 1988
Under Storm’s Wing 
by Helen Thomas and Myfanwy Thomas.
Carcanet, 318 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 85635 733 2
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... his vital tie with Frost, but obscures his different affiliations to Yeats and Hardy. A few essays in The Art of Edward Thomas open out the issues, but a whiff of poet’s corner lingers on. Pace PeterLevi, it is not quite enough to celebrate Thomas as ‘certainly genuine, authentic, a true poet’. Under Storm’s Wing is a welcome reprint of Helen Thomas’s As it was and World without End ...

Just like Rupert Brooke

Tessa Hadley: 1960s Oxford

5 April 2012
The Horseman’s Word: A Memoir 
by Roger Garfitt.
Cape, 378 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 224 08986 9
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... of Daniel Deronda’ – and he restored himself by dipping into Agenda, George Barker. Studying poetry spilled over naturally into writing it: Garfitt went to informal workshops with John Wain and PeterLevi, heard Ted Hughes read at the Poetry Society. Coghill read his poems, but wasn’t very enthusiastic; Peter Jay took a photo of him in a green silk smoking jacket looking ‘just like Rupert ...
2 June 1988
The Graphic Language of Neville Brody 
by Jon Wozencroft.
Thames and Hudson, 160 pp., £14.95, April 1988, 0 500 27496 7
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The Making of the ‘Independent’ 
by Michael Crozier.
Gordon Fraser, 128 pp., £8.95, May 1988, 0 86092 107 7
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... a good easy read.’ It is not a paper to disturb, or to engage deeply. It is surely significant that one of the first issues the paper has chosen to take a stand on is the wretched case made by PeterLevi for the wretched poems which the paper went with him in attributing to Shakespeare. Those I know who have become regular readers praise its journalistic craftsmanship in much the same terms as I ...

Rosa with Mimi

Edward Timms

4 June 1987
Rosa Luxemburg: A Life 
by Elzbieta Ettinger.
Harrap, 286 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 245 54539 5
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... of a biography in his own right. Ettinger also charts Rosa’s more transient love affairs: with Costia, the son of her SPD colleague Clara Zetkin, an idealistic young man 15 years her junior; with PeterLevi, her defence counsel in a spectacular political trial – they had a brief and intense affair in 1914; and Hans Diefenbach, the doctor with whom she conducted her ‘last romantic affair’ in ...
17 October 1985
Criticism in the University 
edited by Gerald Graff and Reginald Gibbons.
Northwestern, 234 pp., £29.95, September 1985, 0 8101 0670 1
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... a resentment amounting almost to hatred of their calling. Much of this no doubt lies deep in the sociology of academic life in general, but one can guess at more particular reasons. Not long ago Sir Peter Medawar remarked that when the momentous DNA discoveries were being made there were plenty of people in the English faculties of universities quite as clever as Crick and Watson – but Crick and ...

Love among the Cheeses

Lidija Haas: Life with Amis and Ayer

8 September 2011
The House in France: A Memoir 
by Gully Wells.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 1 4088 0809 2
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... was called ‘Checkpoint Charlie’). Meanwhile, Gully holidays with boyfriends and becomes George Weidenfeld’s publicity director – more parties, more delicious food to catalogue. She marries Peter, who has ‘the most seductive voice on earth’ (everyone turns out to be the most, the best at everything). They move to New York and struggle to conceive until, ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the ...

Medieval Dreams

Peter​ Burke

4 June 1981
Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages 
by Jacques Le Goff, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Chicago, 384 pp., £13.50, January 1981, 0 226 47080 6
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... usurers,’ thus concentrating into one phrase his dislike of avarice and his sense that people who did not fit into traditional pigeon-holes must be up to no good. The same idea seems to underlie Peter Abelard’s bold attempt, discussed by Le Goff in another essay, to assimilate university teachers to knights, describing arguments as weapons and disputations as battles or tournaments. He was ...
4 July 1996
The Same and Not the Same 
by Roald Hoffmann.
Columbia, 294 pp., $34.95, September 1995, 0 231 10138 4
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... the scientific discourse that is interesting to the broad public because of its ‘human’ dimension, as in the immense, neo-Darwinian undertaking of Stephen Jay Gould, the books of Lewis Wolpert, Peter Medawar’s essays, the psychiatric narratives of Oliver Sacks or the clinical deliberations of Sherwin Nuland; and finally the heroic attempts to describe a single discipline, including its ...

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