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The War between the Diaries

John Bayley, 5 December 1985

Tolstoy’s Diaries 
translated by R.F. Christian.
Athlone, 755 pp., £45, October 1985, 0 485 11276 0
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Cape, 1043 pp., £30, September 1985, 0 224 02270 9
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... well used by every biographer, but a proper English version has not appeared before, and Professor Christian has done an excellent job on this selection of them, as he did a few years ago on Tolstoy’s letters. The second volume, from 1895 to 1910, when the man has become an adjunct of the legend, is mostly rather boring except to Tolstoy addicts. The most ...

Church and State

R.F. Leslie, 20 May 1982

God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol 1., The Origins to 1745, Vol. 11, 1745 to the Present 
by Norman Davies.
Oxford, 605 pp., £27.50, December 1981, 0 19 822555 5
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... at the outset that they were Ashkenazim speaking Yiddish, a factor which set them aside from the Christian Polish population in the towns. The anti-semitism which has been an unpleasant aspect of Polish history first appeared in the 15th century. This problem was made more acute in the 19th century with the influx of szlachta into the towns to swell the ...

We did and we didn’t

Seamus Perry: Are yez civilised?, 6 May 2021

On Seamus Heaney 
by R.F. Foster.
Princeton, 228 pp., £14.99, September 2020, 978 0 691 17437 2
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... different anthropological vision of the modernists. Frazer’s Golden Bough had linked fundamental Christian doctrines such as the scapegoat killing of Christ with the murderous fertility cults of Adonis and Attis, an idea Eliot prominently remarked in the notes to The Waste Land. But of all the brands of Christianity on offer, it was Catholicism with its ...

Worse than Pagans

Tom Shippey: The Church v. the Fairies, 1 December 2016

Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church 
by Richard Firth Green.
Pennsylvania, 285 pp., £36, August 2016, 978 0 8122 4843 2
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... was their nature? Most important, could they be fitted into the universalist, no-rivals-allowed, Christian worldview? It was no good saying, ‘There’s no such thing as fairies.’ People knew different, clerics and lay alike. Theories about them proliferated, and their variety only demonstrates the intractability of the problem. The Beowulf poet claimed ...

What’s Coming

David Edgar: J.M. Synge, 22 March 2001

Fool of the Family: A Life of J.M. Synge 
by W.J. McCormack.
Weidenfeld, 499 pp., £25, March 2000, 0 297 64612 5
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Interpreting Synge: Essays from the Synge Summer School 1991-2000 
edited by Nicholas Grene.
Lilliput, 220 pp., £29.95, July 2000, 1 901866 47 5
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... in the manner of the covering of Victorian table legs. Christmas was ‘a noted event in the Christian calendar’; accents ‘bespoke an Ulster origin’; Synge’s brothers ‘embark on life’s highway’ and – ludicrously, if you think about it – ‘the Abbey Theatre lay hidden in the future.’ McCormack’s delight in the spun sugar of his ...

Moral Lepers

John Banville: Easter 1916, 16 July 2015

Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 
by R.F. Foster.
Allen Lane, 433 pp., £10.99, May 2015, 978 0 241 95424 9
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... Patrick Pearse could be anti-clerical, in the days before he came to identify himself with the Christian concept of transcendent blood-sacrifice and cast himself as the chief sacrificial victim. However, all signs of even the most tentative apostasy were swept away by the wind of war. As the 1916 fighting began, Foster writes, the atmosphere of ...

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