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The Excommunicant

Richard Popkin: Spinoza v. the Synagogue, 15 October 1998

The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study 
by Richard Mason.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £35, May 1997, 0 521 58162 1
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Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity 
by Steven Smith.
Yale, 270 pp., £21, June 1997, 0 300 06680 5
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... is to see the world from the aspect of eternity, and to achieve the intellectual love of God. As Richard Mason reminds us, Spinoza’s neglect of epistemology made him of little interest to those who insisted that the problem of knowledge as set out by Descartes defined what philosophy was properly about. Spinoza found a little room for that problem ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Looking Ahead, 18 May 2000

... New Consensus was published in March. Harvard University Press are advertising it together with Richard Lewontin’s new book, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment, presumably to let everyone know they’re not taking sides. Lewontin and Wilson, fiercely opposed to each other intellectually, used to have labs one directly above the other at Harvard ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Boyhood’, 21 August 2014

... of the long flight. But they don’t always invite you to ponder the missing minutes or years, as Richard Linklater’s films do. There is a brilliant elision of this kind in the new film Boyhood – well, there are maybe eight of them, but one is especially eloquent about the gap it leaps over. Patricia Arquette, as the affectionate hard-up single mother of ...

Wordsworth and the Well-Hidden Corpse

Marilyn Butler, 6 August 1992

The Lyrical Ballads: Longman Annotated Texts 
edited by Michael Mason.
Longman, 419 pp., £29.99, April 1992, 0 582 03302 0
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Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Literary Possession 
by Susan Eilenberg.
Oxford, 278 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 19 506856 4
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The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries 
by Nicholas Roe.
Macmillan, 186 pp., £35, April 1992, 0 333 52314 8
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... The best-known publication date in English literature,’ says Michael Mason of 1798. But the terse, intelligent Introduction to his new edition of the Lyrical Ballads seems out to disperse the sense of unique significance sticking to the year. Mason points out that the original version of 1798, which was anonymous, caught on less well than the second (1800), twice as long, and firmly attributed to Wordsworth alone ...
Mason & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... of my local bookshop. It’s been painted on the glass by hand. It’s from the first sentence of Mason – Dixon. Thomas Pynchon was born on Long Island, New York in 1937. He studied engineering, physics and, later, English literature, at Cornell University, then worked as a technical writer for Boeing until 1962. Not long after that, he more or less ...

Flirting

P.N. Furbank, 18 November 1982

The English World: History, Character and People 
edited by Robert Blake.
Thames and Hudson, 268 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 500 25083 9
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The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal 
by Philip Mason.
Deutsch, 240 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 9780233974897
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... Trevor-Roper), art and popular taste (Quentin Bell), the evolution of the English landscape (Richard Muir) – are excellent and briskly-written popularising surveys. But the whole enterprise, I do think, is compromised by those gestures towards ‘the English Spirit’, ‘the making of a tradition’ etc. (They come thickest, it is true, in the ...

Philip Roth’s House of Fiction

Michael Mason, 6 December 1979

The Ghost Writer 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 180 pp., £4.95
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... and then the almost hysterical embarrassment at being a witness of ‘scenes’. The Richard Benjamin of Goodbye Columbus could walk straight into the part. There are no other notable actions. The rest of the novel’s interest lies in the ramifying material. There is the Henry James story, which Nathan reads during the night. He is also very ...

Don’t you care?

Michael Wood: Richard Powers, 22 February 2007

The Echo Maker 
by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 451 pp., £17.99, January 2007, 978 0 434 01633 4
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... At one moment in Thomas Pynchon’s novel named after them, Mason and Dixon pause to wonder what history’s verdict on their most famous work is likely to be, its ‘assessment of the Good resulting from this Line, vis-à-vis the not-so-good’. A voice, apparently coming from nowhere, says: ‘You wonder? That’s all? What about “care”? Don’t you care?’ The surveyors explain to the voice that surveying is what they do ...

Falling Stars

Alan Coren, 5 November 1981

Richard Burton 
by Paul Ferris.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77966 4
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Peter Sellers 
by Alexander Walker.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77965 6
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... It is not easy to determine which is the better book. Richard Burton was printed by Butler and Tanner Limited, Peter Sellers by the Fakenham Press, and since the one establishment is in Somerset and the other in Norfolk, it is fair to absolve both of them from the sort of catchpenny opportunist hustling which these days has the publishing world of London by the throat ...

Call It Capitalism

Thomas Jones: Pynchon, 10 September 2009

Inherent Vice 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 369 pp., £18.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08948 7
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... dear and one of the funniest grotesques in America’, accepted the ‘stipend’ on behalf of ‘Richard Python’. ‘The great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration,’ Corey announced. He described Gravity’s Rainbow as ‘a small contribution to a certain degree, since there are over three and a half ...

O cruel!

Michael Mason, 16 June 1983

Far Away and Long Ago 
by W.H. Hudson.
Eland, 332 pp., £3.95, October 1982, 0 907871 25 9
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W.H. Hudson: A Biography 
by Ruth Tomalin.
Faber, 314 pp., £13.50, November 1982, 0 571 10599 8
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... land lost by England is Uruguay, given up by her in favour of the Falklands. The novel’s hero, Richard Lamb, at first much regrets the exchange of this ‘green world’ for ‘the desolate haunt of seals and penguins’. After he has roamed its fastnesses and met its half-wild inhabitants his views are different. To introduce the material prosperity and ...
What is Love? Richard Carlile’s Philosophy of Sex 
edited by M.L. Bush.
Verso, 214 pp., £19, September 1998, 1 85984 851 6
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... other radicals: William Thompson, Francis Place, George Petrie, Thomas Spence, Robert Owen and Richard Carlile. In his day, Carlile was no less celebrated as a political agitator, and as a polemical atheist, than he was as a sexual reformer: some such mix of activities was the rule for this group. But it was Carlile’s sexual programme which was mainly ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... and brothers’. Most were written by established names, among them Frank Conroy, Stuart Dybeck, Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Stone and Amy Tan. Those writers known partly for formal experimentation whose work Wolff did include (among them Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Mary Robison) did not, in the stories Wolff selected, engage with the ...

Consider the lions

Peter Campbell, 22 July 1993

The House of Gold 
by Richard Goy.
Cambridge, 304 pp., £60, January 1993, 0 521 40513 0
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The Palace of the Sun 
by Robert Berger.
Pennsylvania State, 232 pp., £55, April 1993, 0 271 00847 4
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... in Paris, but it is still the most impressive and among the most magisterially consistent. Richard Goy and Robert Berger, in their respective accounts of the construction of the Cà d’Oro and of Louis XIV’s Louvre, remove ambiguities which hang around the word ‘built’. They ask who made decisions, who paid, and how much, and why each building ...

Horrid Mutilation! Read all about it!

Richard Davenport-Hines: Jack the Ripper and the London Press by Perry Curtis, 4 April 2002

Jack the Ripper and the London Press 
by Perry Curtis.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 300 08872 8
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... where they could be attacked by the Ripper. One of the most compelling suggestions in Michael Mason’s The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes (1994) concerns 19th-century attitudes to prostitution. Previous historians had stressed that the Victorians regarded prostitution as a sink of corruption and disease to be treated, like open sewers, by sanitary ...

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