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Shakers

Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

Write on: Occasional Essays ’65-’85 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 211 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 436 25665 7
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... Capote’s Music for Chameleons, the Oxford American Dictionary, two books – by Dan Jacobson and Robert Alter – on Biblical narrative, Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels, William Golding’s The Paper Men, Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot, and John Updike’s Hugging the Shore. There are also essays on Ring Lardner, on D.H. Lawrence, and on ...

At the tent flap sin crouches

James Wood: The Fleshpots of Egypt, 23 February 2006

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary 
by Robert Alter.
Norton, 1064 pp., £34, November 2004, 0 393 01955 1
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... of many waters’. In his remarkable new translation of the Pentateuch, a monument of scholarship, Robert Alter eschews ‘face’ to describe the surface of the world at the start of Genesis, and I miss the cosmic implications, but his first two verses amply compensate with their own originality: ‘When God began to create heaven and earth, and the ...

The Bible as Fiction

George Caird, 4 November 1982

The Story of the Stories: The Chosen People and its God 
by Dan Jacobson.
Secker, 211 pp., £8.95, September 1982, 0 436 22048 2
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The Art of Biblical Narrative 
by Robert Alter.
Allen and Unwin, 195 pp., £10, May 1982, 0 04 801022 7
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The Great Code: The Bible and Literature 
by Northrop Frye.
Routledge, 261 pp., £9.95, June 1982, 0 7100 9038 2
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... of this thesis and by the unpredictability of the process he invokes. It is at this point that Alter enters the discussion. His interest lies in the vivid early narratives of the Old Testament, which he describes as fictionalised history. In a world previously dominated by the stereotypes of myth these stories represented the emergence of a new literary ...

Robert and Randy

Carey Harrison, 27 June 1991

Curtain 
by Michael Korda.
Chapmans, 415 pp., £14.95, May 1991, 1 85592 005 0
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... fleeting (as Korda draws it) liaison between Olivier and Kaye, the unmistakable originals of ‘Robert Vane’ and ‘Randy Brooks’: and truth in it? And if there were? Do the recent revelations of Lawrence Durrell’s relations with his daughter alter our attitude to Durrell’s books? Our understanding of them? The ...

The Will of the Fathers

Jenny Diski: Abraham, 10 December 1998

Abraham on Trial: The Social Legacy of the Biblical Myth 
by Carol Delaney.
Princeton, 333 pp., £19.95, December 1998, 0 691 05985 3
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... procreational theory that constructs the male role as creative and the female role as nurturing. (Robert Alter is praised for using the word ‘seed’ in his translation of Genesis, where others fudge the problem by using ‘posterity’, ‘descendants’ or ‘progeny’. But the praise is immediately revoked: ‘Writing in the late 20th century, he ...
... of that country’s continuing crisis. The Government has for several years believed that it could alter South Africa from above, moderating the impact of apartheid gradually, and thus forestalling black protest and Western worry. Among its aims has been to co-opt a black middle class through expanding economic opportunity and the gradual relaxation of petty ...

Gleichenstein’s Hat

Robert Simpson, 14 September 1989

Beethoven Essays 
by Maynard Solomon.
Harvard, 375 pp., £23.50, July 1988, 0 674 06377 5
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... form itself and the distinction often erroneously made between form and so-called content (if you alter one, do you not alter the other?), this still does not elucidate the momentum in Beethoven’s music. It is a plausible but rigid intellectual concept that does not clarify the ‘organic’ process by which we feel the ...

Traffaut’s Heroes

Richard Mayne, 4 September 1980

The Films in My Life 
by François Truffaut, translated by Leonard Mayhew.
Allen Lane, 358 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1322 3
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... The stubborn, hurt, exploring eyes of Jean-Pierre Léaud as ‘Antoine Doinel’, Truffaut’s alter ego, enlist us from the start in his rebellion. But then Truffaut takes an enormous risk. He makes four more films about ‘Doinel’, still using Léaud; and the appealing tough kid from a miserable background turns into a ...

Mere Party

Robert Stewart, 22 January 1987

Pillars of Government, and Other Essays on State and Society c.1770-c.1880 
by Norman Gash.
Arnold, 202 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 7131 6463 8
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Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 
by Norman Gash.
Longman, 745 pp., £12.50, July 1986, 0 582 49722 1
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... leads one to ponder the extent to which one man’s personal gift for unpleasantness can alter the course of party politics. I, for one, shall never again look upon the Conservative split and its aftermath in quite the same ...

Beast and Frog

John Bayley, 4 November 1993

Dr Johnson & Mr Savage 
by Richard Holmes.
Hodder, 260 pp., £19.99, October 1993, 0 340 52974 1
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Samuel Johnson 
by Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 116 pp., £4.99, April 1993, 0 19 287593 0
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... for ever someone else must die. We understand the sequence of life and death by reference to an alter ego, whose biography in a sense we are writing, and to whom we thus come as close as we can. The idea may sound fanciful, but it is pursued with remarkable force and fascination in Richard Holmes’s study. Richard Savage, the young Johnson’s ...

At Norwich Castle Museum

Alice Spawls: ‘The Paston Treasure’, 13 September 2018

... painted around the time of William’s death in 1663 and commissioned either by him or his son Robert. Having existed in obscurity for centuries (on its donation to Norwich Castle Museum, the last owner warned: ‘the painting is very faded, of no artistic value, only curious from an archaeological point of view’), it is now the subject of a huge ...

His Generation

Keith Gessen: A Sad Old Literary Man, 19 June 2008

Alfred Kazin: A Biography 
by Richard Cook.
Yale, 452 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 300 11505 5
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... a little aloof (‘a kind of hidden stranger among his New York intellectual peers’, Robert Alter very perceptively said of him, in a slightly different context), was prepared to write the story of his generation. When he had lived long enough and seen enough, when the fates of his contemporaries had played themselves out enough, it fell to ...

Flickering Star

Robert Crawford: Iain Crichton Smith, 21 January 1999

The Leaf and the Marble 
by Iain Crichton Smith.
Carcanet, 80 pp., £6.95, October 1998, 1 85754 400 5
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... was ‘Strength through Boredom’, or by reading one of his tales of the fictional Murdo, part alter ego, part stooge, who was eager to know what magazines Dante had first sent his poems to. The boyish mischief of these pieces was essential to Crichton Smith’s make-up, so that to let it loose was an act of companionable trust and conspiracy rather than a ...

Hello to All That

Martin Seymour-Smith, 9 October 1986

Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic 1895-1926 
by Richard Perceval Graves.
Weidenfeld, 387 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 297 78943 0
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... This is the first volume of a projected three-volume ‘definitive’ biography of Robert Graves by his nephew, Richard Perceval Graves. It takes over where the author’s father, Robert’s younger brother John Graves, left off. John, who died in 1980, had been described by Robert as a ‘typically good pupil of a typically good school’ (to which he returned as teacher); he had for long contemplated the composition of a book called My Brother Robert ...

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