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Seven Miles per Hour

Robert​ Macfarlane: The men who invented flight

5 February 2004
First to Fly: The Unlikely Triumph of Wilbur and Orville Wright 
by James Tobin.
Murray, 431 pp., £9.99, November 2003, 0 7195 5738 0
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The Wright Brothers: The Aviation Pioneers who Changed the World 
by Ian Mackersey.
Little, Brown, 554 pp., £20, October 2003, 0 316 86144 8
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Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight 
by Paul Hoffman.
Fourth Estate, 369 pp., £18.99, June 2003, 1 84115 368 0
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Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity to the First World War 
by Richard Hallion.
Oxford, 531 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 19 516035 5
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... to be – but also aerial romantics, even if they were not so flamboyant as Alberto Santos-Dumont. Santos-Dumont was 5'4" and weighed 100 lbs: vital statistics for a man who had always wanted to be a bird. Growing up on his father’s coffee plantation in Brazil, he had watched eagles ‘flying so high and soaring on their great outstretched wings’, and had fallen in love with the ideals of ‘space ...

Silent Pleasures

A.W.F. Edwards

15 July 1982
... to St Austell, a distance of 209 miles. After the war he epitomised British gliding, and to everyone’s delight he became World Champion in Spain in 1952. The following year he published On Being a Bird, which quickly established itself as the most beautiful gliding book ever written: for Wills could not only draw on the experiences of an astonishing twenty years which took gliding, and him with it ...
4 April 1996
The Messiaen Companion 
edited by Peter Hill.
Faber, 581 pp., £40, March 1995, 0 571 17033 1
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Olivier Messiaen: Music and Colour. Conversations with Claude Samuel 
translated by Thomas Glasow.
Amadeus, 296 pp., $29.95, May 1994, 0 931340 67 5
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... be appreciated by, and could not have been written by, a man in a hurry.’ The first movement consists of a pair of super-imposed isorhythmic sequences on piano and cello decorated with snatches of bird-song: the violin does a nightingale, the clarinet a blackbird. The movement does not develop in any way; the isorhythmic sequences continue for a time, the birds chatter and gurgle. Then it stops. It ...
22 November 1979
Saturday Night Reader 
edited by Emma Tennant.
W.H. Allen, 246 pp., £5.95
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... type as a dentist to teeth.’ (Shklovsky? Shklovsky? No, I’ve heard of him.) Suspicion, once sown, is hard to uproot. Beverly Treasure? Chelsea Herbert? Lloriston Grant? Caroline Blackwood and Robert Lowell have a conversation about Ford Madox Ford? (Well, all right, but what’s it doing among ‘Traveller’s Tales’?)Chelsea Herbert is real too, and writes the best piece in the ‘Children in ...
28 April 2011
Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind 
by Robert​ Kurzban.
Princeton, 274 pp., £19.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14674 4
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... recommended as the hard-headed, scientific way to do psychology is, I think, among the wonders of the age. Anyhow, the version of anti-intellectualism that’s current is Psychological Darwinism, and Robert Kurzban’s new book is a typical instance. I’ll take a paragraph or two to sketch the connection between what Psychological Darwinists say and the anti-intellectualist thesis that there aren’t ...
2 December 1982
Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary 
by Robert​ Nisbet.
Harvard, 318 pp., £12.25, November 1982, 0 674 70065 1
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... in judgment. It may be that his independence of judgment is sometimes carried too far: I thought it strange to read an entry headed ‘Anomie’ that made no mention of Emile Durkheim or of Robert Merton. ‘Anomy’ is declared obs. by the OED but the French variant anomie stands for a sort of sociological deficiency disease: it refers to the ‘lost’ and rootless state of an individual or ...
19 May 1983
Robert​ Lowell: A Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 527 pp., £12.50, May 1983, 0 571 13045 3
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... Robert Lowell is not difficult to represent as the mad poet and justified sinner of the Romantic heritage. He is the dual personality who breaks the rules, kicks over the traces: he did this in the course ...

Hatters’ Castle

Robert​ Morley

4 August 1983
A Yorkshire Boyhood 
by Roy Hattersley.
Chatto, 215 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 0 7011 2613 2
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Letters to a Grandson 
by Lord Home.
Collins, 151 pp., £6.95, July 1983, 0 00 217061 2
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... seagulls along the littered beach. She was fat, she was unhealthy and when on form she could jump 18 inches into the air. But until the end of her life she believed that one day she would catch a bird in mid-flight just below the clouds. On the back cover of Letters to a Grandson, Lord Home is pictured at Eton standing beside Matthew, the recipient of the correspondence. The fly-leaf expresses ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert​ Fergusson

25 September 2003
‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert​ Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert​ Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... Robert Fergusson died in Edinburgh’s Bedlam on 17 October 1774. He was 24 years old. He had been admitted to the asylum three months before, against his will, because his mother could no longer look after ...

Female Heads

John Bayley

27 October 1988
Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... consciousness has become an absorbing masculine activity, a sex-in-the-head game. It is in the male head that Clarissa scribbles and Molly Bloom muses. For many male novelists, like the Austrian Robert Musil, erotic self-metamorphosis becomes mystical, a kind of religious substitute. The sphinx has her mystery, but in the final and most subtle analysis it is that of having no secret at all. One of ...


Helen Cooper: The maverick poetry of John Skelton

14 December 2006
John Skelton and Poetic Authority: Defining the Liberty to Speak 
by Jane Griffiths.
Oxford, 213 pp., £50, February 2006, 9780199273607
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... and his primary reputation by the end of the 16th century was for buffoonery: he was turned into a jest-book figure, and in Anthony Munday’s Robin Hood play within a play, The Downfall and Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon, a ‘real-life’ Skelton takes the role of Friar Tuck. His recovery came on the back of the rise of Modernism, with its opening of readers’ minds to new kinds of non ...
8 November 1979
Field Work 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 64 pp., £3, June 1979, 0 571 11433 4
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... is at once followed by ‘Homecomings’, where the loved woman is a clay nest and the man is a martin. Affectionate, delicate, calmingly dark, and as confidently trusting in its own arc as is the bird in its flights nimbly and repeatedly home, the poem goes out of its way (except that this is how the martin skims and veers) to speak in ways which would lend themselves to misconstruction if it ...

Chucky, Hirple, Clart

David Craig: Robert​ Macfarlane

23 September 2015
by Robert​ Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp., £20, March 2015, 978 0 241 14653 8
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... This book​ is almost parodically characteristic of Robert Macfarlane’s work. He is a scholar of place – of terrain, terroir, the land – and at times references, sources and citations have bulked uncomfortably large in his writing. Certainly he ...
18 December 1980
Caligari’s Children 
by S.S. Prawer.
Oxford, 307 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 9780192175847
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The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman 
by Robert​ Phillip Kolker.
Oxford, 395 pp., £8.50, April 1980, 0 19 502588 1
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... S. S. Prawer is Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford. Robert Phillip Kolker is Associate Professor of Film Studies (in the Department of Communication Arts and Theatre) at the University of Maryland, College Park. But don’t let the insignia fool you. Both ...
22 August 1996
Can You Hear, Bird 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 128 pp., £9.95, February 1996, 9781857542240
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The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 
by Jorie Graham.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, March 1996, 1 85754 225 8
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Selected Poems 
by Barbara Guest.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, May 1996, 1 85754 158 8
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Selected Poems 1976-1996 
by George Szirtes.
Oxford, 126 pp., £9.99, March 1996, 0 19 283223 9
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Adam’s Dream 
by Peter McDonald.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1996, 1 85224 333 3
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... coherent. This second voice, more sound than voice, has the neutral, reassuring tones of a doctor’s or psychoanalyst’s. In ‘The Problem of Anxiety’, one of the clearer poems in Can You Hear, Bird, Ashbery, with his Waspish reticence, asks the reader (perhaps the psychoanalyst part of himself) how he would represent himself given the opportunity: Suppose this poem were about you, would you ...

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