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Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington, 16 April 1998

... have a large collection of Monets (say) than that Buffalo University should have a collection of Robert Graves manuscripts (say). I view with unconcern the drift of British manuscripts to America, where our language is spoken and our literature studied. So one must travel to California to read, for example, Amis’s several unpublished novels: the ...

On Not Being Sylvia Plath

Colm Tóibín: Thom Gunn on the Move, 13 September 2018

Selected Poems 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2017, 978 0 571 32769 0
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... with these two books; even the names of the poets – Charles Tomlinson, or David Gascoyne, or Robert Conquest, or John Holloway, or Christopher Middleton, or Geoffrey Hill – stood for a world that was fully England. Looking at the list of poets was like having one’s Irish nose pushed up against the polished glass of a posh window in some ...

A Dingy Start to the Day

Frank Kermode, 10 September 1992

Kingsley Amis: Modern Novelist 
by Dale Salwak.
Harvester, 302 pp., £24.99, April 1992, 0 7450 1096 2
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London Calling: V.S. Naipaul, Postcolonial Mandarin 
by Rob Nixon.
Oxford, 229 pp., £27.50, May 1992, 0 19 506717 7
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... Not long ago I, too, was browsing in the Huntingdon files and found a large box of letters from Robert Conquest to Amis; the other side of the correspondence was missing, and what was there contained lots of limericks and few confessional items for the use of any future biographer of Conquest, possibly Salwak. It ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... they were tussling with, A. Alvarez’s The New Poetry (which was tussling with its predecessor, Robert Conquest’s New Lines). ‘This anthology,’ they wrote in their preface to the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, ‘is intended to be didactic as well as representative.’ Though the things anthologies make happen may be confined to ...

Rancorous Luminaries

R.W. Davies, 28 April 1994

Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives 
edited by J. Arch Getty and Roberta Manning.
Cambridge, 294 pp., £35, September 1993, 0 521 44125 0
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Beria: Stalin’s First Lieutenant 
by Amy Knight.
Princeton, 312 pp., £19.95, January 1994, 0 691 03257 2
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This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Widow 
by Anna Larina.
Hutchinson, 385 pp., £25, March 1994, 0 09 178141 8
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Stalin i Ordzhonikidze: Konflikty v Politbyuro v 30-e gody 
by O.V. Khlevnyuk.
Rossiya Molodaya, 144 pp., December 1993, 5 86646 047 5
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... The estimates for the end of the Thirties ranged from Dallin and Nicolaevsky’s ten million and Robert Conquest’s nine million (the latter figure excluded ‘criminals’) to Wheatcroft’s maximum of four to five million, Jasny’s three and a half million and Timasheff’s two million. Elaborate records in the NKVD archives reveal that about two ...


Julian Symons, 9 November 1989

The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of ‘St George’ Orwell 
by John Rodden.
Oxford, 478 pp., £22.50, October 1989, 0 19 503954 8
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... of Animal Farm have been published. That is probably not quite up to date. In a Soviet Union where Robert Conquest was fêted on a recent visit, and his The Great Terror and The Harvest of Sorrow are being serialised, there is not likely to be any flinching at Orwell. The Orwell industry, then, shows no sign of decline, in part because of his political ...


Paul Barker: Bellamy’s Dream, 19 May 1988

... of how the people with power in his new state might wield it. As we now know, they became what Robert Conquest, in his introduction to Djilas’s book, calls the ‘priviligentsia’. The ‘inspectorate’ – the KGB – defended them, instead of policing them. In a double-take at the end of the book, Julian West wakes up in old Boston. The ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton, 21 March 1991

by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... Betjeman. Larkin, of course, is the one contemporary to whom Amis is prepared to yield high marks (Robert Conquest, perhaps the most ‘all right’ of Kingsley’s literary cronies, is shunted off into ‘light verse’). Larkin is named as Amis’s second-favourite poet (Housman is tops, though he may not have stayed tops, we suspect, if Amis had ever ...

Heresy from Lesser Voices

Andrew Preston: The Helsinki Conference, 20 June 2019

The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War 
by Michael Cotey Morgan.
Princeton, 424 pp., £27, November 2018, 978 0 691 17606 2
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... a naive sell-out that legitimised Soviet rule without getting anything of value in return. As Robert Conquest put it, ‘the road to Helsinki is paved with good intentions.’ Morgan calls the notion of an exchange of Eastern borders for Western values a ‘myth’: ‘On every significant point, the West prevailed.’ This is putting it too ...

Keep yr gob shut

Christopher Tayler: Larkin v. Amis, 20 December 2012

The Odd Couple: The Curious Friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin 
by Richard Bradford.
Robson, 373 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84954 375 0
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... and racism even in notes to his mum was, for Amis, a sign of humourless cultural Stalinism. He and Robert Conquest had also been amused by advance word of Larkin’s letters to Barbara Pym (‘I bet they were a bit different in tone from what he writes to you and me, eh?’). At the same time, he was unsettled by finding out how much Larkin had kept from ...

Do you think he didn’t know?

Stefan Collini: Kingsley Amis, 14 December 2006

The Life of Kingsley Amis 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 996 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 224 06227 1
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... was first identified, a group of writers that included Amis, Larkin, Wain, Donald Davie, Robert Conquest and others. As J.D. Scott put it in the baptismal piece in the Spectator, ‘The Movement, as well as being anti-phoney, is anti-wet; sceptical, robust, ironic, prepared to be as comfortable as possible.’ Amis in particular had, as a later ...

Who remembers the Poles?

Richard J. Evans: Between Hitler and Stalin, 4 November 2010

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin 
by Timothy Snyder.
Bodley Head, 524 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 224 08141 2
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... and Stalin, Snyder argues, began by trying to implement unrealisable visions: respectively, the conquest of the Soviet Union and the creation of a German-occupied ‘living space’ in Eastern Europe; and the rapid collectivisation of agriculture, mainly in the Ukraine, in order to feed an urban population created by a headlong rush into industrial ...

The Dzhaz Age

Stephen Lovell: ‘Moscow 1937’, 17 July 2014

Moscow 1937 
by Karl Schlögel, translated by Rodney Livingstone.
Polity, 650 pp., £16.99, March 2014, 978 0 7456 5077 7
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... most notoriously violent moment. The period has been much written about in the forty years since Robert Conquest made the Soviet 1930s synonymous with the Great Terror. Scholarship on prewar Stalinism has bifurcated. On the one hand, studies of the Terror have become more detailed and nuanced. Now that the Soviet archives have been opened, it seems that ...

Ways to hate Delacroix, and then Matisse

Robert Irwin: French art, 10 June 1999

The Allure of Empire: Art in the Service of French Imperialism 1798-1836 
by Todd Porterfield.
Princeton, 245 pp., £32.50, March 1999, 0 691 05959 4
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... eagerly into the service of imperialism. Painters worked hard to prepare the way for the conquest of Algeria (which took place from 1830 onwards) and high art glorified the exploitation of the Third World. Paintings by Gros, Delacroix and others served to teach the public about the superiority of the French over lesser breeds. Artists laboured to ...

Out of the Great Dark Whale

Eric Hobsbawm, 31 October 1996

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 
by Orlando Figes.
Cape, 923 pp., £20, August 1996, 0 224 04162 2
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... achievement, which unites readers as widely different in their views as the present reviewer and Robert Conquest. Few historians have the courage to attack great subjects, fewer have the grasp to succeed. This is a book which lets the reader look into the face of one of the major social upheavals of history, as terrible and awe-inspiring as the natural ...

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