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Cardinal’s Hat

Robert Blake, 23 January 1986

Cardinal Manning: A Biography 
by Robert Gray.
Weidenfeld, 366 pp., £16.95, August 1985, 0 297 78674 1
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... one. When he died, on 14 January 1892, ‘no reputation ever appeared more secure,’ as Mr Gray rightly says. His death occurred on the same day as that of the Duke of Clarence, who, had he lived, would have become King of England. Normally the passing of the next heir to the throne would attract much public attention, but it was completely eclipsed by ...

Unpranked Lyre

John Mullan: The Laziness of Thomas Gray, 13 December 2001

Thomas GrayA Life 
by Robert Mack.
Yale, 718 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 300 08499 4
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... It is said that, the night before the capture of Quebec from the French in 1759, General Wolfe read Gray’s Elegy aloud to his officers as they crossed the St Lawrence River. ‘I would rather have been the author of that piece than beat the French tomorrow,’ he is supposed to have said. Presumably his men didn’t suddenly start to worry that they were being led into combat by some absurd literary connoisseur ...

Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe, 8 October 1992

Poor Things 
by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7475 1246 9
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... This is Alasdair Gray’s funniest novel, his most high-spirited, and his least uneven. All of which does not necessarily make it his best, but certainly means that we have a nice surprise on our hands when you consider that Gray has spent much of the last few years publicly and gloomily announcing the death of his fictional imagination ...

Lithe Pale Girls

Robert Crawford: Richard Aldington, 22 January 2015

Richard Aldington: Poet, Soldier and Lover 1911-29 
by Vivien Whelpton.
Lutterworth, 414 pp., £30, January 2015, 978 0 7188 9318 7
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... She didn’t like her own name much either. Some years earlier she had written stories as ‘Edith Gray’; most often, though, in literature and in life, she was called H.D. The story of the love affair has been told before, and was set in its wider English and American contexts especially thoroughly by Helen Carr in The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra ...

Flattery and Whining

William Gass: Prologomania, 5 October 2000

The Book of Prefaces 
edited by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 639 pp., £35, May 2000, 0 7475 4443 3
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... Alasdair Gray has opened his Book of Prefaces with what he calls an Advertisement and followed that with an essay ‘On What Led to English Literature’. Since he deliberately does not distinguish between the various sorts of front matter a volume may contain, both might be characterised as prefaces. I encountered this laxity with some dismay, although I understand it ...

Bad Shepherd

Robert Crawford: James Hogg, 5 April 2001

The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. VIII: The ‘Spy’ 
edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 641 pp., £60, March 2000, 9780748613656
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... George Buchanan’s over-the-top ‘Elegy for Jean Calvin’. The volume remains high in some of Robert Fergusson’s sophistic-performative street-talk, Burns’s on-off, rip-roaring ‘Tam o’Shanter’, MacDiarmid’s last trump blawing ‘tootle-ootle-oo’, Edwin Morgan’s Loch Ness Monstering ‘Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok ...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 4 January 2007

... darkness, a murmuring, perfervid sadhu close at hand. Turbidity, gases, a silky clouding over – gray slime spreads across hot dog casings, a sour reechiness transpires below. However much by day we shore up our defenses, darling, over time they find their way back to slowly assail our dwindling larder. Liquefaction, spoilage and rot – mephitic flora breed ...

Heliotrope

John Sutherland, 3 December 1992

Robert Louis Stevenson: Dreams of Exile 
by Ian Bell.
Mainstream, 295 pp., £14.99, November 1992, 1 85158 457 9
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... how right any sane person is to get out and stay out: ‘There is no special loveliness in that gray country, with its rainy, sea-beat archipelago; its fields of dark mountains; its unsightly places, black with coal; its treeless, sour, unfriendly-looking cornlands; its quaint, gray, castled city, where the bells clash of ...

We simply do not know!

John Gray: Keynes, 19 November 2009

Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism 
by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller.
Princeton, 230 pp., £16.95, February 2009, 978 0 691 14233 3
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... a brief postscript to one of the chapters and a few remarks in the preface, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller’s Animal Spirits was written before the current crisis. Yet, based on research undertaken over many years, it can be read as prefiguring the current disillusionment with economics. The trouble with prevailing theories, in Akerlof and Shiller’s ...

Because We Could

David Simpson: Soldiers and Torture, 18 November 2010

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture 
by Joshua Phillips.
Verso, 237 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 1 84467 599 9
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... sometimes suicide. His two principal homecoming narratives certainly follow this pattern. Adam Gray was a sergeant in the tank regiment in which his friend Jonathan Millantz was a combat medic. There is strong evidence that both committed suicide, although their deaths were ruled accidental by the military. Both talked about their experiences, Adam to his ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian GrayAn Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... martyr to a subversive cult.’ This was wrong: ‘His childish hints at strange sins in Dorian Gray and other works are mere rhetoric … His one great hatred was of dullness, which is very dangerous and can raise a whole nation in its defence.’ Ford Madox Ford, in an article written in 1939, agreed about Wilde’s essential harmlessness, but viewed his ...

Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert Crawford: The Radical Burns, 25 July 2002

Robert Burns: Poems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate Burns: The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... Aberdeen philosopher Thomas Blackwell was writing that Homer was a ‘stroling indigent Bard’. Robert Burns liked that idea. In ‘Love and Liberty’ a bard sings alongside prostitutes and tinkers, and pronounces himself ‘Homer like’. Burns’s footnote (Burns enjoyed footnotes) points out cheekily that ‘Homer is allowed to be the oldest ...

Peter Conrad’s Flight from Precision

Richard Poirier, 17 July 1980

Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... collapsed and they are hung up. I don’t want to go to an ordinary typist.’ he wrote to Cecil Gray. Peter Conrad’s readings of Lawrence are utterly tone-deaf, and not to be able to listen to Lawrence, to move with the cadences of his voice, is not to know what he is saying. As a characteristic example, he asserts that, in Lawrence’s essay ‘Pan in ...

Last in the Funhouse

Patrick Parrinder, 17 April 1986

Gerald’s Party 
by Robert Coover.
Heinemann, 316 pp., £10.95, April 1986, 0 434 14290 5
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Caracole 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 342 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 330 29291 9
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Lake Wobegon Days 
by Garrison Keillor.
Faber, 337 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 571 13846 2
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In Country 
by Bobbie Ann Mason.
Chatto, 245 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 7011 3034 2
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... had had to pay for being labelled as experimental artists was, it seemed, no longer being exacted. Robert Coover, born in 1932, certainly has no reason to complain of neglect. ‘America’s most outrageous novelist presents a new, wildly comic and erotic entertainment,’ screamed the paperback edition, ten years ago, of his long novel The Public Burning. The ...

End of Story

Robert Taubman, 20 November 1980

A Humument 
by Tom Phillips.
Thames and Hudson, 367 pp., £12, October 1980, 0 500 09146 3
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The Past 
by Neil Jordan.
Cape, 232 pp., £6.50, October 1980, 0 224 01845 0
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Black Tickets 
by Jayne Anne Phillips.
Allen Lane, 194 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7139 1354 1
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... detail that gives love a place: ‘Her father wore a wool hat with a turned-up brim and a small gray feather. Jancy loved the feather.’ Among the stories in Black Tickets, these ones provide a somewhat over-cultivated performance, such as John Updike is famous for. But there are black tickets to another kind of performance, where the story is indeed all ...

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