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Countess Bitch

Robert Tombs, 16 November 1995

The Notorious Life of Gyp: Right-Wing Anarchist in Fin-de-Siècle France 
by Willa Silverman.
Oxford, 325 pp., £24, June 1995, 0 19 508754 2
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... Who was Gyp? A woman of many names: a sign, suggests Willa Silverman, of her often-expressed unhappiness with her identity, and especially her sex. She was born Sibylle de Riquetti de Mirabeau in 1849, but her family decided to call her Gabrielle when she reached13 because she was too plain for a Sibylle. Married in 1869, to become the Comtesse de Martel de Janville, she lamented that as a woman she could not perpetuate the Mirabeau name, which she often appended to her own ...

Dolorism

Robert Tombs: Biography, 28 October 1999

Le Monde retrouvó de Louis-François Pinagot: Sur let Traces d’un Inconnu, 1798-1876 
by Alain Corbin.
Flammarion, 344 pp., frs 135, November 1998, 2 08 212520 3
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... The encounter between Alain Corbin and François-Louis Pinagot was at one level fortuitous. The historian picked the dead peasant’s name from the register of births in a provincial archive. He set out to bring him back from oblivion by following the meagre traces left in the bureaucratic records of the French state when the most subordinate of its agents – mayors, foresters, tax collectors – made fleeting contact with, or more often narrowly missed, one of their humblest and least troublesome administrés ...

Exporting the Royals

Robert Tombs, 7 October 1993

Maximilian and Juárez 
by Jasper Ridley.
Constable, 353 pp., £16.95, March 1993, 0 09 472070 3
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Maximilian’s Lieutenant: A Personal History of the Mexican Campaign, 1864-7 
by Ernst Pitner, translated and edited by Gordon Etherington-Smith.
Tauris, 256 pp., £35, October 1993, 9781850435600
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... Europeans coming to Veracruz during the 19th century were invariably impressed by its large population of vultures and sharks. Those who arrived in the 1860s in pursuit of Napoleon III’s Mexican dream, or who followed in the train of Maximilian von Habsburg in the hope of sharing in the glory and profit of his new empire, found what one French officer called ‘these disgusting animals’ which ‘stalk you like a prey’ a sobering sight ...

It took a Scot

Colin Kidd: English Nationalism, 30 July 2015

The Formation of the English Kingdom in the Tenth Century 
by George Molyneaux.
Oxford, 302 pp., £65, May 2015, 978 0 19 871791 1
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The English and Their History 
by Robert Tombs.
Allen Lane, 1012 pp., £14.99, June 2015, 978 0 14 103165 1
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Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066-1485 
by John Gillingham.
Vintage, 345 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 956324 2
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From Restoration to Reform: The British Isles 1660-1832 
by Jonathan Clark.
Vintage, 364 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 956323 5
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Britain since 1900: A Success Story? 
by Robert Skidelsky.
Vintage, 472 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 957239 8
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... as being in the territory of the English. England has never existed in isolation. According to Robert Tombs, it has existed as itself only for a couple of relatively brief periods in its long history, ‘between Alfred and Cnut, and again (though by then including Wales) under the Tudors’. It has more often existed as part of a larger multinational ...

At Robert Fergusson’s Grave

Kathleen Jamie, 22 March 2001

... crags, to draw the chill fi the city’s banes. I’ the kirkyaird, doos flap an rise amang the tombs. Did these wierd carved cherabim cam fleucherin roon you, in your mad room? See – a dosser’s blanket, drapt in a mausoleum – we live and dee, and while leeving, heap stane on stane. Ootbye, cranes turn, navvies big wir pairliament, a birth in ...

Two Poems

Robert Crawford, 15 September 1988

... on slow commuter diesels They passed the bare brick shells of loco-sheds Like great robbed tombs. They eyed the proud slave faces Of laid-off engineering workers, lost In the electronics revolution. Along the prom They’d holidayed on in childhood, with exotic walking-sticks, History in Residence, they moved In Sophoclean raincoats. People laughed At ...

Mecca Bound

Robert Irwin, 21 July 1994

The Hajj: Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places 
by F.E. Peters.
Princeton, 399 pp., £19.95, July 1994, 0 691 02120 1
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Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans 
by Suraiya Faroqhi.
Tauris, 244 pp., £34.50, May 1994, 1 85043 606 1
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The Hadj: A Pilgrimage to Mecca 
by Michael Wolfe.
Secker, 331 pp., £19.99, January 1994, 0 436 58404 2
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... In the section of The Anatomy of Melancholy devoted to the perils of religious enthusiasm, Robert Burton pauses briefly to comment on the complex and meritorious rituals of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca: their fastings, their running till they sweat, their long prayers, Mahomets temple, tombe, and building of it, would aske a whole volume to dilate: and for their paines taken in this holy pilgrimage, all their sins are forgiven, and they are reputed so many saints ...

Angels and Dirt

Robert Dingley, 20 November 1980

Stanley Spencer RA 
by Richard Carline, Andrew Causey and Keith Bell.
Royal Academy/Weidenfeld, 239 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 297 77831 5
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... Spencer so repeatedly paints the Resurrection. Only on the Last Day when the dead arise from their tombs and the dustmen struggle free from their dustbins, will the ideal co-existence of personal autonomy and universal harmony cease to be an unresolved paradox and become a joyous reality. Eschatology, however, provides only a conceptual answer to the problem ...

In Good Estate

Eamon Duffy, 2 January 1997

Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: Kingship and the Representation of Power 1200-1400 
by Paul Binski.
Yale, 241 pp., £45, May 1995, 0 300 05980 9
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... ever penetrating beyond the choir, to the shrine of St Edward behind the High Altar and the royal tombs which surround it. Yet this was the heart of medieval Westminster, and the reason for the existence of the present building. Those who skip it miss more than holy bones. Within the shrine space, near the tomb of St Edward, stands the Coronation Chair, and ...

In Princes’ Pockets

Tariq Ali: Saudi Oil, 19 July 2007

America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier 
by Robert Vitalis.
Stanford, 353 pp., £19.50, November 2006, 0 8047 5446 2
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Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation 
by Madawi Al-Rasheed.
Cambridge, 308 pp., £19.99, November 2006, 0 521 85836 4
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... are now well trained. Which is why America’s Kingdom comes as a pleasant surprise. Robert Vitalis, who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has produced a scholarly and readable book on the interaction between Saudi society and Aramco, the US oil giant that had its beginnings when the Saudi government granted its first ...

Beckett’s Buttonhook

Robert Taubman, 21 October 1982

Ill seen ill said 
by Samuel Beckett.
Calder, 59 pp., £4.95, August 1982, 0 7145 3895 7
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Mantissa 
by John Fowles.
Cape, 192 pp., £6.95, October 1982, 9780224029384
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Sounding the terriotory 
by Laurel Goldman.
Faber, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 9780571119622
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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 303 pp., £7.50, September 1982, 0 7011 2648 5
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... they argue and quarrel. They prop themselves on their elbows, like figures on Etruscan tombs, and discuss sex, literature, psychiatry or ancient Greece. But what it always comes to in the end is the battle between the sexes, scenes from which are acted out, as in the pornographic bits, with the limited aid of stereotypes and jargon. In one role ...

At the Royal Academy

Rosemary Hill: The Treasures of the Society of Antiquaries, 18 October 2007

... they acquired a reputation for crankiness. Drawings in Making History show them in action opening tombs, taking pickaxes to prehistoric barrows and climbing across a spindly ladder high up in Lincoln Cathedral to inspect the concealed ‘prison chamber’. Since the study of local antiquities did not require a classical education or a grand tour, members ...

For the duration

John McManners, 16 June 1983

The Oxford Book of Death 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 351 pp., £9.50, April 1983, 0 19 214129 5
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Idéologies et Mentalités 
by Michel Vovelle.
Maspéro, 264 pp., £7.15, May 1982, 2 7071 1289 5
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... again, only Herbert comes into precise comparison, Popish prelates and Dissenters not qualifying. Robert Herrick has three mentions, but his poetic genius is too lofty to arouse envy: one can but read with haunted admiration the deceptively innocent lyrical outpourings from his Devonshire vicarage. John Donne, the greatest of the deans of St ...

Secret Signals in Lotus Flowers

Maya Jasanoff: Myths of the Mutiny, 21 July 2005

The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination 
by Gautam Chakravarty.
Cambridge, 242 pp., £45, January 2005, 0 521 83274 8
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... In a small yard outside the church, members of his multi-ethnic clan lie buried. Some of their tombs have crosses on top and epitaphs on the side in Persian – memorials to a period in Anglo-Indian history when European and Eastern cultures comfortably converged. Finding your way to St James’s Church takes a bit of ingenuity, at least on the part of ...

When Things Got Tough

Peter Green: The Sacking of Athens, 7 September 2017

Athens Burning: The Persian Invasion of Greece and the Evacuation of Attica 
by Robert Garland.
Johns Hopkins, 170 pp., £15, February 2017, 978 1 4214 2196 4
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... recapture some of their former splendour? Such thoughts were very much in my mind while reading Robert Garland’s retelling of Athens’s tribulations during those two fraught years of Persian invasion. It is a story that has been told countless times, but never before has the narrative concentrated primarily on the Athenians’ wholesale evacuation of ...

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