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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 ...

Diary

Stephen Spender: Towards a Kind of Neo-Paganism, 21 April 1983

... with weeds, there are the remains of quarters inhabited by the wealthy dead: monumental marble tombs looking all the grander for their dereliction, as do the crumbling rich quarters of bombed cities. Here are statues in marble or bronze, seated or standing, entrances through iron gratings into family vaults, with the names of the occupants chiselled above ...

Necrophiliac Striptease

Thomas Jones: Mummies, 6 February 2014

The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy 
by Roger Luckhurst.
Oxford, 321 pp., £18.99, October 2012, 978 0 19 969871 4
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... out to solve has nothing to do with why so many people died horrible deaths after plundering the tombs of the pharaohs. For a start, it’s not clear that so many did: Douglas Murray only lost an arm, though the ‘Unlucky Mummy’ supposedly responsible for his misfortune was also rumoured to have been on board the Titanic when it sank. In fact it was ...

Mortal, can these bones live?

Anne Enright: Marilynne Robinson’s Perfect Paradox, 22 October 2020

Jack 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 309 pp., £18.99, September 2020, 978 0 349 01181 3
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... angels: ‘total they mix, union of pure with pure.’ They sit through the night among the tombs of the dead and talk. They discuss sin and God, harmlessness and predestination. What would happen if they were the only ones left, after the end of the world? It would be a place where they make the rules, one where they could live together as a ...

Wormwood

Walter Patterson, 29 October 1987

Sarcophagus 
by Vladimir Gubaryev, translated by Michael Glenny.
Penguin, 81 pp., £3.50, April 1987, 0 14 048214 8
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The Star Chernobyl 
by Julia Voznesenskaya.
Quartet, 181 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 7043 2631 0
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Chernobyl: A Novel 
by Frederick Pohl.
Bantam, 355 pp., £4.95, September 1987, 0 553 05210 1
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Mayday at Chernobyl 
by Henry Hamman and Stuart Parrott.
Hodder, 278 pp., £2.95, April 1987, 0 450 40858 2
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State of the World 1987: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress toward a Sustainable Society 
by Lester Brown.
Norton, 268 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 393 02399 0
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... people; the medics in Kiev and Moscow Hospital 6 who attended the injured and irradiated; and Dr Robert Gale, the American surgeon who joined them. You have Mikhail Gorbachev, the charismatic, controversial Soviet leader, castigated for remaining silent from 26 April to 14 May, who nevertheless seized on the Chernobyl accident to add powerful impetus to his ...

Stroking

Nicholas Penny, 15 July 1982

Victorian Sculpture 
by Benedict Read.
Yale, 414 pp., £30, June 1982, 0 300 02506 8
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... did not mean them to disturb. Sculpture now has very few of its old commemorative functions. The tombs of the great compete in modesty and have no effigies. Few of us who have political heroes would seriously propose erecting bronze statues of them. To discover how, when and why these functions fell into disrepute must be one of the ambitions of the serious ...

Hammers for Pipes

Richard Fortey: The Beginnings of Geology, 9 February 2006

Bursting the Limits of Time 
by Martin Rudwick.
Chicago, 840 pp., £31.50, December 2005, 0 226 73111 1
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... it was abroad: indeed, the English ‘translation’ of Cuvier’s great works by the Scotsman Robert Jameson emphasised the concordance of the geological and the biblical record far more than the original had. In short, the traditional British drama, with its heroes and villains, is a romanticised confection designed to put our national achievements at ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1999, 20 January 2000

... satire and after. He asks me if we ever had any alternative titles to Beyond the Fringe, which was Robert Ponsonby’s contribution and not popular with us at the time. I can’t think of any but J. Miller later remembers ‘At the Drop of a Brick’, a reference to Flanders and Swann’s At the Drop of a Hat and Peter Cook’s suggestion that we call it ...

Advanced Thought

William Empson, 24 January 1980

Genesis of Secrecy 
by Frank Kermode.
Harvard, 169 pp., £5.50, June 1979, 0 674 34525 8
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... are some details, such as those about the Crucifixion, which the writers claimed as fitting in. Robert Graves has made splendid use of this line of explanation in The Nazarene Gospel Restored, deducing an entirely credible character. According to Mark and Matthew, the last words of Jesus were ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, though the other two ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998, 21 January 1999

... makes the scene even more touching. 6 February. I am reading a history of the Yorkshire Dales by Robert White, one of a series, Landscape through Time, published by English Heritage. During the enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the land enclosed was added to existing farms, but in 1809 John Hulton used the land allotted to him from the ...

Montale’s Eastbourne

Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1991

The Coastguard’s House 
by Eugenio Montale, translated by Jeremy Reed.
Bloodaxe, 223 pp., £7.95, December 1990, 1 85224 100 4
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... made such an impact on me was that it wasn’t among the ten Montale poems that appeared in Robert Lowell’s 1961 book of translations, Imitations. I am saying, I suppose, that Lowell spoiled the ground in making it accessible. At this moment I would guess that Imitations is more influential than any other aspect of Lowell’s poetic practice: the idea ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: Where was I in 1987?, 10 December 1987

... in these few (I’m sure) inferior artefacts than in a morning spent traipsing round the tombs. It’s partly because we have time to kill and here is just one room and nothing else, no other objects queuing up for attention, no visions of rooms unvisited, treasures overlooked (Madame de Sévigné on sightseeing: ‘What I see tires me and what I ...

If they’re ill, charge them extra

James Meek: Flamingo Plucking, 21 March 2002

Salt: A World History 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 452 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 0 224 06084 8
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Salt: Grain of Life 
by Pierre Laszlo, translated by Mary Beth Mader.
Columbia, 220 pp., £15.95, July 2001, 0 231 12198 9
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... different kind of sodium salt. In the 19th century, when archaeologists began excavating Egyptian tombs and shipping out their contents, mummies were taxed as salted fish before the authorities allowed them to enter Cairo. The ancient Egyptians knew their salt. Haunted by the threat of famine on their marginal Nile lands, they were prepared to ...

Bypass Variegated

Rosemary Hill: Osbert Lancaster, 21 January 2016

Osbert Lancaster’s Cartoons, Columns and Curlicues: ‘Pillar to Post’, ‘Homes Sweet Homes’, ‘Drayneflete Revealed’ 
by Osbert Lancaster.
Pimpernel, 304 pp., £40, October 2015, 978 1 910258 37 8
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... in the painting and furniture that has ‘unfortunately been preserved all too well in the tombs of the pharaohs’, to the pyramids themselves which, though individually possessed of ‘size, dignity and durability’, were nevertheless ‘a trifle monotonous’. The point is made with a drawing of a very large pyramid beside a very small palm tree ...

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