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A Waistcoat soaked in Tears

Douglas Johnson, 27 June 1991

The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762 
by Maurice Cranston.
Allen Lane, 399 pp., £20, February 1991, 0 7139 9051 1
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Writings of Rousseau. Vol I: Rousseau: Judge of Jean-Jacques. Dialogues. 
translated by Judith Bush, edited and translated by Christopher Kelly and Roger Masters.
University Press of New England, 277 pp., $40, March 1990, 0 87451 495 9
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... About Rousseau, as about Romanticism, it is tempting to use the word ‘disorderly’. Maurice Cranston showed us in the first volume of this, the most masterly of biographies how he had spent his early life as a wanderer and adventurer, he had been an itinerant tutor, a humble music-copier, an ambitious composer; the lover of a Swiss countess and the secretary to a diplomat; he had become a fashionable writer with an obsession about preserving his independence; he was an uneasy Catholic who needed a religion and who thought that he had found it in Protestantism; he was someone who discovered that his waistcoat was soaked in tears but who had not been aware that he had been weeping ...

Make it more like a murder mystery

Eleanor Birne: The life and death of Stuart Shorter, 19 May 2005

Stuart: A Life Backwards 
by Alexander Masters.
Fourth Estate, 295 pp., £12.99, April 2005, 0 00 720036 6
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... The first time Alexander Masters met Stuart Shorter, he was crouched in a doorway next to the discount picture-framing shop round the corner from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge: as it happens, the framing shop I used to work for as a sandwich boarder in my teens. Every Saturday the shop owner would hand me a board and a stack of leaflets and I’d hurry down to Christ’s Pieces, a public green in town which was also, I now know, Stuart’s home ...

Make me work if you can

T.H. Breen, 18 February 1988

Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775 
by Roger Ekirch.
Oxford, 277 pp., £25, November 1987, 0 19 820092 7
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... become servants, who freely chose to come to America in the hope of improving their lives. But, as Roger Ekirch now explains in his splendid new book, a very large number of migrants did not want to leave 18th-century Britain at all. These were the convicts. Historians once thought that no more than thirty thousand felons were transported to the New ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig, 20 December 1984

The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... Like most biographers, Anthony Masters starts by announcing his subject’s date of birth; unlike most biographers, he gets it wrong. Charles Henry Maxwell Knight was born on 9 July 1900, not 4 September, under the sign of Cancer, not Virgo, however tempting it may be, for reasons which become clear in the course of the story, to assign him to the latter ...

At the V&A

Rosemary Hill: Constable , 22 October 2014

... have looked more closely at his work have seen more in it, but disagree about what the more is. Roger Fry admired the energy of the sketches, the aspect of Constable that flatters posterity by seeming to point to Post-Impressionism and abstraction. Kenneth Clark also thought that the sketches had a ‘force of sensation’, but found the finished oils a ...

Jesus Christie

Richard Wollheim, 3 October 1985

J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher 
by Donald Lindsay, Roger Young and Hugh Lloyd-Jones.
Plume, 211 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 947656 00 6
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... lists of house colours, of school slang (some of it obsolete), of the forms in the school and of masters’ nicknames. A brief note advised us to learn the book by heart, for we would be examined on its contents on arrival and the slightest mistake would earn us a beating. Around the same time, one Sunday morning, after going riding, I was dropped off at the ...

In the Know

Simon Schaffer, 10 November 1994

Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture 
by William Eamon.
Princeton, 490 pp., £38.50, July 1994, 0 691 03402 8
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The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire 
by Pamela Smith.
Princeton, 308 pp., £30, July 1994, 0 691 05691 9
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... of secrets’, one of a number of Renaissance writers who traded on their reputation as masters of tricks, clues and recipes long lost to, or hidden from, common knowledge and now at last revealed to an amazed public. They foresaw laboratories and workshops, gardens and libraries, where old lore and new skills could be pursued in common. While ...

Boys wearing wings

Nicholas Penny, 15 March 1984

Caravaggio 
by Howard Hibbard.
Thames and Hudson, 404 pp., £22.50, May 1983, 0 500 09161 7
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Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting 
by S.J. Freedberg.
Harvard, 125 pp., £21.25, January 1983, 0 674 13156 8
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Domenichino 
by Richard Spear.
Yale, 382 pp., £75, November 1982, 0 300 02359 6
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... from Caravaggio who is doing marvellous things in Rome ... He thinks little of the works of other masters ... All works of art he believes to be ‘Bagatelli’, child’s play, whoever by, and whatever of, unless they are made from life, and that there is no better course than to follow Nature. And so he will not make a single brushstroke without taking it ...

Running on Empty

Christopher Hitchens: The Wrong Stuff, 7 January 1999

A Man in Full 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 742 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 224 03036 1
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... her demented form of lust. Danger! Imminent exposure! That thing with the cup! A Man in Full From Masters of the Universe to ‘master builder’. From class-and-race New York to race-and-class Atlanta. From a wrong turn on a Bronx exit ramp to – in the first pages of this new novel – an unsettling traffic jam in the wrong part of town. From ‘boxes of ...

Could it have been different?

Roger Southall: R.W. Johnson’s South Africa, 8 October 2009

South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country since the End of Apartheid 
by R.W. Johnson.
Allen Lane, 701 pp., £25, April 2009, 978 0 7139 9538 1
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... here is that blacks were incapable of pursuing the liberation struggle without white puppet-masters. This is a gross simplification of the complicated mélange of Africanist, non-racial and Christian as well as Communist currents behind the scenes. Johnson’s familiar, much-disputed view that Mandela was a member of the SACP inevitably resurfaces ...

Feigning a Relish

Nicholas Penny: One Tate or Two, 15 October 1998

The Tate: A History 
by Frances Spalding.
Tate Gallery, 308 pp., £25, April 1998, 1 85437 231 9
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... du Luxembourg. This was housed in a palace which had long been visited for its gallery of Old Masters. In 1816 it was emptied of its collection to help fill gaps in the Louvre and it reopened in 1818 as a gallery for pictures by great living artists (including David, then in political exile). The creation of the first European museum of modern art was ...

Why we have them I can’t think

Rosemary Hill: ‘Mrs Woolf and the Servants’, 16 August 2007

Mrs Woolf and the Servants: The Hidden Heart of Domestic Service 
by Alison Light.
Fig Tree, 376 pp., £20, August 2007, 978 0 670 86717 2
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... cook to go into the kitchen.’ The uneasy balance of power between domestic servants and their masters and mistresses, especially mistresses, is the theme of Alison Light’s study of the home life of Virginia Woolf, whose complicated relationship with her own cook, Nellie Boxall, involved a degree of intimidation on both sides. The sight of Virginia and ...

To the Cleaners

Nicholas Penny, 4 July 1985

The Ravished Image: Or, How to Ruin Masterpieces by Restoration 
by Sarah Walden.
Weidenfeld, 174 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 297 78407 2
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... the equivalents of miracle drugs and transplant surgery. If picture restorers are serving the old masters, however, they should not be too worried about tact and good taste – or the prejudices of living connoisseurs, which are no more likely to provide a reliable guide than are the expectations of ‘hurried tourists’. It is easier to avoid such ...

Eventlessness

Norman Hampson, 19 April 1984

France 1815-1914: The Bourgeois Century 
by Roger Magraw.
Fontana, 412 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 00 635741 5
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... may have had a tidy mind, but one has doubts about his methodology. On all of these counts Roger Magraw’s book invites serious reservations. He is not much interested in events. His treatment of the 1830 revolution is typical. ‘In July 1830 three days of Parisian street fighting sufficed to overthrow the Bourbons. Analysis of the sources of the ...

Pretending to be the parlourmaid

John Bayley, 2 December 1993

Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell 
edited by Regina Marler, introduced by Quentin Bell.
Bloomsbury, 593 pp., £25, November 1993, 0 7475 1550 6
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... and patronised with faint praise. Clive Bell’s ‘Significant Form’ is an aesthetic curiosity, Roger Fry’s influence as a theorist long ago terminated. The pictures and decorative work of the Bloomsbury English Modernists – Bell, Fry, Duncan Grant, Dora Carrington (who can be one of the best) – are rightly and properly admired in art circles, but ...

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