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24 September 2009
The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome 
by Roland Chambers.
Faber, 390 pp., £20, August 2009, 978 0 571 22261 2
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... I think, first brought to public attention by David Caute in The Fellow Travellers (1973), then by Hugh Brogan in his 1984 biography, more recently in papers declassified by MI5 in 2005, and now by RolandChambers in this new biography. It should be said at once that the bulk of the evidence was never secret, being set out in Ransome’s own articles for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian (his ...
6 August 1992
Life with a Star 
by Jiri Weil, translated by Rita Klimova and Roslyn Schloss.
Flamingo, 247 pp., £4.99, February 1991, 0 00 654329 4
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Mendelssohn is on the Roof 
by Jiri Weil, translated by Marie Winn.
HarperCollins, 228 pp., £14.99, February 1992, 0 00 223863 2
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... is, alas, at least as old as recorded history. What differentiates the modern German version, as has often been observed, is its implementation through industrial technology – the railways, the gas chambers, and the crematoria – controlled by an elaborate bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy of genocide that is Weil’s real subject. In Life with a Star, he focuses almost exclusively on the experience ...

On the Via Dolorosa

Neal Ascherson: Remarque’s Fiction

6 May 2015
The Promised Land 
by Erich Maria Remarque, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Vintage, 423 pp., £16.99, February 2015, 978 0 09 957708 9
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... is not. The identity was given to him by another exile, a dying Jewish friend, in France just before the war. We never learn his real name. It gradually emerges that he spent time in Gestapo torture chambers and then in a concentration camp. He is not a Jew, though he allows everyone to assume that he is, but was in some undisclosed opposition group. Nearly 12 years on the run have left him wary ...

Sexist

John Bayley

10 December 1987
John Keats 
by John Barnard.
Cambridge, 172 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 521 26691 2
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Keats as a Reader of Shakespeare 
by R.S. White.
Athlone, 250 pp., £25, March 1987, 0 485 11298 1
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... magazines, into poetry, where all disagreeables evaporate. In the ferment of creation they are all muddled together. Hence Keats’s strenuous and touchingly impressive attempts to distinguish chambers of maiden thought in vales of soul-making, to write grave allegories about art and the human condition, to write finally and bitterly that he had no faith whatever in poetry – ‘I only wonder that ...

Troglodytes

Patrick Parrinder

25 October 1990
Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society and the Imagination 
by Rosalind Williams.
MIT, 265 pp., £22.50, March 1990, 9780262231459
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The Mask of the Prophet: The Extraordinary Fictions of Jules Verne 
by Andrew Martin.
Oxford, 222 pp., £27.50, May 1990, 0 19 815798 3
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... of the dead is strangely absent from these Notes, and this affects the author’s interpretations of literary texts, as we shall see. Not only does Williams avert her eyes from catacombs and burial chambers, but like Mumford she views the world below the surface as a place of fossils and minerals rather than of organic life. We are shown an Aladdin’s cave of technological resources, but not the ...
19 January 1984
Roman 
by Roman Polanski.
Heinemann, 393 pp., £12.95, January 1984, 0 434 59180 7
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... of the city. When the first German razzias into the ghetto began, he was lodged outside with a Christian family: small and fair-haired, he ‘passed for Aryan’ while his mother was taken to the gas-chambers and his father deported to a series of concentration camps. As the hunt for Jews in Krakow grew more intense, Roman was passed on to the Buchala family, poor peasants in a remote village who had ...
9 June 1994
Addicted to Romance: The Life and Adventures of Elinor Glyn 
by Joan Hardwick.
Deutsch, 306 pp., £20, June 1994, 0 233 98866 1
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Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde 
by Joy Melville.
Murray, 308 pp., £19.99, June 1994, 0 7195 5102 1
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... the Reading Public, deigns to mention Ouida, Marie Corelli and Ethel M. Dell, but not Glyn. Two thick Companions to Literature, one of them edited by Margaret Drabble, give her 13 lines between them. Chambers Biographical Dictionary snortingly dismisses the Glyn output as ‘nonsensical, high-falutin, faulty in construction and ungrammatical’, qualities which were never a bar to popular acclaim ...

Photomania

Emilie Bickerton

22 November 2018
The Great Nadar: The Man behind the Camera 
by Adam Begley.
Tim Duggan, 247 pp., £12.99, July 2018, 978 1 101 90262 2
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... many photographs of her, which often show her quiet grandeur. Then there is Ernestine, Nadar’s wife, in a photograph Begley reproduces twice in his book because he finds it so moving, and which Roland Barthes described as ‘one of the loveliest photographs in the world’. Nadar also took a photograph of her 35 years earlier, shortly after they were married, in which she sits back, arms folded ...

In Order of Rank

Jeremy Harding: Paris 1940

8 May 2008
Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 
by Hanna Diamond.
Oxford, 255 pp., £16.99, June 2007, 978 0 19 280618 5
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Journal 1942-44 
by Hélène Berr.
Tallandier, 301 pp., €20, January 2008, 978 2 84734 500 1
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... This rush of fugitives – French, Dutch, Belgian – through a country under attack seemed at first to flatten out the contours of national origin and class, but not on closer inspection. The writer Roland Dorgelès described how in Cahors, a town ‘choked with the volume of people within its walls’, ‘the more privileged were sleeping in their cars’ while most huddled in doorways or curled up on ...

Ravishing

Colm Tóibín: Sex Lives of the Castrati

7 October 2015
The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds 
by Martha Feldman.
California, 454 pp., £40, March 2015, 978 0 520 27949 0
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Portrait of a Castrato: Politics, Patronage and Music in the Life of Atto Melani 
by Roger Freitas.
Cambridge, 452 pp., £22.99, May 2014, 978 1 107 69610 5
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... to induce a coma (or a coma-like state), after which they were immersed in milk baths or cold baths as a form of anaesthesia before the cut. The operation affected the voice. ‘Their resonating chambers,’ Feldman continues, ‘were thus larger than normal in proportion to the vocal emission equipment (the larynx), so much so that we can suppose that with the right training some castrato voices ...

Browning Versions

Barbara Everett

4 August 1983
Robert Browning: A Life within Life 
by Donald Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 334 pp., £12.95, August 1982, 0 297 78092 1
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The Elusive Self in the Poetry of Robert Browning 
by Constance Hassett.
Ohio, 186 pp., £17, December 1982, 0 8214 0629 9
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The Complete Works of Robert Browning. Vol. V 
edited by Roma King.
Ohio, 395 pp., £29.75, July 1981, 9780821402207
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The Poetical Works of Robert Browning: Vol. I 
edited by Ian Jack and Margaret Smith.
Oxford, 543 pp., £45, April 1983, 0 19 811893 7
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Robert Browning: The Poems 
edited by John Pettigrew and Thomas Collins.
Yale/Penguin, 1191 pp., £26, January 1982, 0 300 02675 7
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Robert Browning: ‘The Ring and the Book’ 
edited by Richard Altick.
Yale/Penguin, 707 pp., £21, May 1981, 0 300 02677 3
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... ah, those indeed!) – all, with their picturesque accidents, of landing-places, and spiral heights and depths, and sudden turns and visions of half-open doors into what Quarles calls “mollitious chambers” – and above all, landing-places – they are my heart’s delight – I would come upon you unaware on a landing-place in my next dream!’All Browning’s best moments are ‘landing-places ...

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