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Nothing’s easy

Philip Horne, 26 November 1987

The Perpetual Orgy 
by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Helen Lane.
Faber, 240 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 571 14550 7
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Captain Pantoja and the Special Service 
by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Gregory Kolovakos and Ronald Christ.
Faber, 244 pp., £3.95, June 1987, 0 571 14818 2
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... Writing this book I am like a man playing the piano with lead balls attached to his knuckles.’ The weighty agonies and agonisings of Flaubert, most famously over the details of Madame Bovary, have made him an exemplary writer for other self-conscious writers, and this unlikely simile is quoted in a recent work testifying to that detailed interest: Julian Barnes in Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) made a clever novel out of a preoccupation with the minutiae of Flaubert’s life, inventing a biographer-narrator to fight a long rearguard action against the death of the author ...

Mantegna’s Revenge

Nicholas Penny, 3 September 1987

by Ronald Lightbown.
Phaidon/Christie’s, 512 pp., £60, July 1986, 0 7148 8031 0
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The Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo Rediscovered 
edited by Massimo Giacometti, translated by Paul Holberton.
Muller, Blond and White, 271 pp., £40, September 1986, 0 584 11140 1
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... thought on minute particulars, and even if this is less clear than it might be from the plates in Ronald Lightbown’s massive monograph, Lightbown himself has a very keen eye for the subordinate, often tiny things which the artist painted so well, and has industriously inquired into what exactly they were, and also into what they meant. There is, for ...


Ronald Blythe, 17 September 1981

The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802 
by Reverend James Woodforde, edited by John Beresford.
Oxford, 364 pp., £65, June 1981, 0 19 811485 0
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The English Countrywoman: Her Life in Farmhouse and Field from Tudor Times to the Victorian Age 
by G.E. Fussell and K.R. Fussell.
Orbis, 221 pp., £10, June 1981, 0 85613 336 1
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The English Countrywoman: Her Life and Work from Tudor Times to the Victorian Age 
by G.E. Fussell and K.R. Fussell.
Orbis, 172 pp., £10, June 1981, 0 85613 335 3
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... than that. Not once in the course of these five volumes does he so much as mention the name of Christ, and it is clear that his calling induces anxiety and inhibition the moment it threatens to burst from its professional bands. His great virtue is that he rarely moralises. When so many country clergy were not so much Christians as state-licensed ...

Dawn of the Dark Ages

Ronald Stevens: Fleet Street magnates, 4 December 2003

Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the Glory Days of Fleet Street 
by Ruth Dudley Edwards.
Secker, 484 pp., £20, May 2003, 0 436 19992 0
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... 19th-century Indian Civil Service. So a governess, a top-notch preparatory school, Winchester and Christ Church were as much a matter of course for Cecil as Gladstone Elementary School in Cardiff was for Hugh. They did, however, share an adolescent ambition to work in newspapers, though for entirely different reasons. King, a nephew of Alfred Harmsworth (Lord ...

Spiritual Rock Star

Terry Eagleton: The failings of Pope John Paul II, 3 February 2005

The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John Paul II’s Papacy 
by John Cornwell.
Viking, 329 pp., £20, February 2005, 0 670 91572 6
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... son appears to have inherited. As with many pious Poles of the time, it was the Virgin Mary, not Christ, who was the chief object of the young Wojtyla’s devotion. Indeed, Christ himself seems strangely marginal in his early spiritual life, shouldered aside by a strong-minded mother. At one point he considered scaling ...

Controversy abating and credulity curbed?

Ronald Syme, 4 September 1980

... an author of the time relates,’ worshipped at a domestic chapel in which stood images of Christ and Abraham, along with a pair of pagan sages or saints. The beliefs of the Syrian prince do not fail to seduce adepts of religious syncretism. Again, the Emperor Tacitus, on generous exposition as an elderly senator of frugal and scholarly habits (each ...

In an Empty Church

Peter Howarth: R.S. Thomas, 26 April 2007

The Man who Went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas 
by Byron Rogers.
Aurum, 326 pp., £16.99, June 2006, 1 84513 146 0
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... majority of the members of the Church, is still not converted, because they do not believe Jesus Christ when he says: ‘Woe unto you when all men speak well of you!’ It is hard to know which is the most self-deceptive implication here: that the poet’s ‘honesty’ is free from worldly estimation, that he has come to terms with his own unimportance, or ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... book. What did Griffith bring into the world? Imagine an unholy combination of The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie as violent and sentimental as Saving Private Ryan and as tricksy as Forrest Gump, landing with the force of Titanic in the nickelodeon universe of 1915, where the typical attraction was 20 minutes long. Griffith’s ...

Lighting-Up Time

Wendy Doniger, 6 March 1997

The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain 
by Ronald Hutton.
Oxford, 542 pp., £19.99, June 1996, 0 19 820570 8
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... Church took over all the major pagan feast days,’ and that ‘the choice of a date to mark Christ’s birthday at Christmas ... was influenced by the ancient Roman celebration of the birth of the sun on December 21.’ Now, if those witches read The Stations of the Sun, they will learn that Christmas was not, in fact, derived from, superimposed on or ...

History’s Revenges

Peter Clarke, 5 March 1981

The Illustrated Dictionary of British History 
edited by Arthur Marwick.
Thames and Hudson, 319 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 500 25072 3
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Who’s Who in Modern History, 1860-1980 
by Alan Palmer.
Weidenfeld, 332 pp., £8.50, October 1980, 0 297 77642 8
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... where are the Beatles, who, as John Lennon justly pointed out, became more famous than Jesus Christ? In fact, few entertainers qualify, though there are four sporting figures: the cricketers Bradman and Grace, the footballer Pelé and the baseball player Babe Ruth. In addition, Sir Roy Welensky was ‘the only Commonwealth Prime Minister to have been, in ...

Not Recommended Reading

Eliot Weinberger, 7 September 2017

... Antarctica, by firing off a hundred thousand cannons in Nebraska. Other Eyes than Mine (1926) by Ronald Arbuthnott    Two Latin scholars, an Englishman and a German, bitter rivals, simultaneously publish biographies of the poet Persius that completely contradict each other. An Italian scholar publishes an article definitively proving that the Englishman ...

Blackberry Apocalypse

Nicholas Guyatt: Evangelical Disarray, 15 November 2007

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America 
by Chris Hedges.
Cape, 254 pp., £12.99, February 2007, 978 0 224 07820 7
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... the religious right could rally behind a candidate who said, with apparent sincerity, that Jesus Christ had ‘changed my heart’. This time, the leading Republican candidates sound unconvincing when they court Christian conservatives – if they try to court them at all. This gloomy picture of political decline will come as a surprise to those who have ...

The Ashtray

Nicholas Penny, 4 June 1981

The Study and Criticism of Italian Sculpture 
by John Pope-Hennessy.
Princeton, 270 pp., £25.10, March 1981, 0 691 03967 4
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... and inscribed with the date 1456, which is one of the first portrait busts made since antiquity. Ronald Lightbown, in the course of trying to discover more about the sitter for the catalogue of the museum’s collection which he was working on with Pope-Hennessy, discovered a manuscript autobiography by Chellini which revealed that he had been a friend and ...

Us and Them

Robert Taubman, 4 September 1980

The Secret Servant 
by Gavin Lyall.
Hodder, 224 pp., £5.50, June 1980, 0 340 25385 1
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The Flowers of the Forest 
by Joseph Hone.
Secker, 365 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 436 20087 2
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A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie 
by Robert Barnard.
Collins, 203 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 00 216190 7
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Enter the Lion: A Posthumus Memoir of Mycroft Holmes 
by Michael Hodel and Sean Wright.
Dent, 237 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 460 04483 4
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Dorothy I. Sayers: Nine Literary Studies 
by Trevor Hall.
Duckworth, 132 pp., £12.50, April 1980, 9780715614556
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Milk Dime 
by Barry Fantoni.
Hodder, 192 pp., £5.50, May 1980, 0 340 25350 9
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... investigated fictional character of his age. What was practised as a diversion by Andrew Lang and Ronald Knox has turned into a full-scale critical apparatus. It’s a mock apparatus, and not really engaged with criticism; and yet not just a joke, since it does elucidate something – those aspects of another way of life that for us have now become ...

More Noodling, Please

Jessica Olin: The Bystander’s Scrapbook by Joseph Torra, 4 April 2002

The Bystander's Scrapbook 
by Joseph Torra.
Weidenfeld, 186 pp., £7.99, November 2001, 0 575 06767 5
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... Joseph Torra’s latest novel, The Bystander’s Scrapbook, opens in 1984, the year Ronald Reagan was re-elected President. In Somerville, Massachusetts, as in the rest of the country, corporate growth and gentrification are changing the face of neighbourhoods that once boasted a mix of ethnic traditions: a tenement that housed Hispanic families is overhauled and made into condos for white yuppies; colourful dives, the Italian cobbler’s shop and the Greek breakfast joint are torn down to make room for a new mall ...

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