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The Way to Glory

Hilary Mantel, 3 March 1988

Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China 
by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia Davin.
Macmillan, 367 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 333 43364 5
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... The Great Wall is the symbol of our nation,’ says one of the speakers in this extraordinary book. ‘It’s falling to pieces, ruined by people and by the elements like a dragon hacked apart.’ China is accessible now, in one sense: you can go on a tour. No doubt the Chinese will develop new layers of opacity, and a souvenir culture to keep the West happy; there would be plenty of precedents ...

He fights with flashing weapons

Katherine Rundell: Thomas Wyatt, 6 December 2012

Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest 
by Susan Brigden.
Faber, 714 pp., £30, September 2012, 978 0 571 23584 1
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Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy 
by Nicola Shulman.
Short Books, 378 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 1 906021 11 5
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... means of expression’. Now English poetry, dormant since Chaucer and Lydgate, got to its feet and sang. John Leland, a friend of Wyatt’s youth, later wrote: ‘The English tongue was rude, its verses vile/Now, skilful Wyatt, it has known your file.’ The only blot on Wyatt’s record was his marriage to the daughter of a Kentish baron, Elizabeth Brooke. We ...

Saint Agnes’s Lament

Christian Lorentzen: ‘Shuggie Bain’, 3 December 2020

Shuggie Bain 
by Douglas Stuart.
Picador, 448 pp., £14.99, August, 978 1 5290 1927 8
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... tip. She looked at the light for a moment, and her voice cracked with the poor me’s as she sang along with the cassette. Her right arm extended gracefully, and she held the glowing cigarette against the curtains. Shuggie watched as the ash started to smoulder and then gave off a grey smoke. He started to squirm as the smoke burst with a gasp into ...

His Spittin’ Image

Colm Tóibín: John Stanislaus Joyce, 22 February 2018

... pounds there and then to be able to sing that aria as my father had sung it.’ In Dublin he sang at concerts and attended recitals where he heard the great singers of the age. He also found a new job as secretary of the United Liberal Club, which welcomed both Liberals and Home Rulers at a time when Isaac Butt’s leadership of the Irish Parliamentary ...

Three Minutes of Darkness

Theo Tait: Hari Kunzru, 27 July 2017

White Tears 
by Hari Kunzru.
Hamish Hamilton, 271 pp., £14.99, April 2017, 978 0 241 27295 4
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... of the work gang – at the ‘county farm’, the penitentiary. Asked what he meant when he sang, ‘He’ll sure write his name up and down your back,’ House replied: ‘That means beat you up.’) Seth plays the song to Carter; they both find it ‘mesmerising’. They stay up until six in the morning, ‘cleaning up the recording and deciphering ...

Sexual Tories

Angus Calder, 17 May 1984

The Common People: A History from the Norman Conquest to the Present 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Croom Helm and Flamingo, 445 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7099 0125 9
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British Society 1914-45 
by John Stevenson.
Allen Lane/Penguin, 503 pp., £16.95, March 1984, 0 7139 1390 8
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The World We Left Behind: A Chronicle of the Year 1939 
by Robert Kee.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £11.95, April 1984, 0 297 78287 8
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Wigan Pier Revisited: Poverty and Politics in the Eighties 
by Beatrix Campbell.
Virago, 272 pp., £4.50, April 1984, 0 86068 417 2
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... had roamed the country as a gaberlunzie man as if it was just a moment before yesterday. What she sang seemed to her to be fact, or at any rate truth, and her historical sense collapsed chronology. I was moved to remember this by J.F.C. Harrison’s ‘coda’ to his fine new book: ‘As writers like Thomas Hardy have noted, there is a certain timelessness ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... experienced the mercury shooting up the (phallic) thermometer and then sinking down. ‘Comatas sang this as dusk came,’ the last line reads. Comatas, and Mathews, have survived their ordeal; the poem, a stand-in for the cedar box, is a temple of Asclepius, where maladies are worked out through dreams.‘Comatas’ owes something to Theocritus’ Idyll ...

Free from Humbug

Erin Maglaque: The Murdrous Machiavel, 16 July 2020

Machiavelli: His Life and Times 
by Alexander Lee.
Picador, 762 pp., £30, March 2020, 978 1 4472 7499 5
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... lamp that was hanging above it; but no sooner was the lamp lit than it almost fell from my hands. Ye gods! I nearly dropped dead on the spot, that woman was so ugly.Machiavelli itemised her ugliness: her nose ‘slit open and full of snot’; her mouth ‘twisted to one side’, pooling with drool because she had no teeth; her ‘long, pointed chin that ...


D.A.N. Jones, 5 April 1984

Old Catholics and Anglicans: 1931-1981 
edited by Gordon Huelin.
Oxford, 177 pp., £12.50, April 1983, 0 19 920129 3
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Anglican Essays 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 141 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 85635 456 2
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The Song of Roland 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 135 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 9780856354212
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The Regrets 
by Joachim du Bellay, translated by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 147 pp., £4.50, January 1984, 0 85635 471 6
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... might be kept humble!’ Baxter put difficult things even into his hymns – like the famous ‘Ye Holy Angels Bright’ – and that is why they have been regularly ‘modernised’ over the last three centuries. This is relevant to Sisson’s other essays, about poetry and about the modern translations of the Bible and the Prayer Book which he so ...

‘The Meeting of the Waters’

John Barrell, 27 July 2017

... its popularity with socially ‘mixed audiences’. When the celebrated contralto Helen D’Alton sang it at the Royal Albert Hall in 1874, the reviewer for the Musical Standard described it as ‘an over-rated effusion of maudlin sentiment, which once moved to tears a certain section of society … but is now felt to be a bore, because artificial and ...


Colm Tóibín: The Great Irish Famine, 30 July 1998

... and its people. ‘John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought/All that we did, all that we said or sang/Must come from contact with the soil.’ Much of Yeats’s work on Irish folklore was, as Foster points out, a collaboration with Lady Gregory.Lady Gregory also wrote plays, which had to do in various ways with ‘the soil’. The Coole Park she came to ...

The Clothes They Stood Up In

Alan Bennett, 28 November 1996

... 16 and Lansyl Selant Applicators plc at Unit 20 (Units 17-19 currently under offer). ‘O Dio,’ sang Dame Kiri. ‘O Dio.’ And the perimeter road heard it and the sheathed and stunted saplings planted there and the dirty dribble of a stream that straggled through a concrete culvert to the lumpy field beyond, where a shabby horse contemplated two barrels ...

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