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Towards Disappearance

James Francken: Oradour-sur-Glane

1 July 1999
Matyred Village: Commemorating the 1944 Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane 
by Sarah Farmer.
California, 323 pp., £19.95, March 1999, 0 520 21186 3
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... in the Limousin wiped out in a single afternoon in June 1944 ... acquired such resonance that it alone echoes in the France of the Liberation with an emotional charge equal to that of Verdun.’ SarahFarmer’s account of Oradour’s destruction is muted: Four days after the Allied landings in Normandy, SS troops encircled the town of Oradour in the rolling farm country of the Limousin and ...


Richard Horton

8 October 1992
Edward Jenner 1749-1823 
by Richard Fisher.
Deutsch, 361 pp., £20, July 1991, 0 233 98681 2
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... old son called James. You ask this boy’s father if you can experiment on his son. The father agrees. After all, you are a respected figure. Your experiment goes something like this. A young girl, Sarah Nelmes, is a patient of yours and is known to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). You draw a syringe full of blood from her arm and go back to James Phipps to make two ...

The Family That Slays Together

Deborah Friedell: Lorrie Moore

19 November 2009
A Gate at the Stairs 
by Lorrie Moore.
Faber, 322 pp., £16.99, October 2009, 978 0 571 19530 5
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... by fat and complacent natives, ‘spacey from oestrogen from large quantities of meat and cheese’. But Tassie is a native, and the Wisconsin town she describes is closer to the places canonised in Sarah Palin’s campaign speeches, with its real Americans growing the nation’s crops – Tassie’s father is a potato farmer – and fighting its wars: her brother and many of his classmates enlist ...

Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill

Jonathan Raban: Sarah​ Palin’s Cunning

9 October 2008
... Sarah Palin has put a new face and voice to the long-standing, powerful, but inchoate movement in US political life that one might see as a mutant variety of Poujadism, inflected with a modern American ...

Just William

Doris Grumbach

25 June 1987
Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice 
by Sharon O’Brien.
Oxford, 544 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 19 504132 1
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... led a secure, lofty, comfortable, solidly middle-class life. But it took her forty years to do so. Born in 1873 among the lush hills and greenery of Winchester, Virginia, to a feckless gentleman farmer and his beautiful Southern belle wife, she was removed from the landscape she loved at the age of nine, when the family moved to the harsh, flat, frozen prairie town of Red Cloud, Nebraska. This, the ...

You see stars

Michael Wood

19 June 1997
The House of Sleep 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 384 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 0 670 86458 7
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... is a kind of metaphor for the way certain sections of old England have always known how to modernise themselves when the pickings looked good. They are a journalist, a politician, a gallery-owner, a farmer, a banker and an arms-dealer: between them they manage to profit from, if not actually orchestrate, the decline of the BBC, the dismantling of the National Health Service, the conversion of art into ...

‘It was everything’

Eliot Weinberger: The Republican Convention

10 August 2016
... filled conventions in the history of conventions’. Amazingly, most of the major figures in the Republican Party stayed away: all of the previous presidential and vice-presidential nominees (even Sarah Palin), with the exception of the nonagenarian Bob Dole; the Bush family and anyone who held an important post in the administrations of either Bush; 11 of the 16 candidates who ran against Trump in ...


Janet Todd

21 December 1989
Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up 
by Hermione Lee.
Virago, 409 pp., £12.99, October 1989, 0 86068 661 2
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... that ‘often glows half pathetic’; its setting was that of ‘a Hollywood movielot’. Fitzgerald mocked the bucolic Cather and her intervention in the absurd history of the idealised inarticulate farmer: Cather ‘turns him Swede’, he wrote. Edmund Wilson accused her of failing at characterisation and storytelling: she may be a ‘good craftsman’ but she has ‘an anemia of the imagination ...

Shave for them

Christian Lorentzen: ‘The Submission’

22 September 2011
The Submission 
by Amy Waldman.
Heinemann, 299 pp., £12.99, September 2011, 978 0 434 01932 8
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... 2010. Right-wing bloggers took to calling it the ‘Ground Zero mosque’, and the name stuck. Newt Gingrich said it ‘would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum’. On Twitter, Sarah Palin wrote: ‘Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.’ Polls showed that most Americans ...

Who needs a welfare state?

Deborah Friedell: The Little House Books

22 November 2012
The Little House Books 
by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Library of America, 1490 pp., £56.50, August 2012, 978 1 59853 162 6
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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ 
by Wendy McClure.
Riverhead, 336 pp., £10, April 2012, 978 1 59448 568 8
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... spirit’. She told a friend that if only there were a politician on the scene she really admired, ‘I would make a try at killing FDR now.’ Four years ago, when the New York Times interviewed Sarah Palin’s relatives, the Little House books were the only ones that anyone could remember her having liked. Caroline Fraser, who edited the books for the Library of America, points to an essay in ...

Blush, grandeur, blush

Norma Clarke: One of the first bluestockings

16 December 2004
Hannah More: The First Victorian 
by Anne Stott.
Oxford, 384 pp., £20, September 2004, 0 19 927488 6
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... her sister Patty began by setting up Sunday schools in a number of villages near their cottage at Cowslip Green in Somerset, following the well-known examples of Robert Raikes in Gloucestershire and Sarah Trimmer in Brentford. Patty kept a journal of the years 1789-99, published as Mendip Annals in 1859 and clearly intended for general edification. According to Patty, God (‘Providence’) started it ...


Susannah Clapp

23 July 1987
A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... a happy second marriage to the film director Clive Donner. She has devised fibreglass helmets for Vikings in Alfred the Great, padded leotards with Kotex for The Bliss of Mrs Blossom, and decorated Sarah Miles with flounces and taffetas for Ryan’s Daughter. Most of her lovers have approved this book; few of their partners will. When Janet Aitken Kidd turned 18, Churchill threw cream buns at her ...

Opprobrious Epithets

Katrina Navickas: The Peterloo Massacre

20 December 2018
Peterloo: The Story of the Manchester Massacre 
by Jacqueline Riding.
Head of Zeus, 386 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 1 78669 583 3
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... Revolution of 1688. Local leaders such as Samuel Bamford of Middleton and John Knight of Manchester were supported by men of higher social status, such as Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a gentleman farmer originally from Wiltshire. Hunt was politically ambitious and a populist in the old sense of the word. He came to national attention when he delivered rousing speeches at the mass demonstrations on ...

Pipe down back there!

Terry Castle: The Willa Cather Wars

14 December 2000
Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism 
by Joan Acocella.
Nebraska, 127 pp., £13.50, August 2000, 0 8032 1046 9
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... First, a fiery allegory – the reviewer’s house is burning down! After tossing the cats out of the window, she has time only to save one object before fleeing: either a compact disc reissue of Sarah Bernhardt declaiming from Phèdre or an old sepia-tinted postcard of Eleonora Duse in D’Annunzio’s La Città morta. Quick! Which to choose? The Bernhardt has always been a source of deep hilarity ...

Topography v. Landscape

John Barrell: Paul Sandby

13 May 2010
Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain 
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... obviously productive farmland; a neat model factory tucked into a river valley; in the foreground, under a spreading ash tree, a milkmaid drives a few cows along a country road, to or from milking; a farmer trots away from us; and in the near distance a stagecoach is passing a dozen or so stacks of hop-poles. The first time I saw this picture it seemed to me a perfect evocation of the peace and plenty ...

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