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Dingy Quadrilaterals

Ian Gilmour: The Profumo Case, 19 October 2006

Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir 
by David Profumo.
Murray, 291 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 7195 6608 8
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... Doctor, the Lord, the Spy’ and Profumo himself. The leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, dubbed them ‘this dingy quadrilateral’, though, as will soon appear, a much dingier quadrilateral was composed of four very different people. The origins of the Profumo family were Sardinian. Jack Profumo’s great-grandfather, who had, the author ...

Life in the Colonies

Steven Rose, 20 July 1995

Naturalist 
by Edward O.Wilson.
Allen Lane, 380 pp., £20, August 1995, 0 7139 9141 0
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Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration 
by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O.Wilson.
Harvard, 228 pp., £19.95, November 1994, 0 674 48525 4
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... Vindaloo. Something of the same determinedly trivial desire to prove himself is revealed in Edward Wilson’s Naturalist. The great myrmecologist’s memoir is filled with references to scaling the highest mountains, collecting the most species, and above all to standing where no (white) man had ever stood before, finding organisms hitherto ‘unknown to ...

Short Cuts

Norman Dombey: Iraq, Uranium and Forged Intelligence, 17 November 2005

... the leaking of her name to the press? If he did, was it retaliation aimed at her husband, Joseph Wilson, who wrote in the New York Times that the allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger was false – based, it turned out, on forged documents passed on to Washington and London by the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI? How did it ...

Seeing Things

Catherine Wilson: Egg and sperm and preformation, 21 May 1998

The Ovary of Eve: Egg and Sperm and Preformation 
by Clara Pinto-Correia.
Chicago, 396 pp., £23.95, November 1997, 0 226 66952 1
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... and a poet. She tells the story of how she came to write the book, with the help of the biologist Stephen Jay Gould, in her Introduction. Gould, for his part, does some contentious stage-setting in his Foreword, where, with the apparent aim of encouraging respect for the ‘important’, ‘influential’ and even ‘beautiful’ theory of preformation, he ...

Mohocks

Liam McIlvanney: The House of Blackwood, 5 June 2003

The House of Blackwood: Author-Publisher Relations in the Victorian Era 
by David Finkelstein.
Pennsylvania State, 199 pp., £44.95, April 2002, 0 271 02179 9
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... to edit the Quarterly. But for the magazine’s first twenty-five years, its mainstay was John Wilson. As Christopher North, he wrote mountains of copy. Reviews, feature articles, verses, sentimental tales of peasant life, unsentimental tales of gothic horror: he churned the stuff out in heroic bouts of scribbling that tested his physical strength as much ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Evolution versus Metamorphosis, 1 September 2005

... what’s an adaptation and what’s a by-product, or ‘spandrel’ (to use Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould’s architectural analogy). In their introduction to The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (Northwestern, $29.95), a collection of essays which will be published later in the autumn, Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan ...

Too Proud to Fight

David Reynolds: The ‘Lusitania’ Effect, 28 November 2002

Wilful Murder: The Sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ 
by Diana Preston.
Doubleday, 543 pp., £18.99, May 2002, 0 385 60173 5
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Lusitania: Saga and Myth 
by David Ramsay.
Chatham, 319 pp., £20, September 2001, 1 86176 170 8
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Woodrow Wilson 
by John Thompson.
Longman, 288 pp., £15.99, August 2002, 0 582 24737 3
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... The appeal to necessity has a long history in warfare. In The Rights and Duties of Neutrals Stephen Neff calls it ‘a sort of juridical “wild card” which allows a state to “trump” the normal rights of other states in times of desperation’.* Germany wasn’t the only country to have played it: in 1807 necessity was invoked to justify ...

Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...

Nothing for Ever and Ever

Frank Kermode: Housman’s Pleasures, 5 July 2007

The Letters of A.E. Housman 
edited by Archie Burnett.
Oxford, 1228 pp., £180, March 2007, 978 0 19 818496 6
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... would now (at 71) ‘do nothing for ever and ever’. In his well-known essay on Housman, Edmund Wilson made a special point of the author’s giving up work on a poet as interesting as Propertius in order to spend his life with Manilius. Wilson regarded the switch from love poems to obsolete science as evidence of an ...

Play hard

Dave Haslam, 20 October 1994

The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-93 
by Nick Kent.
Penguin, 338 pp., £9.99, May 1994, 0 14 023046 7
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... us, for instance, Lou Reed stumbling around in New York, the New York Dolls in Paris and Brian Wilson in ‘psychicpain’, as well as Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones. Chapters on later stars like Morrissey, Guns ’N’ Roses and Happy Mondays lack this vivid authenticity. Looking back, you can see why Kent made such an impact. When he started writing in ...

My Little Lollipop

Jenny Diski: Christine Keeler, 22 March 2001

The Truth at Last: My Story 
by Christine Keeler and Douglas Thompson.
Sidgwick, 279 pp., £16.99, February 2001, 0 283 07291 1
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... in getting Labour into power after 13 years of Tory Government. (She didn’t think much of Wilson’s lot, especially that ‘ugly’ George Wigg, the one ‘with the ear of Harold Wilson’ who, in addition to being apparently genetically modified, she ‘always thought looked like a pervert’). She has a place in ...

Stainless Splendour

Stefan Collini: How innocent was Stephen Spender?, 22 July 2004

Stephen Spender: The Authorised Biography 
by John Sutherland.
Viking, 627 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 670 88303 4
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... When Stephen Spender’s son Matthew was ten years old, he caught his hand in a car door. ‘The event,’ John Sutherland writes, ‘recalled other tragedies in the boy’s little life; the running over, for example, of his dog Bobby – a "rather lugubrious looking spaniel” and a present from his godmother, Edith Sitwell ...

Short Cuts

James Francken: The Booker Prize shortlist, 2 November 2000

... has given up trying to struggle in the pulpit with the discoveries of science. At first, the Rev. Wilson writes a lengthy pamphlet against the ‘poisonous assault on the good name of the Scriptures’. But is has little effect and Wilson decides that to prove his point he must leave behind the numbing regularity of his ...

Diamond Daggers

Stephen Wall, 28 June 1990

Death’s Darkest Face 
by Julian Symons.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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Vendetta 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 281 pp., £12.99, June 1990, 0 571 14332 6
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Gallowglass 
by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 296 pp., £13.99, March 1990, 0 670 83241 3
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... problem has been worked out, there’s not often much point in going back over it – as Edmund Wilson almost said, who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd afterwards – but good examples of the form have other attractions. They usually seem to owe their durability to elements in them that are gratuitous, strictly speaking. The sleuths don’t really need all ...

Miss Simpson stayed to tea

Philippa Tristram, 20 April 1989

William Wordsworth: A Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 812828 2
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... biography with autobiography is often sidestepped by biographers less equal to their task than Stephen Gill, either by equating the ‘truth’ about a writer’s life with what that writer has specifically chosen not to reveal, or by accepting what he has revealed too literally. The first alternative is adopted by A.N. ...

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