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He speaks too loud

David Blackbourn: Brecht

2 July 2014
Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life 
by Stephen Parker.
Bloomsbury, 704 pp., £30, February 2014, 978 1 4081 5562 2
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... the First World War, became a successful writer in the years before Hitler’s rise to power, spent 16 years as an émigré, and returned to Berlin only to clash with the East German apparatchiks. StephenParker’s superb biography of a great iconoclastic writer is impressively sourced, rich in detail, well-paced, highly readable yet serious. His Brecht was chastened by the dark times, but remained ...

I am a cactus

John Sutherland: Christopher Isherwood and his boys

3 June 2004
Isherwood 
by Peter Parker.
Picador, 914 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 330 48699 3
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... Xtopher,’ Stephen Spender wrote in April 1931, ‘is a cactus.’ Prickly, solitary, self-sufficient, hard to handle and difficult to love. How to get to grips with ‘Isherwood’ (as he has chosen to address him ...

A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under

8 May 2003
Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... earth. The better the biography, the worse: the great smooth luxurious Rolls reconverts the energy of the writer’s ascent into mere horizontal force. The publication of the second volume of Hershel Parker’s biography of Herman Melville brings to a close an enterprise of archival and critical scholarship that has lasted forty years – nearly as long as Melville’s writing career. The picture of ...

Cold Front in Arden

Michael Dobson

31 October 1996
Reading Shakespeare Historically 
by Lisa Jardine.
Routledge, 207 pp., £40, April 1996, 0 415 13490 0
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Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre 
by Louis Montrose.
Chicago, 228 pp., £39.95, May 1996, 0 226 53482 0
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Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context 
by Patricia Parker.
Chicago, 392 pp., £41.50, April 1996, 0 226 64584 3
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Impersonations: Gender and Performance in Shakespear’s England 
by Stephen​ Orgel.
Cambridge, 179 pp., £30, February 1996, 0 521 56842 0
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... it leaves is of how joyless even so rich and exuberant a comedy as A Midsummer Night’s Dream can seem when read through the lens of the MLA bibliography. There is nothing joyless about Patricia Parker’s Shakespeare from the Margins, though in its own way it can be just as frustrating. It’s a book primarily about Shakespeare’s puns, and its energetic demonstration of some of the post ...
23 July 1987
An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen​ Ward 
by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy.
Cape, 268 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 224 02347 0
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Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen​ Ward 
by Anthony Summers and Stephen​ Dorril.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 297 79122 2
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... of a sting at the time.) The idea conveyed is that history is an oubliette down which you can throw episodes you would rather have forgotten. But the Profumo case, which should be called the Stephen Ward case, will not go down. The longer it is around, the uglier it gets. It is a shocking story, which will continue to discredit its participants, all the more so for as long as they pretend, like ...

At Home in the Huntington

John Sutherland: The Isherwood Archive

10 June 1999
... who had ‘captured’ the Thirties. It was not, Waugh being Waugh, high praise. Auden he felt to be a mysterious cove comprehensible only to his pals (among whom Waugh did not number himself). Stephen Spender, Waugh declared, had been granted at birth all the fashionable literary neuroses but his fairy godmother ‘quite forgot the gift of literary skill’. (Once celebrated as the Shelley of the ...
23 April 1987
The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 
by Trevor Wilson.
Polity, 864 pp., £35, September 1986, 9780745600932
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British Strategy and War Aims 1914-1916 
by David French.
Allen and Unwin, 274 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 04 942197 2
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The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos 
by Peter Parker.
Constable, 319 pp., £15, March 1987, 0 09 466980 5
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... like Shelford Bidwell and T.H. Travers indicated the true problems and achievements of the commanders on the Western Front. Over naval affairs the exchanges of heavy fire between Arthur Marder and Stephen Roskill reduced all others to awe-struck silence. On domestic politics Lord Beaverbrook and his acolyte A.J.P. Taylor gave us plenty to be going on with, even before younger specialists like Cameron ...

Crypto-Republican

Simon Adams: Was Mary Queen of Scots a Murderer?

11 June 2009
Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I 
by Stephen​ Alford.
Yale, 412 pp., £25, May 2008, 978 0 300 11896 4
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... invites treatment normally found in the more ponderous biographies of contemporary politicians. The standard life, by Conyers Read, is in two volumes (published in 1955 and 1960), each larger than Stephen Alford’s new book. Alford, the author of The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis (1998), has chosen to focus his study on the controversial subject of the ...

Swinging it

Mark Ford

7 July 1988
S.J. Perelman: A Life 
by Dorothy Herrmann.
Simon and Schuster, 337 pp., £14.95, November 1987, 0 671 65460 8
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Don’t tread on me: The Selected Letters of S.J. Perelman 
edited by Prudence Crowther.
Viking, 372 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 670 81759 7
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... Of all the now vanished breed of New Yorker humorists – James Thurber, E.B. White, Dorothy Parker – S.J. Perelman wrote by far the richest, most meticulously crafted prose. His dedication to his art was almost frightening. He was once asked in an interview how many drafts each piece went ...

All about Me

Kevin Kopelson: Don Bachardy

8 April 2015
Hollywood 
by Don Bachardy.
Glitterati, 368 pp., £45, October 2014, 978 0 9913419 2 4
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... reviewing for this very publication – a biography of Franz Liszt by Alan Walker.* I was also reading – for amusement – the biography of Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd and one of Dorothy Parker by Marion Meade. In Holroyd’s book, I was most struck by some portraits – reproduced in full colour – that had been done of Strachey; there’s one by Simon Bussy, drawn in 1904 (the year of ...

Diary

Stephen​ Frears: That's Hollywood

20 December 1990
... dinner that night on Rodeo Drive. I was approached to direct a Mafia film called Donnie Brasco. The producers were Barry Levinson and his partner, Mark Johnson. We had first met when Levinson, Alan Parker and I had dinner in London. It was a wonderfully smug affair: the last three films we had directed, Rain Man, Mississippi Burning and Dangerous Liaisons, had between them received 23 Oscar ...

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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... more prosaic reasons: Elvis Presley took amphetamines to slim down for tours. Popular music has often been coy about its connections with drugs. The high-profile casualties like Kurt Cobain, Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix have usually been portrayed as maverick one-offs. The infiltration of drug use into all parts of pop music – from black jazz to white rock, from club dancefloors to record company ...
5 May 1988
... my work from the very beginning. In 1965, he praised in forthright terms a pamphlet of mine, published in Belfast as part of a series that included Seamus Deane, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Stewart Parker, James Simmons, and several other Northern Irish poets whose voices were beginning to raise themselves in the mid-Sixties. To hear John Carey now, almost a quarter of a century later, go farther ...

At the Royal Academy

Eleanor Birne: Tacita Dean

7 June 2018
... played with great fierceness by Anne Carson, whose own obsession with Sophocles led to a poem, ‘TV Men: Antigone (Scripts 1 and 2)’, which is incorporated in the spoken text. Oedipus is played by Stephen Dillane, who limps across blasted landscapes – Bodmin Moor, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park – in a long grey beard and dark goggles. These interests, the limp too, are long-standing: at art ...

Follies

George Melly

4 April 1991
A Surrealist Life 
by John Lowe.
Collins, 262 pp., £18, February 1991, 0 00 217941 5
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... the rest of his life. He commissioned music and helped support many painters, notably Dali, Magritte and Tchelitchew, when they most needed it. Since his Oxford days – until an adverse review from Stephen Spender destroyed his confidence – he had published poetry (mostly his own) in luxurious limited editions. He also wrote one well-received novel, The Gardener who saw God. He spent the Second World ...

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