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The Ultimate Novel

William Empson

19 August 1982
Ulysses 
by Hugh Kenner.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £10, March 1980, 0 00 480003 6
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A Starchamber Quiry: A James Joyce Centennial Volume 1882-1982 
edited by E.L. Epstein.
Methuen, 164 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 416 31560 7
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... more material available for the centenary collection, A Starchamber Quiry, just after printing his own book. He puts a new idea of his own into both of these books, and it urgently needs refuting. Stephen, he says (Kenner’s Ulysses, p. 152), is practically blind all through the book; his eyes without his glasses focus eight inches in front of his nose, and he broke them ‘yesterday’. This proves ...
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 ...

The Ultimate Novel

William Empson

2 September 1982
Ulysses 
by Hugh Kenner.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £10, March 1982, 0 00 480003 6
Show More
A Starchamber Quiry: A James Joyce Centennial Volume 1882-1982 
edited by E.L. Epstein.
Methuen, 164 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 416 31560 7
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... So far, I may have given more expression of preference than solid argument. I need now to list the main details throughout the book which prepare the reader for Stephen to accept the Bloom Offer. There is at once a rather quaint obstacle. Most readers of Ulysses do not believe in omens, but Joyce eagerly did; in this he is genuinely like Homer. Four of the ...
26 October 1989
Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 358 pp., £16.95, July 1989, 0 7011 2938 7
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For Sylvia: An Honest Account 
by Valentine Ackland.
Chatto, 135 pp., £6.95, July 1989, 9780701135621
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... cleverest fellow we had’. She described herself as repelled by the ‘devouring femaleness’ of her mother and as owning a ‘preponderantly masculine’ intellect. At the age of 36 she fell for a young woman with a face like a sulky choirboy, and relaxed into a lifelong partnership, explaining: ‘I lean more and more on her trousers.’ Claire Harman has written a bright and freshly-expressed ...
5 May 1988
A Matter of Justice: The Legal System in Ferment 
by Michael Zander.
Tauris, 323 pp., £16.50, February 1988, 1 85043 040 3
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The Coercive State: The Decline of Democracy in Britain 
by Paddy Hillyard and Janie Percy-Smith.
Fontana, 352 pp., £5.95, February 1988, 0 00 637083 7
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... summarising the private discussion of defence counsel about how to use jury challenges in order to improve the chances of acquittal in the Cyprus secrets trial: [A]’s point was that we wanted a young, working-class jury. [B] made the comment that he really wanted an anti-establishment jury and that we were better off to have a young middle-age middle-class jury ... [C] indicated that if the jury ...
6 February 2014
Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
by David Plante.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 1 4088 3975 1
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The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 
edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 481 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7011 8678 4
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... James) and meets the love of his life, a unique Greek called Nikos Stangos. The boys were fascinated by Bloomsbury – the books, the people, the scarves, the gossip – which led them to venerate Stephen Spender as one of its last links. Squeezed into a narrow bed, they would read Spender’s World within World together and admire ‘that entirely English’ set-up in which, Plante wrote at the time ...

From Soup to Fish

Andrew O’Hagan: The Spender Marriage

17 December 2015
A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents 
by Matthew Spender.
William Collins, 448 pp., £25, August 2015, 978 0 00 813206 4
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... In​ the 1990s, when literary parties were more fun, or I was more fun, I used occasionally to see Stephen Spender: there he was, the establishment on quivering legs, queer as a chocolate orange but safely married. (When I spoke to him, I discovered he could flirt with his eyes shut.) Frank Kermode, a ...
22 November 2012
The Zenith 
by Duong Thu Huong, translated by Stephen Young and Hoa Pham Young.
Viking US, 509 pp., £25, August 2012, 978 0 670 02375 2
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... Wilson’s aides met him briefly, but self-determination was a privilege restricted to Europeans (though not Germans). He looks awkward in the photograph taken at Versailles, a sleek, well-dressed young man who found it difficult to manage the obligatory smile. The rebuff radicalised him further. At the Socialist Party Congress in Tours in 1920, he backed the pro-Bolshevik faction that created the ...

Ventures

Susannah Clapp

10 November 1988
The Suzy Lamplugh Story 
by Andrew Stephen.
Faber, 198 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 571 15152 3
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... letter at her desk. Some months later, Diana Lamplugh was able to provide another chilling announcement: ‘We are probably (bar the Royals) one of the most well-known families in Britain.’ Andrew Stephen’s book has added to this celebrity. So have the newspaper stories about his story. For three long weeks the Observer carried huge chunks of this tiny book. Their estimate of the story which was ...
6 December 1984
Frederic Harrison: The Vocations of a Positivist 
by Martha Vogeler.
Oxford, 493 pp., £27.50, September 1984, 0 19 824733 8
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Leslie StephenThe Godless Victorian 
by Noël Annan.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £16.50, September 1984, 0 297 78369 6
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... Frederic Harrison once climbed Mont Blanc and found Leslie Stephen on the top. Not an improbable location for the encounter of two eminent Victorians: and they might equally have met in George Eliot’s drawing-room. Whereas Stephen was much the more distinguished ...

Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde

5 February 1998
The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen​ Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... by an overwhelming sense of catastrophe. Holland traces the story back to 1930 and to Ada Leverson, who – he suggests – probably heard it from Reggie Turner. In her version, ‘a curious, very young, but hard-eyed creature appeared, looked at him, gave a sort of laugh, and passed on. He felt, he said, “as if an icy hand had clutched at his heart”. He had a sudden presentiment. He saw a ...

Baby Brothers

Dinah Birch

18 April 1996
Love, Again 
by Doris Lessing.
HarperCollins, 345 pp., £15.99, April 1996, 0 00 223936 1
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Playing the Game 
by Doris Lessing, illustrated by Charlie Adlard.
HarperCollins, 64 pp., £6.99, December 1995, 0 586 21689 8
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... of Doris Lessing’s uncompromising intelligence turn into a little old lady? Not easily, especially if body conspires with mind in refusing to retire gracefully. ‘Most men and more women – young women afraid for themselves – punish older women with derision, punish them with cruelty, when they show inappropriate signs of sexuality.’ Having scorned maiden timidities sixty years ago ...

Anglo-America

Stephen​ Fender

3 April 1980
The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England, 1894-1914 
by Stanley Weintraub.
W.H. Allen, 408 pp., £7.95, November 1979, 0 491 02209 3
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The Americans: Fifty Letters from America on our Life and Times 
by Alistair Cooke.
Bodley Head, 323 pp., £5.95, October 1979, 0 370 30163 3
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... because lively books do not appear all that regularly; and also because of a certain pessimism about the cultural horsepower of Europe, as compared to America, which has been fashionable ever since Stephen Spender’s Love-Hate Relations. Philip Toynbee, in the Observer, came right out with it: ‘by now it is hard to see any reason why an American writer or artist should wish to settle either in Paris ...

His Spittin’ Image

Colm Tóibín: John Stanislaus Joyce

22 February 2018
... A father​ is a necessary evil,’ Stephen Dedalus says in Ulysses. In Yeats: The Man and the Masks, Richard Ellmann quoted Ivan Karamazov: ‘Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?’ ‘From the Urals to Donegal,’ Ellmann writes, the ...
30 October 1997
Noel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 150 pp., £15.95, November 1996, 0 231 10596 7
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Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall 
edited by Joanne Glasgow.
New York, 273 pp., £20, March 1997, 0 8147 3092 2
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Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, June 1997, 9780719554087
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... beginning of things like me.’ Radclyffe Hall has long since been left behind, along with Joan Ogden, the heroine of her first novel, The Unlit Lamp, and the character to whom these words refer. The young women she had overheard, Ogden thought, were ‘aggressively intelligent ... not at all self-conscious in their tailor-made clothes, not ashamed of their cropped hair; women who did things well ...

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