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Bernard Porter: Spies in the Congo

19 October 2016
Spies in the Congo: The Race for the Ore that Built the Atomic Bomb 
by Susan Williams.
Hurst, 369 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 84904 638 1
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... still there – they were arguably more powerful than the Belgian colonial bureaucracy – and conditions for the Congolese people working for them were dire. There’s a sickening description in SusanWilliams’s book, from an American observer in the 1940s, of the flogging of a Congolese man with a chicotte – ‘a whip made of leather thongs tipped with metal’ – for stealing a pack of ...

Streets Full of Suitors

Jonah Miller: Early Modern Women

20 August 2014
City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London 
by Eleanor Hubbard.
Oxford, 297 pp., £24.99, September 2014, 978 0 19 872204 5
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Women, Work and Sociability in Early Modern London 
by Tim Reinke-Williams.
Palgrave, 225 pp., £60, April 2014, 978 1 137 37209 3
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... mind the shop, and at the end, when they leave in a huff, the widow declares: ‘We have some credit where we dwell’ and ‘We are London Gentle-women borne.’ Both Eleanor Hubbard and Tim Reinke-Williams emphasise that ‘sexual behaviour was not the only activity which determined female identity and reputation.’ They use court records to examine the lives of 17th-century London women who married ...

You’re only interested in Hitler, not me

Susan​ Pedersen: Shirley Williams

19 December 2013
Shirley WilliamsThe Biography 
by Mark Peel.
Biteback, 461 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 1 84954 604 1
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... Mark Peel organises his serviceable authorised biography of Shirley Williams around an ostensible conundrum. Why didn’t Williams achieve more politically? Why did the polarising, hectoring Margaret Thatcher, rather than the consensus-seeking, appealing Williams, become Britain’s first woman prime minister? This is a common ...

At City Hall

Susan​ McKay: Belfast Protests

7 February 2013
... From a working-class Protestant background, articulate and passionately anti-sectarian, she accused Unionist leaders of starting the trouble in a bid to unseat her. The Alliance councillor Noel Williams called the protests a ‘full frontal attack on democracy’. Long said they had the ‘dynamics of a pogrom’, and reminded those involved that they were wrapping themselves in a flag under which ...

Simplicity

Marilyn Butler: What Jane Austen Read

5 March 1998
Jane Austen: A Life 
by David Nokes.
Fourth Estate, 578 pp., £20, September 1997, 1 85702 419 2
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Jane Austen: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 341 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 670 86528 1
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... and indeed relies on them for her boldest innovation, a reconstruction of Austen’s inner life. Here Tomalin makes some risky moves. Arbitrarily chosen characters from the novels – Lady Susan, Marianne Dashwood, Mary Crawford – speak for their author’s repressed desires. Unsupported guesses, strategically placed in the story, take the weight of the biographer’s argument. Of Austen ...

Locum, Lacum, Lucum

Anthony Grafton: The Emperor of Things

13 September 2018
Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector 
by Susan​ Nalezyty.
Yale, 277 pp., £50, May 2017, 978 0 300 21919 7
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Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist 
by Gareth Williams.
Oxford, 440 pp., £46.49, August 2017, 978 0 19 027229 6
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... it against a printed edition, which survives, and recorded ‘even its obvious errors’, since some of them might yield emendations. Pietro, Poliziano noted, helped him do this work. As Gareth Williams shows, Pietro also made a collation of his own, in some respects more detailed than the master’s, parts of which he would eventually publish. That Bembo wrote what his contemporaries thought to be ...

Peripheries

Charles Rzepka

21 March 1991
The Puritan-Provincial Vision: Scottish and American Literature in the 19th Century 
by Susan​ Manning.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £32.50, May 1990, 0 521 37237 2
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... Provincial Vision is not a book of dream interpretation, but it does purport to detect the workings of a puritan-provincial ‘state of mind’ in tales that closely resemble my dream narrative. Susan Manning argues that themes of the pursuer becoming the pursued, of self-mirroring and doubling, of pilgrimages and impenetrable ‘centres’, are, in a special sense, Calvinistic, and reflect ...

Leaf, Button, Dog

Susan​ Eilenberg: The Sins of Hester Thrale

1 November 2001
According to Queeney 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Little, Brown, 242 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 316 85867 6
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... In it are a ribbon pretending to have belonged to Frances Thrale (dead in infancy) but in fact stolen from a nurse’s work-basket and fraudulently labelled, a poem about sunsets written by Mrs Williams all by herself with no help at all from Dr Johnson, a tuft of hair looking like something ‘plucked from the rump of a squirrel’ and purporting to come from the head of Mr Pope, together with an ...

Cockaigne

Frank Kermode

24 October 1991
Orwell: The Authorised Biography 
by Michael Shelden.
Heinemann, 563 pp., £18.50, October 1991, 0 434 69517 3
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... he is often so flaccid that one can’t help reflecting that this, after all, is a book about Orwell. Here is a passage describing a crisis, late in Orwell’s life, when he was living in Jura. Susan Watson was a partly crippled woman who had come to look after him and his adopted son. All went well until Avril, Orwell’s sister, turned up and decided she wanted to stay. Susan Watson ‘may have ...

Little Lame Balloonman

August Kleinzahler: E.E. Cummings

8 October 2014
E.E. Cummings: The Complete Poems, 1904-62 
edited by George James Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £36, September 2013, 978 0 87140 710 8
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E.E. Cummings: A Life 
by Susan​ Cheever.
Pantheon, 209 pp., £16, February 2014, 978 0 307 37997 9
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... the most popular poet in the United States after Robert Frost, and from early in his career, among the most admired by writers and critics. It wasn’t just the usual modernist suspects like Pound, Williams, Stevens and Marianne Moore who sang his praises, but other, very different kinds of poet too: Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, Octavio Paz, Louis Zukofsky and Charles Olson. As did any number of critics ...

‘A Naughty House’

Charles Nicholl: Shakespeare’s Landlord

24 June 2010
... at the Middlesex Sessions of 1 December 1613 was one which involved three French ‘goldworkers’ resident in the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate, and a woman from Whitechapel called Frances Williams. The charge was fornication. Though not in itself unusual, the charge had an extra twist, repeated with minor variations in most of the entries relating to it: ‘they were all 4 seene in bed ...

Destined to Disappear

Susan​ Pedersen: ‘Race Studies’

19 October 2016
White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations 
by Robert Vitalis.
Cornell, 272 pp., $29.95, November 2015, 978 0 8014 5397 7
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... political scientists Ralph Bunche (PhD Harvard 1934) and Merze Tate (PhD Radcliffe 1941) – though he also notes the contributions of the historians E. Franklin Frazier (PhD Chicago 1931) and Eric Williams (PhD Oxford 1938), who taught at Howard before returning to Trinidad in the late 1940s. Of the main four, all but Tate – the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in this field – are ...

At the V&A

Peter Campbell: Quilts

22 April 2010
... and contemporary discourses on authority’. Maker unknown, Wales, 1860s But a quilt as commentary is not new. The patchwork made in his spare time in the decade between 1842 and 1852 by James Williams, a Welsh tailor, shows Cain and Abel, Noah and his ark and no end of animals. It also applauds modern engineering with representations of the Menai suspension bridge and the Cefn viaduct. There are ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers

19 April 2017
... some extent shared the romance of being a part of it in old New York. For me, the city didn’t just mean Frank Sinatra and Studio 54, it meant Alfred Kazin and Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman and Susan Sontag. I loved its papers, the swagger of the contributors, the New York intellectuals, with their neuroses, their arguments, their marriages, and their parties. Wilson’s disagreement with Nabokov ...

In the Front Row

Susan​ Pedersen: Loving Lloyd George

25 January 2007
. . . If Love Were All: The Story of Frances Stevenson and David Lloyd George 
by John Campbell.
Cape, 557 pp., £25, June 2006, 0 224 07464 4
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... with a more loyal and effective ally than any of his contemporaries had. Stevenson may have been the most influential female political secretary until Harold Wilson’s right-hand woman Marcia Williams, but you would never know it from this book. Campbell’s single-minded concentration on the private also unintentionally makes Lloyd George what he never was in life: boring. Love letters are ...

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