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Lachrymatics

Ferdinand Mount: British Weeping, 17 December 2015

Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears 
by Thomas Dixon.
Oxford, 438 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 19 967605 7
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... is a slippery enterprise. At the end of his immensely readable and often puckish exploration, Thomas Dixon sighs, with reason, that ‘it is impossible to pin tears down.’ Dixon directs the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. Keats might have thought this rather like a ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... a three-hour account of the Civil War and Reconstruction adapted from a popular melodrama by Thomas Dixon, was the longest, costliest and most spectacular American movie to date. The screen had never been filled with so many actors and so much action; battle scenes had never been so vivid; and the past had never been represented with such ...

Their Way

José Harris: On the Origin of Altruism, 12 March 2009

The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain 
by Thomas Dixon.
British Academy, 420 pp., £60, May 2008, 978 0 19 726426 3
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... by arguing that words in themselves may actively remould the concepts to which they refer. Thus, Dixon suggests that ‘altruism’ did more than merely replicate older terms such as ‘charity’ or ‘beneficence’, with which it seemed to be synonymous; it added new dimensions of substantive meaning and application that subtly altered the ways in which ...

Everything You Know

Ian Sansom: Hoods, 3 November 2016

Hood 
by Alison Kinney.
Bloomsbury, 163 pp., £9.99, March 2016, 978 1 5013 0740 9
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... precisely to 1905, to an illustration by someone called Arthur Keller for the play developed by Thomas Dixon from his novel The Clansman, in turn adapted by D.W. Griffith into his film The Birth of a Nation (1915), which featured heroic Klansmen riding across America in their billowing white garb. Life imitated art: Klan hoods were soon being marketed ...
Mason & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... bookshop. It’s been painted on the glass by hand. It’s from the first sentence of Mason – Dixon. Thomas Pynchon was born on Long Island, New York in 1937. He studied engineering, physics and, later, English literature, at Cornell University, then worked as a technical writer for Boeing until 1962. Not long after ...

Call It Capitalism

Thomas Jones: Pynchon, 10 September 2009

Inherent Vice 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 369 pp., £18.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08948 7
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... ceremony to collect the prize. Except that the rambling, shambling figure at the podium wasn’t Thomas Pynchon at all, but a comedian and actor, ‘Professor’ Irwin Corey, who had been hired by Pynchon’s publisher to impersonate the novelist. The audience gradually got the joke as Corey, who was once described by Kenneth Tynan as a ‘travesty of all ...

Humming along

Michael Wood: The Amazing Thomas Pynchon, 4 January 2007

Against the Day 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 1085 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 224 08095 4
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... animals and characters with funny names. I’m not wild about whimsy myself, and a first glance at Thomas Pynchon’s new novel had me worried. I could scarcely be surprised by the funny names or the animals, since Pynchon’s early fiction had people called Dennis Flange, Rachel Owlglass and Emory Bortz, and in Mason & ...

A couple of peep-holes in the pillowcase and off we go a-lynching

Ian Hamilton: The Ku Klux Klan, 30 September 1999

Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of the Ku Klux Klan of the Twenties 
by David Horowitz.
Southern Illinois, 191 pp., £39.95, July 1999, 0 8093 2247 1
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... from the anarchy of black rule’. Birth of a Nation was based on a novel called The Clansman by Thomas Dixon (whose own persistent dream was ‘to prevent the lowering of the standard of our citizenship by its mixture with Negro blood’) and was first screened in 1915, by which date the Klan itself had been formally defunct for more than four decades ...

I have not lived up to it

Helen Vendler: Melancholy Hopkins, 3 April 2014

The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins Vols I-II: Correspondence 
edited by R.K.R. Thorton and Catherine Phillips.
Oxford, 1184 pp., £175, March 2013, 978 0 19 965370 6
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... his own athletic prose. Patmore disliked Hopkins’s poems (pressed on him by Bridges), and Canon Dixon, although sympathetic and genial, doesn’t produce much vivacity. It is good to have the canvas of the exchanges filled in, and there are some livelier moments (especially in Dixon), but these letters from friends ...

Flying the Coop

John Sutherland: Mama Trollope, 19 February 1998

Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman 
by Pamela Neville-Sington.
Viking, 416 pp., £20, November 1997, 0 670 85905 2
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... Frances Milton waited until she was 30 before making a good match with a London barrister. Thomas Anthony Trollope had professional prospects and ‘expectations’ of a rich, unmarried and conveniently antique uncle. The dutiful Mrs Trollope had seven children in ten years (only two were to survive into mature age), while her husband contrived to ruin ...

Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

HMS Glasshouse 
by Sean O’Brien.
Oxford, 56 pp., £5.99, November 1991, 0 19 282835 5
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The Hogweed Lass 
by Alan Dixon.
Poet and Printer, 33 pp., £3, September 1991, 0 900597 39 9
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Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £18.95, November 1991, 0 85635 923 8
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... killed off by the war the vacuum was filled by the extravagant romanticism associated with Dylan Thomas, George Barker and Edith Sitwell. Less than a decade later, with those roses seen as over-blown, Robert Conquest was deploring ‘the omission of the necessary intellectual component from poetry’, gathering several disparate writers under one ...

Don’t you care?

Michael Wood: Richard Powers, 22 February 2007

The Echo Maker 
by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 451 pp., £17.99, January 2007, 978 0 434 01633 4
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... At one moment in Thomas Pynchon’s novel named after them, Mason and Dixon pause to wonder what history’s verdict on their most famous work is likely to be, its ‘assessment of the Good resulting from this Line, vis-à-vis the not-so-good’. A voice, apparently coming from nowhere, says: ‘You wonder? That’s all? What about “care”? Don’t you care?’ The surveyors explain to the voice that surveying is what they do ...

A Talent for Beginnings

Michael Wood: Musil starts again, 15 April 1999

Diaries 1899-1942 
by Robert Musil, translated by Philip Payne.
Basic Books, 557 pp., £27.50, January 1999, 0 465 01650 2
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... addictive pleasure (for some) of reading The Man without Qualities. It’s rather like reading Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. After worrying quite a bit about plot and meaning and when things are going to get moving, you let go and just hang out with the characters, inhabit their world and their arguments and their ...

Quashed Quotatoes

Michael Wood: Finnegans Wake, 16 December 2010

Finnegans Wake 
by James Joyce, edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon.
Houyhnhnm, 493 pp., £250, March 2010, 978 0 9547710 1 0
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Joyce’s Disciples Disciplined 
edited by Tim Conley.
University College Dublin, 185 pp., £42.50, May 2010, 978 1 906359 46 1
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... are by Marcel Brion, Frank Budgen, Stuart Gilbert, Eugene Jolas, Victor Llona, Robert McAlmon, Thomas McGreevy, Elliot Paul, John Rodker, Robert Sage and William Carlos Williams, and there are two ‘letters of protest’, the second written in a sort of Finneganese, and long thought to have been the work of Joyce himself, or ‘Germ’s Choice’, as the ...

Post-Paranoid

Michael Wood: Underworld by Don Delillo, 5 February 1998

Underworld 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 832 pp., £10, February 1998, 0 330 36995 4
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... secret, missing truth. In less paranoid ages ignorance may just be ignorance. Underworld , like Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon , is in this sense a post-paranoid novel. When one of DeLillo’s characters thinks of ‘the paranoid élite’, we are meant to catch the friendly irony, the flicker of nostalgia. These are ...

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