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My Books

Ian Patterson, 4 July 2019

... of envelopes. Books bought in Cambridge from the libraries of Raymond Williams, Dadie Rylands, Tony Tanner, Jack Lindsay and other luminaries. Even the most unassuming books prompted recollections. They composed a sort of biography, each one acting like a door in an advent calendar, opening on to some moment in the past.Still, they had to go. From a ...

Daisy packs her bags

Zachary Leader: The Road to West Egg, 21 September 2000

Trimalchio: An Early Version of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by James L.W. West III.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £30, April 2000, 0 521 40237 9
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... superiority to Trimalchio. This ‘Whiggish’ judgment has many adherents, among them the late Tony Tanner, in an essay on Gatsby in The American Mystery: American Literature from Emerson to DeLillo. For Tanner, perhaps the most distinguished of British ‘Americanists’, Fitzgerald’s revisions are ‘almost ...

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

Literary Education: A Revaluation 
by James Gribble.
Cambridge, 182 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 521 25315 2
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Reconstructing Literature 
edited by Laurence Lerner.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 631 13323 2
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Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory 
by Geoffrey Thurley.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 33436 1
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... English critics who bother with theory are tourists: mid-Atlantic figures like Frank Kermode and Tony Tanner, or Francophiles like Stephen Heath and Stephen Bann. Samuel Johnson had moral principles, but nothing like a theory of literature: he didn’t need one. The force of English common sense is that it leaves you free to deal with the things that ...

On Not Being Sylvia Plath

Colm Tóibín: Thom Gunn on the Move, 13 September 2018

Selected Poems 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2017, 978 0 571 32769 0
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... pool’; ‘You cannot guess the weed I hold,/Clara Green, Acapulco Gold.’ (In a letter to Tony Tanner from May 1968, he wrote: ‘I have a lot of the best ever grass – it is known as Acapulco Gold and is $15 a lid, it is that good.’) He was always interested in the body and the bodiless, or of the body transforming, being taken over by ...

Speaking British

Thomas Jones, 30 March 2000

The Third Woman 
by William Cash.
Little, Brown, 318 pp., £14.99, February 2000, 0 316 85405 0
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Greene on Capri: A Memoir 
by Shirley Hazzard.
Virago, 149 pp., £12.99, January 2000, 1 86049 799 3
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... adultery’, but all his ideas on this subject owe a large (acknowledged) ‘creative debt’ to Tony Tanner (who was Cash’s supervisor at Cambridge). He reveals himself as a pretty poor close-reader in an anecdote about meeting Greene. He subsequently sent the novelist a short story he’d written (‘about an adulterous summer holiday affair that ...

In the Body Bag

Adam Mars-Jones: Ian McEwan’s ‘Nutshell’, 6 October 2016

by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 198 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 911214 33 5
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... the problems. The book is structured by protruding absences, like negative flying buttresses. Tony Tanner in his Prefaces to Shakespeare refers to the ‘ripples of ontological unease’ produced by Hamlet’s staging of The Mousetrap, but there are also uneasy ripples when we’re confronted not by a play-within-a-play but a ...

On Being Left Out

Adam Phillips: On FOMO, 20 May 2021

... one of his ‘favourite books’. These are paradigmatic works about characters who are left out. Tony Tanner once asserted that all novels are about adultery. More fundamentally, we may wonder what literature there is that is not about exclusion. And if all literature is about exclusion, the question is why?It is true​ of both Hamlet and Milton’s ...

The Importance of Aunts

Colm Tóibín, 17 March 2011

... biographer Claire Tomalin sees Mrs Norris as ‘one of the great villains of literature’; Tony Tanner thought she was ‘one of Jane Austen’s most impressive creations and indeed one of the most plausibly odious characters in fiction’. All this is clear, at times rather too clear. What is not clear is what the reader should feel about the ...

What Henry Knew

Michael Wood: Literature and the Taste of Knowledge, 18 December 2003

... Understand’. The whole beauty of the thing is that we can’t know for sure what Maisie knows. Tony Tanner has said that ‘in a sense the book hinges on what Maisie does not know’ – especially what she doesn’t know about sex. But by the same token she can, as Tanner also suggests, deeply know all kinds of ...


Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

Write on: Occasional Essays ’65-’85 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 211 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 436 25665 7
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... sensibility’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Blake Morrison’s The Movement, Martin Amis’s Success, Tony Tanner’s Adultery in the Novel, Graham Greene’s Ways of Escape, Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, the Oxford American Dictionary, two books – by Dan Jacobson and Robert Alter – on Biblical ...


Tony Harrison, 24 January 1985

... The cunts who lieth’ere wor unemployed? This lot worked at one job all life through. Byron, ‘Tanner’, ‘Lieth ’ere interred’ They’ll chisel fucking poet when they do you and that, yer cunt, ’s a crude four-letter word. ‘Listen, cunt!’ I said, ‘before you start your jeering the reason why I want this in a book ’s to give ungrateful ...


John Sutherland: Conrad’s letters, 4 December 2003

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. VI: 1917-19 
edited by Laurence Davies, Frederick R. Karl and Owen Knowles.
Cambridge, 570 pp., £80, December 2002, 0 521 56195 7
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... against the old-style collected edition. On the dustjacket of this (and previous) volumes is Tony Tanner’s compliment: ‘These letters are impeccably edited and presented . . . To anyone interested in the history of fiction writing, or the emergence of Modernism, they are indispensable.’ If they are indispensable shouldn’t the letters appear ...

The Subtleties of Frank Kermode

Michael Wood, 17 December 2009

... that world as a now fragmented and perhaps never really tenable historical fantasy. Writing of Tony Tanner’s intricate study of adultery in the novel (‘there is hardly a page that lacks some original and enriching perception’), he worries about whether critical works like this ‘will ever make much contribution to the common wisdom’. ‘We ...

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