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Getting on

Gabriele Annan

20 December 1984
The Ledge between the Streams 
by Ved Mehta.
Harvill, 531 pp., £12.50, July 1984, 0 00 272153 8
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... At the beginning of The Ledge between the Streams, the fourth volume of his autobiography, Ved Mehta has got to 1942. Many of his readers will already know that he is a blind Indian writer living in New York, and that he was born in the Punjab in 1934, the son of an ‘England-returned’ doctor in the government medical service ...

Being there

Ian Hamilton

7 October 1993
Up at Oxford 
by Ved Mehta.
Murray, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 0 7195 5287 7
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... When Ved Mehta enrolled as an undergraduate at Balliol in 1956, he thought he had arrived in heaven. He was at ‘the holiest of holy places’. For three years he would be dwelling ‘among the world’s liveliest minds, in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet ...

A Hindu Marriage

Gabriele Annan

19 June 1980
by Ved Mehta.
Oxford, 334 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 19 502640 3
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... In 1956, when he was 22 and about to go up to Oxford, Ved Mehta finished an autobiography, Face to Face: a provisional one, naturally, under the circumstances. In 1972, he published Daddyji, a life of his father. Daddyji was born circa 1895, but the book reaches back to the birth of the grandfather, and beyond: though the beyond is rather shadowy ...

Chasing Kites

Michael Wood: The Craziness of Ved Mehta

23 February 2006
The Red Letters: My Father’s Enchanted Period 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 190 pp., £15.99, November 2004, 0 9543520 6 8
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Remembering Mr Shawn’s ‘New Yorker’ 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 414 pp., £19.99, November 2004, 9780954352059
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Dark Harbour 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 272 pp., £17.99, November 2004, 0 9543520 4 1
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... and may be genuine even when they pick the wrong occasion. This perception is precisely where Ved Mehta’s memoir The Red Letters ends, and with it his extraordinary 11-volume autobiography, Continents of Exile, begun in 1972. Mehta is remembering his father’s tears at a particular, unlikely moment, and has been ...

What is progress?

William Doyle

6 March 1986
What is history? 
by E.H. Carr, edited by R.W. Davies.
Macmillan, 154 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 333 38956 5
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... completely to change his mind about the Whig interpretation. But in 1962 Butterfield told Ved Mehta that the passage cited by Carr to make this point had first been written in 1938. When Butterfield revealed this to Carr, he simply refused to believe it. Here was the dogmatic mind behind the seductive logic that makes What is history? such a ...


Susan Pedersen: A.J.P. Taylor

10 May 2007
A.J.P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe 
by Chris Wrigley.
Tauris, 439 pp., £25, August 2006, 1 86064 286 1
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... he was leading a highly compartmentalised life, spending four days a week at Magdalen (where he lived in college) and dividing the weekends in London between his new and his old families. Unconventional this may have been, but as Wrigley shows, Taylor found it highly functional. Up at dawn and at the typewriter soon afterwards to tap out his thousand words a ...


Neal Ascherson: Hugh Trevor-Roper

19 August 2010
Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Weidenfeld, 598 pp., £25, July 2010, 978 0 297 85214 8
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... Socially, it had long been a cut above the rest.’ The ambience when Trevor-Roper arrived resembled that of Regency Eton: young bloods pursuing their habits of drinking, gambling and fighting, while treating the dons rather like elderly servants who could be trusted not to make them open a book. In the midst of all this lurked the minority of ...

Where Does He Come From?

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Placing V.S. Naipaul

1 November 2007
A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 193 pp., £16.99, September 2007, 978 0 330 48524 1
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... own sensibility in the mid-1950s and a half-century later. In his youth, Naipaul recounts, he believed that ‘things ran their course; elections took place, and the United States and Great Britain continued much as they had done.’ This otherwise incomprehensible indifference to current events is seen by him in 2007 as possessing one major virtue: ‘When I ...

What’s not to like?

Stefan Collini: Ernest Gellner

2 June 2011
Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography 
by John Hall.
Verso, 400 pp., £29.99, July 2010, 978 1 84467 602 6
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... hated enemy. Ernest finished his schooling at St Alban’s County School for Boys, where he received a report from his history master that seems mischievously prophetic of the response the pupil’s mature work would provoke from its numerous critics: ‘Ideas brilliant. But he needs to work harder on the facts.’ From here, the already intellectually ...

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