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Catastrophe

Claude Rawson, 1 October 1981

The Sinking of the Titanic 
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Carcanet, 98 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 85635 372 8
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Paul Celan: Poems 
translated by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 85635 313 2
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Talk about the Last Poet 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 78 pp., £4.50, July 1981, 0 370 30434 9
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... says ‘third-class passenger Daniel Buckley’ admitted seeking safety this way and there may have been others) and a Gothic phantasmagoria of ‘hermaphrodites ... showing their orifices’ in the Turkish bath and dowagers getting themselves whipped under the card table by depraved cabin boys. The official account of an orderly and even ...

Suffocating Suspense

Richard Davenport-Hines, 16 March 2000

Cult Criminals: The Newgate Novels 1830-47 
by Juliet John.
Routledge, 2750 pp., £399, December 1998, 0 415 14383 7
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... Lady of Lyons proved so humiliating to the Times in 1838 that it retaliated with an attack which W.C Macready called ‘vulgar, virulent and impotent from its display of malice’. Bulwer-Lytton was thought too delicate for education at Eton, and was tutored at home under the eye of a protective mother. His Bulwer father owned the Wood Dalling estate in ...

The Tarnished Age

Richard Mayne, 3 September 1981

David O. Selznick’s Hollywood 
by Ronald Haver.
Secker, 425 pp., £35, December 1980, 0 436 19128 8
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My Early life 
by Ronald Reagan and Richard Hubler.
Sidgwick, 316 pp., £7.95, April 1981, 0 283 98771 5
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Naming Names 
by Victor Navasky.
Viking, 482 pp., $15.95, October 1980, 0 670 50393 2
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... probably skip the hermetic accounts of American football games, as earnest as Sportsnight. They may enjoy Reagan’s tales of his beginnings in radio, including the inadvertent signing-off of Aimée Semple McPherson, the evangelist, with a Mills Brothers record of ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’. And they’ll wince at his verdict on filming The ...

Enlarging Insularity

Patrick McGuinness: Donald Davie, 20 January 2000

With the Grain: Essays on Thomas Hardy and Modern British Poetry 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 346 pp., £14.95, October 1998, 1 85754 394 7
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... of intention, extremely limited objectives’ – was, in fact, enormously challenging. The book may be ‘about’ Hardy, but its aim is to contextualise a British poetry which, while having Larkin as its ‘centrally representative’ figure (Davie makes this prescient claim for Larkin very early on, in 1963), can accommodate writers such as Prynne and ...

Out of the East

Blair Worden, 11 October 1990

The King’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey 
by Peter Gwyn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 666 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7126 2190 3
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Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution 
by John Morrill.
Longman, 300 pp., £17.95, May 1990, 0 582 06064 8
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The Writings of William Walwyn 
edited by Jack McMichael and Barbara Taft.
Georgia, 584 pp., $45, July 1989, 0 8203 1017 4
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... the Church against the Lutheran threat, which Wolsey took very seriously (and which the reader may suspect to have owed some of its following to anti-clericalism). If Wolsey’s plans for reforms were limited, it was because fundamental change was unnecessary. If they were not fully implemented, it was because he prudently avoided confrontation. He was ...

Signing

Ian Hacking, 5 April 1990

Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 186 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 330 31161 1
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When the mind hears: A History of the Deaf 
by Harlan Lane.
Penguin, 537 pp., £6.99, August 1988, 0 14 022834 9
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Deafness: A Personal Account 
by David Wright.
Faber, 202 pp., £4.99, January 1990, 0 571 14195 1
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... civilisation. This new understanding of Sign – as any of the natural and regional sign languages may be called – matters to all of us. It will, I think, have profound effects on what future generations think that language ‘is’. In speaking of ‘natural’ languages I mean just that: languages that evolve in the ways in which spoken languages do, but ...

Who had the most fun?

David Bromwich: The Marx Brothers, 10 May 2001

Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 480 pp., £7.99, April 2001, 0 14 029426 0
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The Essential Groucho 
by Groucho Marx, edited by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 254 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 14 029425 2
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... Julius was the original name, but one may as well call him Groucho, from the ‘grouch bag’ carried by travelling showmen. His parents were Jewish immigrants: Simon Marrix, of a family of tailors from Alsace-Lorraine, and Minna Schoenberg, the daughter of a Dutch magician who emigrated when his work in Germany ran out in the 1870s ...

Chastened

Lorna Tracy, 3 September 1981

The Habit of Being: Letters by Flannery O’Connor 
edited by Sally Fitzgerald.
Farrar, Straus/Faber, 639 pp., £8.25, January 1979, 0 571 12017 2
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The violent bear it away 
by Flannery O’Connor.
Faber, 226 pp., £2.95, September 1980, 0 571 12017 2
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A good man is hard to find 
by Flannery O’Connor.
Women’s Press, 251 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7043 2832 1
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... as fiction always must be for O’Connor, out of believable materials. Its logic requires that Mrs May end up symbolically raped and then killed (it is all one continuous act) by a loose bull on her farm – not even a registered ‘gentleman’ bull, either, but a scrub belonging to her tenant’s sons. It is not the hardness of Christian realism that ...

Tummy-Talkers

Jonathan Rée: Ventriloquists, 10 May 2001

Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism 
by Steven Connor.
Oxford, 449 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 19 818433 6
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... 12 million (roughly the same as Coronation Street today). In retrospect and on paper his act may look dull and formulaic: he simply got uppity with a luckless straight man called Peter Brough and showered him with childish insults. But he was able to bring on a troop of co-stars – Max Bygraves (‘I’ve arrived … and to prove it, I’m ...

The Devil upon Two Sticks

Charles Nicholl: Samuel Foote, 23 May 2013

Mr Foote’s Other Leg: Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London 
by Ian Kelly.
Picador, 462 pp., £18.99, October 2012, 978 0 330 51783 6
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... in the 1760s, a summer season at the Haymarket theatre earned his company up to £5000, which may be multiplied a hundredfold for its value today. He had a townhouse on Suffolk Street, round the corner from the Haymarket, and a large leafy residence out in Fulham, and a fancy coach to convey him between the two. Always the dandy, he might be seen in a ...

Boxing the City

Gaby Wood, 31 July 1997

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell 
by Deborah Solomon.
Cape, 426 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 224 04242 4
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... dans la rue, ou dans le rêve’. Though Cornell separated himself from the Surrealists, it may be that he beat them, however unintentionally, at their own game. While he was cutting out constellation maps to line his boxes, he was also tracing his own constellations in his favourite routes around the Manhattan grid. As he was thinking of ways to make ...

‘A Being full of Witching’

Charles Nicholl: The ‘poor half-harlot’ of Hazlitt’s affections, 18 May 2000

... this purpose. This steamy logbook was not published in its entirety until the late 1950s. To these may be added some passages in other published writings by Hazlitt, and some comments by well-informed bystanders, not least the outgoing Mrs Hazlitt, whose journal briskly records their divorce proceedings in Scotland. From these overlapping sources one can ...

Places Never Explained

Colm Tóibín: Anthony Hecht, 8 August 2013

The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht 
edited by Jonathan Post.
Johns Hopkins, 365 pp., £18, November 2012, 978 1 4214 0730 2
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... in what was happening. The heightened images of tension and disruption in her poems of the 1940s may have had other sources too, but the war made its way into the nervous system of her poems indirectly and mysteriously. Robert Lowell was a high-profile conscientious objector, writing to Roosevelt in September 1943 with a ‘Declaration of Personal ...

Jungle Joys

Alfred Appel Jr: Wa-Wa-Wa with the Duke, 5 September 2002

... and issues no passports. This swirling, uplifting work (its oak kept young and vital by varnish) may also realise Brancusi’s sole intention, ‘to bring joy’, and he’s abetted by its accessibility, a vexing issue in regard to Modernism’s afterlife. How often is Ulysses read beyond the classroom? Have you ever noticed how most museum-goers don’t ...

Larkin and Us

Barbara Everett, 4 November 1982

Larkin at Sixty 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 148 pp., £7.95, May 1982, 9780571118786
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The Art of Philip Larkin 
by Simon Petch.
Sydney University Press, 108 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 424 00090 3
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... photographs, and what seems in reproduction a surprisingly bad drawing of the poet, but the text may foil anyone whose ‘Larkin’ is the author of the three main volumes of verse – and it is hard to see what other readers the editor could have looked for. Such a reader may finish this enjoyable collection of essays ...

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