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Obstacles

Penelope Fitzgerald

4 July 1996
Edward Thomas: Selected Letters 
edited by R. George Thomas.
Oxford, 192 pp., £30, March 1996, 0 19 818562 6
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... of Edward Thomas’s early life, treats him not only with respect but with love. Thomas saw himself with bitter clarity. ‘I suppose one does get help to some extent by being helpless, but when one doesn’t – it’s as if one had no pride at all.’ In October 1907 he wrote: ‘I went out and thought what effects my suicide would have. I don’t ...

Hobohemianism

Blake Morrison

30 June 2011
The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp 
by W.H. Davies.
Amberley, 192 pp., £14.99, September 2010, 978 1 84868 980 0
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... According to W.H. Davies, tramps often buried surplus items of clothing or footwear by the side of the road, knowing they could retrieve them should they pass the same way again. In his second volume of autobiography, Later Days, published in 1925, Davies lists a few of his deposits: a shirt on the banks of the Mississippi, a pair of boots in the Allegheny mountains, a coat under rocks on Long Island Sound ...

Settling down

Karl Miller

20 November 1980
Young Emma 
by W.H. Davies.
Cape, 158 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 224 01853 1
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... Davies? Oh, he was a sort of natural, wasn’t he – like Clare?’ James Reeves’s Introduction to his Penguin anthology of Georgian poetry puts this absentminded question into the mouth of an unidentified intellectual of recent times. It refers to the author of the present book, who is also the author of the once-famous Autobiography of a Super-Tramp and of some six hundred poems ...

Young Wystan

Ian Hamilton

8 September 1994
Juvenilia: Poems 1922-28 
by W.H. Auden, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Faber, 263 pp., £25, July 1994, 0 571 17140 0
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... W.H. Auden once revealed his ‘life-long conviction that in any company I am the youngest person present.’ This confession, made when he was 58, perhaps raised a shifty smile among those of his acolytes who had grown used to the crotchety, old-womanish persona of his later years – the early nights, the carpet slippers, and so on ...
5 April 1984
The Life of Arthur Ransome 
by Hugh Brogan.
Cape, 456 pp., £10.95, January 1984, 0 224 02010 2
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Bohemia in London 
by Arthur Ransome, introduced by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Oxford, 284 pp., £3.50, January 1984, 0 19 281412 5
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... the author of children’s tales loved by millions – nor that his liking for the verse of W.H. Davies, from which he quoted at length in Bohemia, was the portent of a shift in taste which would dominate middlebrow readers for decades. Young Ransome – 23 when he published Bohemia – did realise that he lived in a phase of transition. He ...
4 July 1985
Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered 
by William Pritchard.
Oxford, 186 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 19 503462 7
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... for a long time’). Frost soon became friendly with the Georgian poets, Lascelles Abercrombie, W.H. Davies and Wilfrid Gibson, and he formed a truly close friendship, probably the closest of his life, with Edward Thomas. Frost and his family sailed for home early in 1915. The outbreak of war had cut short his foray into literary London, but from a ...

No False Modesty

Rosemary Hill: Edith Sitwell

20 October 2011
Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius 
by Richard Greene.
Virago, 532 pp., £25, March 2011, 978 1 86049 967 8
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... and Sacheverell, their ill-suited and erratic parents and their life at the family home, Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, have long since been lodged, along with the Mitfords and some outlying members of the Bloomsbury group, in the national Pantheon of the higher eccentricity. These are people who, it is felt, with some pride, could only be English and about ...

Their Mad Gallopade

Patrick McGuinness: Nancy Cunard

25 January 2018
Selected Poems 
by Nancy Cunard.
Carcanet, 304 pp., £12.99, October 2016, 978 1 78410 236 4
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... plenty in the life to distract from the work, and recent efforts to bring her poetry back into view have suffered from disproportionate interest in her lovers, her money, her attire, her social status and the reverse Cinderella-arc of her fame and fortune. This new volume, which includes a substantial number of previously unpublished poems, gives her poetry ...
2 February 1984
Come aboard and sail away 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 48 pp., £6, October 1983, 0 907540 37 6
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Children in Exile 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 24 pp., £5, October 1983, 0 907540 39 2
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‘The Memory of War’ and ‘Children in Exile’: Poems 1968-1983 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 110 pp., £1.95, October 1983, 0 14 006812 0
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Some Contemporary Poets of Britain and Ireland: An Anthology 
edited by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 0 85635 469 4
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Nights in the Iron Hotel 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 48 pp., £4, November 1983, 0 571 13116 6
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The Irish Lights 
by Charles Johnston and Kyril Fitzlyon.
Bodley Head, 77 pp., £4.50, September 1983, 0 370 30557 4
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Fifteen to Infinity 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 62 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 09 152471 7
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Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature 
edited by George Dekker.
Carcanet, 153 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 9780856354663
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... matters most. This may beg a lot more questions, but except to critics it is clear enough. When W.H. Davies says he saw the wind dragging the corn by her golden hair into a dark wood, the startling and exciting information goes straight inside us. Complex reactions then occur; theorists of rhetoric can tell us how the effect is achieved; but the truth ...

Ministry of Apparitions

Malcolm Gaskill: Magical Thinking in 1918

4 July 2019
A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination and Faith during the First World War 
by Owen Davies.
Oxford, 284 pp., £20, October 2018, 978 0 19 879455 4
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... were so many real reports of supernatural phenomena on the front line. In A Supernatural War, Owen Davies leads us from the conflict into a haunted world filled with magical thinking and uncanny experiences. ‘The greatest virtue [of history],’ the historian Tom Griffiths has written, ‘is uncompromising complexity.’ And that’s what we get in ...

Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Sonnet

Barbara Everett: The Sonnets

8 May 2008
... be, nor your affairs suppose, But like a sad slave sit and think of naught Save where you are how happy you make those. So true a fool is love, that in your will, Though you do anything, he thinks no ill. Shakespeare wrote at moments more richly and deeply than this. But Sonnet 57 is the voice of the man, the man who achieved both great comedies and great ...

Faber Book of Groans

Christopher Ricks

1 March 1984
Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 
by Philip Larkin.
Faber, 315 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 571 13120 4
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... to live as he likes as far as society will let him; secondly, that other people besides Angel Dan Davies enjoy poetry, jazz and sex; and thirdly that, appalling as it would be to have Itchy Dave Gelden coming in one’s door ‘fidgeting and scratching his crotch’ (‘Hi, what’s cookin’? Are we gonna blow some poetry, maybe?’), he would probably be no ...
9 October 1986
The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. II: 1898-1902 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 483 pp., £27.50, August 1986, 0 521 25748 4
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... into all I think, into the lines of every book I try to read. I haven’t read for days. You know how bad it is when one feels one’s liver, or lungs. Well I feel my brain. I am distinctly conscious of the contents of my head. My story is there in a fluid – an evading shape. There is no question here of dryness or sterility. Conrad’s material is there ...

Funny Mummy

E.S. Turner

2 December 1982
The Penguin Stephen Leacock 
by Robertson Davies.
Penguin, 527 pp., £2.95, October 1981, 0 14 005890 7
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Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography 
by Joseph Connolly.
Orbis, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85613 349 3
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Three Men in a Boat 
by Jerome K. Jerome, annotated and introduced by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green.
Joseph, 192 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 907516 08 4
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The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert 
edited by Peter Haining.
Robson, 255 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 86051 200 2
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... for nearly twenty years. All three items appear in the present Penguin anthology. Robertson Davies’s choice follows closely that of J.B. Priestley, but this is no doubt because large areas of the humorist’s works are undeniably dated. There is a generous helping from Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the nearest he got to writing a novel, and also ...
15 September 1988
Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: The Search for Love, 1856-1898 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 486 pp., £16, September 1988, 0 7011 3332 5
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Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. Vol. IV 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 946 pp., £30, June 1988, 0 370 31130 2
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Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. VIII 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 175 pp., $25, April 1988, 0 271 00613 7
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Shaw’s Sense of History 
by J.L. Wisenthal.
Oxford, 186 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812892 4
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Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. III: 1903-1907 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 532 pp., £35, April 1988, 0 521 32387 8
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Joseph Conrad: ‘Nostromo’ 
by Ian Watt.
Cambridge, 98 pp., £12.50, April 1988, 0 521 32821 7
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... one of the models for Du Maurier’s Svengali. He was a bit shady, a bit of a rogue – a type Shaw habitually fell for and habitually treated with great generosity. In conscious or unconscious emulation he liked to attach himself to married couples. These triangles recur throughout his earlier life, and crop up in Candida and in The Devil’s Disciple. The ...

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