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Unquiet Deaths

Patrick Parrinder, 3 September 1987

Two Lives and a Dream 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 245 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 85628 160 3
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The Wedding at Port-au-Prince 
by Hans Christoph Buch, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Faber, 259 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 571 14928 6
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Saints and Scholars 
by Terry Eagleton.
Verso, 145 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 86091 180 2
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Imperial Patient: The Memoirs of Nero’s Doctor 
by Alex Comfort.
Duckworth, 206 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 7156 2168 8
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... broody, sombre Stoicism of Two Lives and a Dream is meticulously rendered in the translation by Walter Kaiser and the author. The jingling phrase ‘among his host of ghosts’ for dans la troupe de ses fantômes is the one thing that may cause a raised eyebrow or two, but even this presumably bears the stamp of Yourcenar’s authority. Marguerite ...

Old Ladies

D.A.N. Jones, 20 August 1992

Dear Departed: A Memoir 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Maria Louise Ascher.
Aidan Ellis, 346 pp., £18, April 1992, 0 85628 186 7
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Anna, Soror 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Harvill, 256 pp., £7.99, May 1992, 0 00 271222 9
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That Mighty Sculptor, Time 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 224 pp., £18, June 1992, 9780856281594
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Coming into the End Zone: A Memoir 
by Doris Grumbach.
Norton, 256 pp., £13.95, April 1992, 0 393 03009 1
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Anything Once 
by Joan Wyndham.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 178 pp., £15.95, March 1992, 9781856191296
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Within Tuscany 
by Matthew Spender.
Viking, 366 pp., £16.99, April 1992, 0 670 83836 5
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... Marguerite Yourcenar was a highly honoured French writer, the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française, but her mother came from the Low Countries. The mother died in 1903, eight days after the daughter’s birth: her married name was Fernande de Crayencour (from which the pen name ‘Yourcenar’ was constructed) and her maiden name was de Cartier de Marchienne ...

Grande Dame

D.A.N. Jones, 18 July 1985

With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Beacon, 271 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 8070 6354 1
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The Dark Brain of Piranesi, and Other Essays 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Richard Howard.
Aidan Ellis, 232 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 85628 140 9
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by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 105 pp., £8.95, January 1984, 0 85628 138 7
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Coup de Grâce 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Grace Frick .
Black Swan, 112 pp., £2.50, October 1984, 9780552991216
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... Marguerite Yourcenar was born in Brussels in 1903. She became a US citizen in 1947 and has lived for more than thirty years on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine. Thus when she was proposed for membership of the French Academy, it was natural that some Frenchmen would make an issue of her nationality, in order to prevent a woman joining their club ...

Prophet in a Tuxedo

Richard J. Evans: Walter Rathenau, 22 November 2012

Walther Rathenau: Weimar’s Fallen Statesman 
by Shulamit Volkov.
Yale, 240 pp., £18.99, April 2012, 978 0 300 14431 4
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... not to demand financial reparations for war damage, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in which the kaiser’s government had forced the nascent Soviet government to cede huge swathes of territory to Germany, was formally repudiated. Rapallo had been backed by Wirth not least because it promised to strengthen the ties that had already formed between the Red ...

A Very Low Birth Rate in Kakania

Nicholas Spice, 16 October 1997

The Man without Qualities 
by Robert Musil, translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike.
Picador, 1774 pp., £40, November 1995, 0 330 34682 2
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The Man without Qualities 
by Robert Musil, translated by Sophie Wilkins.
Picador, 1130 pp., £15, October 1997, 0 330 34942 2
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... true in reverse: the characters who do not have stories are also not in the running for babies. Walter desperately wants a baby, but Clarisse, his wife, won’t co-operate. ‘Nothing doing, my dear!’ she taunts, grabbing a piece of cheese and heading off into the night to observe moths. Clarisse despises Walter for not ...

Uses for Horsehair

David Blackbourn, 9 February 1995

Duelling: The Cult of Honour in Fin-de-Siècle Germany 
by Kevin McAleer.
Princeton, 268 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 691 03462 1
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... and a back-drop of lemon trees especially imported for the occasion. This was life imitating Sir Walter Scott, an outcrop of Romanticism and the desire of rulers to establish their legitimacy in a revolutionary age. I wish that McAleer, who races through the first two-thirds of the 19th century, had said something about this background of invented ...

Some Damn Foolish Thing

Thomas Laqueur: Wrong Turn in Sarajevo, 5 December 2013

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 
by Christopher Clark.
Allen Lane, 697 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 0 7139 9942 6
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... favourite nephew, Wilhelm II of Germany. Wilhelm loved and admired the British and they loved the kaiser: to him, the Times said, belongs ‘the first place among all the foreign mourners’; even when relations were ‘strained’, he ‘never lost his popularity amongst us’. Four years before Armageddon the German emperor was decidedly not the antichrist ...


Eric Hobsbawm: Memories of Weimar, 24 January 2008

... but intellectual and cultural. The word today suggests the Bauhaus, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Walter Benjamin, the great photographer August Sander and a number of remarkable movies. Weitz picks out six names: Thomas Mann, Brecht, Kurt Weill, Heidegger and the less familiar theorist Siegfried Kracauer and the artist Hannah Höch. One could as easily ...

Tod aus Luft

Steven Shapin: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, 26 January 2006

Between Genius and Genocide: The Tragedy of Fritz Haber, Father of Chemical Warfare 
by Daniel Charles.
Cape, 313 pp., £20, September 2005, 0 224 06444 4
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... could not be secured. Haber was already on the job, becoming head of the chemistry department of Walter Rathenau’s Kriegsrohstoffabteilung (War Raw Materials Section). For this, and other reasons, he became a hero of the war effort. The most notorious of his contributions to the war – and probably the one which most engaged his enthusiasm – was poison ...

War on Heisenberg

M.F. Perutz, 18 November 1993

Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb 
by Thomas Powers.
Cape, 610 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 224 03641 6
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Operation Epsilon: The Farm Hall Transcripts 
introduced by Charles Frank.
Institute of Physics, 515 pp., £14.95, May 1993, 0 7503 0274 7
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... of new elements heavier than uranium. In 1935, Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, persuaded her colleague Otto Hahn, a radiochemist, to join her in a further study of these ‘transuranic’ elements. They collaborated until Austria’s occupation by German troops in March 1938 robbed Lise Meitner of her ...

Via Mandela

R.W. Johnson, 5 January 1989

Higher than Hope: ‘Rolihlahla we love you’ 
by Fatima Meer.
Skotaville, 328 pp., R 15, July 1988, 0 947009 59 0
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... Arriving in Johannesburg in 1941, Mandela was quickly recruited into the ANC by the remarkable Walter Sisulu, the grandfather of a whole ANC generation. Sisulu (who, at 76, is still in jail and well worth a birthday celebration or two) was the son of a white father who had quickly abandoned his mother, a black washerwoman. He had little education, and had ...

The Hierophant

Michael Ledger-Lomas: Servant King, 10 March 2022

George V: Never a Dull Moment 
by Jane Ridley.
Chatto, 559 pp., £30, November 2021, 978 0 7011 8870 2
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For King and Country: The British Monarchy and the First World War 
by Heather Jones.
Cambridge, 576 pp., £29.99, September 2021, 978 1 108 42936 8
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... reigned, the First World War decided it in favour of the latter. The king’s appeals to the kaiser and the tsar to prevent war tugged on family ties, but were scripted for him by Asquith’s government. The one time it was suggested that George had taken a lead, the palace panicked, rushing to deny that he had told a Prussian prince that Britain was ...

Hugolian Gothic

Graham Robb: Gargoyles of Notre-Dame, 25 February 2010

The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame: Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity 
by Michael Camille.
Chicago, 439 pp., £34, June 2009, 978 0 226 09245 4
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... expression: ‘eyes characteristic of people on public transport’, Camille says, paraphrasing Walter Benjamin. The customers of Viollet-le-Duc’s ‘factory’ for ‘the mass production of the medieval’ were not medieval themselves, and so there was to be no buggering of kings, and only one (faintly Goya-esque) demon snacking on human flesh. Instead ...

Touch of Evil

Christopher Hitchens, 22 October 1992

Kissinger: A Biography 
by Walter Isaacson.
Faber, 893 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 571 16858 2
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... undergone an exponential rise since Lord Macaulay so crisply profiled Frederick ‘the Great’. Walter Isaacson’s new study of Kissinger shows beyond doubt that he rose to power by intriguing for and against an ally, the South Vietnamese military junta, whom he had sworn to defend, and that in the process of covering his tracks, consolidating and ...

Theme-Park Prussia

David Blackbourn, 24 November 1994

Prussia: The Perversion of an Idea 
by Giles MacDonogh.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 456 pp., £20, July 1994, 1 85619 267 9
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... past lives on. It was fostered in the early years by émigrés from the East. Popular writers like Walter Görlitz also did their bit to sustain pious legends. Then, around the late Seventies, the celebration of Prussia acquired newly fashionable status. In 1979, the best-known liberal historian in the Federal Republic, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, lamented that ...

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