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Edited by Somerset Maugham

Wyatt Mason: Bedtime stories for adults, 17 March 2005

Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Granta, 213 pp., £10, March 2005, 1 86207 740 1
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... In 1945, Somerset Maugham contributed a list to Redbook magazine of what were, in his opinion, ‘the ten best novels in the world’. Maugham’s choices were neither surprising nor controversial (War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Moby-Dick) but in a note that accompanied his list, he suggested that ‘the wise reader’ will ‘get the greatest enjoyment out of reading them if he learns the useful art of skipping ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... I can’t imagine anything more quaint than a scatological retelling of some nursery tale, or a fiction about a writer writing the fiction you are reading,’ Tobias Wolff confessed in his 1993 introduction to the Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories. Writing fiction about a writer who is writing the fiction we are reading, Wolff would have us understand, is obscene ...

Ink-Dot Eyes

Wyatt Mason: Jonathan Franzen, 2 August 2007

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Harper Perennial, 195 pp., £8.99, July 2007, 978 0 00 723425 7
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... The confessional mode in literature has an uncomplicated appeal for both writers and readers: the unburdening of guilt, vicarious or otherwise. But as Tobias Wolff cautioned in his mordant memoir of military service during the Vietnam War, In Pharaoh’s Army: ‘Isn’t there, in the very act of confession, an obscene self-congratulation for the virtue required to see your mistake and own up to it?’ Jonathan Franzen’s memoir, The Discomfort Zone, is an object lesson in the management of such obscenity ...

Like Beavers

Wyatt Mason: Safran Foer’s survival stories, 2 June 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Hamish Hamilton, 320 pp., £14.99, June 2005, 9780241142134
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... In the autumn of 1999, the American literary journal Conjunctions ran a series of reproductions of pages from a pocket diary that had belonged to Isaac Bashevis Singer. In capital letters, Singer – who emigrated from Poland to America in 1935 – filled page after page with lists of words: 15 JULY: SILT, IMPINGE, OVERLAP, WIREPULLER. 24 JULY: DOCILITY, CEREBRATIONS, INSIDIOUS, AFTERMATH ...

Don’t like it? You don’t have to play

Wyatt Mason: David Foster Wallace, 18 November 2004

Oblivion: Stories 
by David Foster Wallace.
Abacus, 329 pp., £12, July 2004, 0 349 11810 8
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... In April 2001, Harper’s ran a vast essay on the use and abuse of the English language in the United States. Entitled ‘Tense Present: Democracy, English and the Wars over Usage’, its 17,000 words were generated by the celebrated youngish American novelist, journalist and story-writer David Foster Wallace. Although willing to tilt at shiny targets of grammatical contention (the ending of sentences with prepositions etc), Wallace was, for the most part, hunting bigger game: America is in the midst of a protracted Crisis of Authority in matters of language: the same sorts of political upheavals that produced everything from Kent State to Independent Counsels have produced an influential contra-snoot for whom normative standards of English grammar and usage are functions of nothing but custom and superstition and the ovine docility of a populace that lets self-appointed language authorities boss them around ...

Southern Discomfort

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 8 June 1995

The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism 
by Eugene Genovese.
Harvard, 138 pp., £17.95, October 1994, 0 674 82527 6
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... Eugene Genovese is a Marxist historian with conservative affiliations who has had a greater impact on current interpretations of the Southern past than any other scholar with the possible exception of C. Vann Woodward. Perhaps he can also make sense of the right-wing garbage that nowadays fills American papers and airwaves (his devastating National Review article on The Bell Curve should be required reading ...

He fights with flashing weapons

Katherine Rundell: Thomas Wyatt, 6 December 2012

Thomas WyattThe Heart’s Forest 
by Susan Brigden.
Faber, 714 pp., £30, September 2012, 978 0 571 23584 1
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Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy 
by Nicola Shulman.
Short Books, 378 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 1 906021 11 5
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... see up her skirt. It was a gesture at once gracious and gruesome, and the verse that Sir Thomas Wyatt (probably) wrote on the occasion from the Tower of London is equally dark (‘circa Regna tonat’ means ‘it thunders around the throne’): The bell towre showid me suche syght That in my head stekys day and nyght There dyd I lerne out of A grate For ...

On the Blower

Peter Clarke: The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt, 18 February 1999

The Journals of Woodrow WyattVolume I 
edited by Sarah Curtis.
Macmillan, 748 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 333 74166 8
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... never be exposed to public scrutiny. This was hardly why, in 1985, the former Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt began his diary. Sir Woodrow, having then served for nearly a decade as chairman of the Horserace Totalisator Board, had yet to reach his apotheosis with the life peerage that validated his sobriquet, Lord Toad of Tote Hall. Confidant of Margaret ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: The Wyatt Continuum, 20 November 2014

... Robert Wyatt​ is one of the last survivors of the 1960s pop music scene in Britain. He has been recording for nearly half a century. He was said to be reckless and unfocused for most of his life, but he’s also the best sort of slow-burner moving along at his own pace. Having gone for it late in the day, he hung on to his ‘tankie’ party card – Communist Party of Great Britain – beyond the call of duty, but only because he’d steered his very own Centurion into a deep thicket, opened the hatch and taken a lengthy breather before deciding the game was up ...

Traven identified

George Woodcock, 3 July 1980

The Man who was B. Traven 
by Will Wyatt.
Cape, 326 pp., £8.50, June 1980, 0 224 01720 9
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The Government 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 356 2
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The Cotton-Pickers 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 200 pp., £5.50, October 1979, 0 85031 284 1
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The White Rose 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 209 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 369 4
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... I am convinced, after reading his book, The Man who was B. Traven, that the BBC producer Will Wyatt has (with some notable assistance from others) finally solved one of the most tantalising literary mysteries of our age, and has established, as firmly as it ever will be, the identity of the novelist who called himself B ...

Cleveland

Michael Mason, 10 November 1988

Report of the Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland 1987 
by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
HMSO, 336 pp., £14.50, July 1988, 0 10 104122 5
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When Salem came to the Boro 
by Stuart Bell.
Pan, 355 pp., £3.99, July 1988, 0 330 30503 4
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The Last Taboo 
by Gay Search.
Penguin, 192 pp., £3.99, August 1988, 0 14 011049 6
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Unofficial Secrets: Child Sexual Abuse – The Cleveland Case 
by Beatrix Campbell.
Virago, 226 pp., £4.50, September 1988, 0 86068 634 5
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... Bell, the Police, and the doctors who supported the Police in their hostility to Drs Higgs and Wyatt. That human nature – or, probably more exactly, male human nature – has the capacity to perform deliberately and persistently the acts performed at Congleton is for most of us very disorienting, and incomprehensible. The fact, however, is stark (since ...

Tolerant Repression

Blair Worden, 10 May 1990

Thomas Starkey and the Commonweal 
by Tom Mayer.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £32.50, April 1989, 0 521 36104 4
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Politics and Literature in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII 
by Alistair Fox.
Blackwell, 317 pp., £35, September 1989, 0 631 13566 9
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The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Portraits at the Court of Henry VIII 
by Retha Warnicke.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 521 37000 0
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English Travellers Abroad 1604-1667 
by John Stoye.
Yale, 448 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 300 04180 2
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... is the imaginative literature of the age of John Skelton and Thomas More, and then of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey: literature which he believes to have been gravely undervalued, and which he commends not only for its intrinsic pleasures but as a rich historical source. What the most sophisticated contemporary writers thought about the reign of ...

Going Flat Out, National Front and All

Ian Hamilton: Watch your mouth!, 14 December 2000

Diaries: Into Politics 
by Alan Clark.
Weidenfeld, 389 pp., £20, October 2000, 0 297 64402 5
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The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists 
edited by Irene Taylor and Alan Taylor.
Canongate, 684 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 86241 920 4
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The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt. Vol. III: From Major to Blair 
edited by Sarah Curtis.
Macmillan, 823 pp., £25, November 2000, 9780333774069
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... of a good guide than a good read: it points us to things that we would like to follow up. Woodrow Wyatt is well-represented in The Assassin’s Cloak. He has almost as many entries as Alan Clark, with whom he is sometimes – as a diarist – compared. Certainly, Wyatt rivals Clark in self-importance, but he lacks Clark’s ...

Brattishness

Colin Burrow: Henry Howard, 11 November 1999

Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life 
by W.A. Sessions.
Oxford, 448 pp., £60, March 1999, 9780198186243
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... The emphasis on ‘fayth’ and the ‘elect’ suggests that Surrey had taken over from his hero Wyatt some of the Protestant vocabulary which is found in the older poet’s psalm paraphrases. This vocabulary, however, also feeds a religious version of Surrey’s singularity: alone, he asks God to vindicate his solitary righteousness. There are so many ...

Charm with Menaces

Colin Burrow: ‘The Mirror and the Light’, 19 March 2020

The Mirror and the Light 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 883 pp., £25, March, 978 0 00 748099 9
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... evidence to lead her through labyrinths of courtly intrigue. And she has fun on the way. Thomas Wyatt was a poet in a different league from Thomas Howard. He becomes Cromwell’s protégé, and his emergence as the chief poetic voice of the period is another thread that runs through The Mirror and the Light. Initially he is on the receiving end of jokes ...

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