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Queen Mary

Michael Neve, 20 December 1984

A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan 
by Wilfrid Mellers.
Faber, 255 pp., £6.95, November 1984, 0 571 13345 2
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by Jonathan Cott.
Vermilion/Hutchinson, 244 pp., £20, October 1984, 0 09 158750 6
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... to, inter alia, ‘Love and Loss, Redemption and the Myth of the Wild West’, Dylan’s Christian conversion, and his appearance as ‘Jewish Amerindian and White Negro’. It is all a bit too much, but at least Mellers takes care, unlike Jonathan Cott in his expensive, over-reverential tome: one more coffee-table book. It may seem a bit ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate, 25 April 1991

William Blake: His Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... To write well about William Blake you need to be enthusiastic, aphoristic and contrary. It also helps to be slightly mad. You need to begin your book with a paragraph like this: When Blake spoke the first word of the 19th century there was no one to hear it, and now that his message, the message of emancipation from reality through the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’, has penetrated the world, and is slowly remaking it, few are conscious of the first utterer, in modern times, of the message with which all are familiar ...

Excessive Guffawing

Gerald Hammond: Laughter and the Bible, 16 July 1998

Laughter at the Foot of the Cross 
by M.A. Screech.
Allen Lane, 328 pp., £30, January 1998, 0 7139 9012 0
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... again, however, Erasmus is fated to end up as history’s nearly man. Early in the Reformation, William Tyndale identified him as a permanent dweller in the halfway house, and now even Screech, for all his sympathy for Erasmus’s pioneering humanity, finds him ultimately lacking. In the Praise of Folly and, more unexpectedly, in his annotations to the New ...

At Auckland Castle

Nicola Jennings: Francisco de Zurbarán, 4 June 2020

... from the estate of James Mendez, a Jewish merchant of Portuguese descent. Mendez bought them from William Chapman in 1720, just after the collapse of the South Sea Company, in which Chapman was a shareholder. How and when the paintings arrived in Britain isn’t known, but by the time Mendez got hold of them they had already been identified as Zurbarán’s ...

All he does is write his novel

Christian Lorentzen: Updike, 5 June 2014

by Adam Begley.
Harper, 558 pp., £25, April 2014, 978 0 06 189645 3
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... writers when the subject finds himself among the sons of the East Coast establishment, from William Burroughs of St Louis to Norman Mailer, the Brooklyn Jew. The Lampoon officers recognised the worker in the ‘cultural bumpkin’: he could put out the magazine single-handed while everyone else was horsing around and drinking, a vice ...

Murder in the Cathedral

Anthony Howard, 7 December 1989

The Crockford’s File: Gareth Bennett and the Death of the Anglican Mind 
by William Oddie.
Hamish Hamilton, 232 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 241 12613 4
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Absent Friends 
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
Hamish Hamilton, 291 pp., £15.95, November 1989, 0 241 12874 9
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... A vivid reminder of the cost of that whole struggle to the Anglican Church is contained in Dr William Oddie’s unhelpfully-timed evocation of the Crockford’s Preface affair of two years ago. It is a curious work, in which the first half appears to have no other objective but the placing of Canon Gareth Bennett – the anonymous author of the 1987 ...

My Man

Frank Kermode, 2 January 1997

Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus 
by William Klassen.
SCM, 238 pp., £12.95, June 1996, 0 334 02636 9
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... William Klassen, research professor at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, is a New Testament scholar with a theory about Judas Iscariot. He would be the last to say he is first in the field with a theory about Judas, but he can plausibly claim to be unique in having appeared before classes and congregations dressed as he supposes Judas to have been at the moment of the Crucifixion, and keen to defend his actions against what he knew would be the enraged accusations of his auditors ...

Hot Dogs

Malcolm Bull, 14 June 1990

Mine eyes have seen the glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 
by Randall Balmer.
Oxford, 246 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 19 505117 3
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In God’s Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA 
by Douglas Kennedy.
Unwin Hyman, 240 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 04 440423 9
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The Divine Supermarket 
by Malise Ruthven.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.95, August 1989, 0 7011 3151 9
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The Democratisation of American Christianity 
by Nathan Hatch.
Yale, 312 pp., £22.50, November 1989, 0 300 44470 2
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Religion and 20th-Century American Intellectual Life 
edited by Michael Lacey.
Cambridge/Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 214 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 521 37560 6
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New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America 
by Mary Farrell Bednarowski.
Indiana, 175 pp., $25, November 1989, 0 253 31137 3
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... through the evangelical sub-culture of America. Their narratives abound with the exploits of Christian stunt women, Christian tee-shirt salesmen, Christian heavy metallists, Christian weight-watchers and ...


Christian Lorentzen: Homo Trumpiens, 3 November 2016

... crowd: this isn’t the result of a grassroots movement. As has been documented by the historian William Cronen, reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, much of the GOP programme, as handed down to state legislators, was conceived if not written by an organisation called the American ...

How did we decide what Christ looked like?

Frank Kermode: How Jesus Got His Face, 27 April 2000

The Image of Christ 
edited by Gabriele Finaldi.
National Gallery, 224 pp., £14.95, February 2000, 1 85709 292 9
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... that one third of the paintings in the National Gallery (and in comparable institutions) are of Christian subjects, though it is improbable that even one third of the people who go to look at them would call themselves Christians. The paintings don’t really belong in Trafalgar Square anyway; at some time in the past they were removed from churches and ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: The Spectator, 25 January 2001

... fringe, even if it is less full-bodied than Hezza’s? Johnson’s new job ought perhaps to worry William Hague, who peaked in the hair stakes when he was 16. But why should blondness be important to a serious periodical like the Spectator? In a recent number of the rag (6 January) there’s an article by Big Boris defending ...

Everything is over before it begins

A.D. Nuttall: Milton criticism, 21 June 2001

How Milton Works 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 616 pp., £23.95, June 2001, 0 674 00465 5
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... devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ William Blake wrote these words near the end of the 18th century and set going the idea that Paradise Lost, Milton’s epic justifying the ways of God to men, had a twofold force: an orthodox ostensible meaning and a profoundly unorthodox unconscious meaning, the ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco ...

No reason for not asking

Adam Phillips: Empson’s War on God, 3 August 2006

Selected Letters of William Empson 
edited by John Haffenden.
Oxford, 729 pp., £40, March 2006, 0 19 928684 1
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... Replying in 1934 to a Japanese poet who had asked for advice about writing ‘modern’ poetry, William Empson recommended ‘verse with a variety of sorts of feeling in it . . . it might be a good thing to try to show the clash of different philosophies, and social comedy, and quote lines of poetry by people quite different from you that you have thought especially good ...

Against Michelangelo

Rosemary Hill: ‘The Pinecone’, 11 October 2012

The Pinecone 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 332 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 571 26950 1
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... An owl and a scarab are among the images that gesture towards iconographies other than the Christian. Inside, the dream-like sensation of being in a place at once familiar yet oddly re-ordered continues with an architecture that speaks an ancient language with a curiously individual intonation. If its precise meaning is hard to catch, there is no doubt ...

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