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‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’

Hilary Mantel: Springtime for Robespierre, 30 March 2000

Robespierre 
edited by Colin Haydon and William Doyle.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £35, July 1999, 0 521 59116 3
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... Terrorist was forced to compromise his principles to save his long-lost illegitimate son. But William Howarth’s essay shows that Robespierre has not been entirely ill-wished by the theatre. An 1888 play by Combet has a memorable stage direction. ‘Then Robespierre appears, borne on clouds. At his entry, the heavenly choir bursts into ...

Snug

John Bayley, 9 September 1993

The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... in reality can be worked up by the imagination in order to satisfy private dreams. Conan Doyle started to invent Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes while waiting dejectedly for custom in his own surgery. Not only do cases or patients turn up at the Baker Street sitting-room with dramatic regularity, but each presents its own fascinating problem, which ...

Pity the monsters

Richard Altick, 18 December 1980

The Elephant Man 
by Bernard Pomerance.
Faber, 71 pp., £2.25, June 1980, 0 571 11569 1
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The Elephant Man: the Book of the Film 
by Joy Kuhn.
Virgin, 90 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 9780907080091
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The Elephant Man 
by Christine Sparks.
Futura, 272 pp., £1.25, August 1980, 0 7088 1942 7
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The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences 
by Frederick Treves.
Star, 126 pp., £95, August 1980, 0 352 30747 1
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The Elephant Man and Other Freaks 
by Sian Richards.
Futura, 197 pp., £1.25, October 1980, 0 7088 1927 3
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The True History of the Elephant Man 
by Michael Howell and Peter Ford.
Allison and Busby, 190 pp., £6.95, March 1980, 0 85031 353 8
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... docks. But it is, in fact, Frederick Treves MRCS, a medical contemporary of Dr Watson and Dr Conan Doyle, describing, after forty years, the first scene – in an East End hospital – in the even stranger story of the Elephant Man, the least of whose manifold disfigurements was a grotesquely twisted lip. A year or so before he wrote his tale of the ...

Buried Alive!

Nick Richardson: Houdini, 14 April 2011

Houdini: Art and Magic 
by Brooke Kamin Rapaport.
Yale, 261 pp., £25, November 2010, 978 0 300 14684 4
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... led some to wonder whether Houdini might have been more to the police than a celebrity consultant. William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s rollicking biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, suggests that he moonlighted as a secret service agent. He was often well placed to gather useful information. In Germany, as well as acquiring a thorough knowledge of police ...

Entails

Christopher Driver, 19 May 1983

Fools of Fortune 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 239 pp., £7.50, April 1983, 0 370 30953 7
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What a beautiful Sunday! 
by Jorge Semprun, translated by Alan Sheridan.
Secker, 429 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 9780436446603
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An Innocent Millionaire 
by Stephen Vizinczey.
Hamish Hamilton, 388 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 241 10929 9
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The Papers of Tony Veitch 
by William McIlvanney.
Hodder, 254 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 340 22907 1
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In the Shadow of the Paradise Tree 
by Sasha Moorsom.
Routledge, 247 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 7100 9408 6
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The Bride 
by Bapsi Sidhwa.
Cape, 248 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 224 02047 1
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... The theme of William Trevor’s new novel – his ninth, and that leaves short-story collections out of account – is the murderous entail of Anglo-Irish history, in which, as a Cork man, he may fairly be considered expert. But unlike most experts, above all most specialists in Ireland’s past, he knows how little has to be told and how much is best left to the reader’s own memory and imagination ...

Oh for the oo tray

William Feaver: Edward Burra, 13 December 2007

Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye 
by Jane Stevenson.
Cape, 496 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 224 07875 7
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... for this and that, the barbed and the hammy, flavoured Burra’s style. He drew on Dicky Doyle and Edward Lear (both comic and topographic) and Ridgewell’s illustrations to Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. Later on he produced still lifes stocked with gleaming pots and pans like those in Geppetto’s gemütlich workplace in ...

Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... and corner of the eye glimpses of other reports over which he had no control. Penman liked the William Burroughs moment, reading the tabloid spread as a single unit. There was something subversive, communal and hopefully dangerous, about the whole enterprise. Now all that was over. Penman had crossed the line and become a version of the thing he was ...

How did she get those feet?

Alice Spawls: The Female Detective, 20 February 2014

The Notting Hill Mystery: The First Detective Novel 
by Charles Warren Adams.
British Library, 312 pp., £8.99, February 2012, 978 0 7123 5859 0
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The Female Detective: The Original Lady Detective 
by Andrew Forrester.
British Library, 328 pp., £8.99, October 2012, 978 0 7123 5878 1
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Revelations of a Lady Detective 
by William Stephens Hayward.
British Library, 278 pp., £8.99, February 2013, 978 0 7123 5896 5
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... detective, and A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes’s first outing, but by the time Conan Doyle put pen to paper everyone was reading detective stories. In the intervening years they multiplied out of sensation and mystery novels, gothic melodramas, feuilletons, casebooks and crime reports and became a genre of their own. Few of the early works are ...

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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... But the alleged provenance was intriguing. Sullivan invented a psychical researcher called William Doidge, who had, he said, fought with the Scots Guards at the Battle of Mons in August 1914. The angel had been caught on camera much later, in the Cotswolds in 1952. It’s a well-known story that British soldiers at Mons claimed they really did see ...

A Hideous Skeleton, with Cries and Dismal Howlings

Nina Auerbach: The haunting of the Hudson Valley, 24 June 2004

Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley 
by Judith Richardson.
Harvard, 296 pp., £19.95, October 2003, 0 674 01161 9
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... belong in the region they haunt. One ghost has a chapter to herself. In 1755, a gentleman named William Salisbury killed his servant, Anna Dorothea Swarts, by dragging her behind his horse. The jury verdict was the evasive ‘ignoramus’, a term that either ignored the charge entirely or claimed ignorance of its legal merit. Salisbury escaped justice, but ...

‘Where’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?’

Michael Dobson: 17th-century literary culture, 11 September 2008

Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 
by John Kerrigan.
Oxford, 599 pp., March 2008, 978 0 19 818384 6
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... regarded as a pillar of modern British statehood just as significant as the Bill of Rights (which William and Mary had accepted before they replaced James II): the Act of Union of 1707. I seem to recall that in the summer of 1974 we went to the Lake District. Strangely, though, when I left home for university at the end of the decade, the English literature I ...

Royal Americans

D.A.N. Jones, 4 October 1984

Lincoln 
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 657 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 434 83077 1
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Stars and Bars 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 255 pp., £8.50, September 1984, 0 241 11343 1
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... is of the Irish saloon variety, with homosexuality in evidence: Walt Whitman’s boyfriend, Pete Doyle, hovers in the wings. There is always a danger of bawdy breaking in and distracting us from the great events. But Gore Vidal checks himself firmly, and the ‘low life’ scenes have their function, both in ‘tea-tabling’ the narrative or bringing us ...
... when he was only 23 and his brilliant book The Speakers attracted the admiration of Harold Pinter, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, V.S. Pritchett and more, he has gradually achieved the status of super-wizard in a community of nomads, pilgrims and seekers after truth. For two years he successfully ran the Ruff, Tuff, Cream Puff Estate Agency (founded by ...

The Great Escape

Philip Purser, 18 August 1994

The Fortunes of Casanova, and Other Stories 
by Rafael Sabatini, selected by Jack Adrian.
Oxford, 284 pp., £15.95, January 1994, 9780192123190
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... escape, Friar Balbi, but wins over the reader by buttonholing him directly. In The Casanova Fable William Gerhardie and Hugh Kingsmill throw away all these possibilities by transposing the story into the third person, and furthermore adopt a disapproving narrative voice; their odd little book is eventually going to turn into a mock-judicial arraignment of the ...

The Inner Lives of Quiet Women

Joanna Kavenna, 21 September 2000

May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian 
by Suzanne Raitt.
Oxford, 307 pp., £19.99, April 2001, 0 19 812298 5
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... and for much of the 1920s was in close communication with his personal spirit-guide. Conan Doyle publicly endorsed those infamous snapshots of pathetically fey (and tragically superimposed) fairies. Media mogul W.T. Stead was convinced that he had experienced telepathic communion with close relatives; there is even a theory that he communicated ...

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