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Look on the Bright Side

Seamus Perry: Anna Letitia Barbauld

25 February 2010
Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment 
by William McCarthy.
Johns Hopkins, 725 pp., £32, December 2008, 978 0 8018 9016 1
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... circle, the butt of repeated gags about the shortcomings of the non-cognoscenti: ‘that Mistress Bare and Bald’, Coleridge enjoyed calling her in private, with more antipathy than inspiration. WilliamMcCarthy quotes the Table Talk anecdote early on in his compendious and admiring new biography of Barbauld, as though obliged to get it over with, and makes the suggestion that Barbauld had ...
8 December 1994
The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld 
edited by William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft.
Georgia, 399 pp., £58.50, June 1994, 0 8203 1528 1
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... disquiet of the Magi passing over ‘billowy waves of loose, unfaithful sand’. Not everything Barbauld writes has this power, this precision or this delicate clarity. But Elizabeth Kraft and WilliamMcCarthy, who edited this volume, doubt that either her lapses into mediocrity or changing tastes can account for the decline in her reputation, which they blame chiefly on the anti-feminism of the ...
16 April 1981
Ideas and the Novel 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 121 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 9780297778967
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... Why is the novel frightened of ideas? When did the dominant literary form of Western society turn away from dealing with large issues? Mary McCarthy’s 1980 Northcliffe Lectures begin by asking such questions with verve and elegance. Perhaps, she thinks, it is all the fault of the old maestro Henry James. As a critic, and even more as a ...

Young Man’s Nostalgia

Diarmaid MacCulloch: William​ Byrd

30 July 2014
Byrd 
by Kerry McCarthy.
Oxford, 282 pp., £25, August 2013, 978 0 19 538875 6
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... We know​ a gratifying amount about William Byrd, partly thanks to quite recent archival rediscoveries, and Kerry McCarthy splendidly and concisely presents it all in this intelligent and affectionate biography. Alas, the one thing we don’t have is a contemporary portrait, not even anything as clumsy as the universally ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd

10 August 2000
Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... official widow, and it is les veuves on whom David Laskin relies most heavily in this relatively orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview all the exes of Philip Rahv would be an undertaking from ...

Miss Joy and Mrs Hayter

Freya Johnston: Anna Letitia Barbauld

27 September 2018
Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: Poetry, Protest and Economic Crisis 
by E.J. Clery.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £75, June 2017, 978 1 107 18922 5
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... register, where she published fictitious banns between Jane Austen of Steventon and Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam of London. A second entry announced the forthcoming nuptials of Edmund Arthur William Mortimer of Liverpool and the same plain Jane Austen of Steventon. These entries show her practising for her future profession, as well as indulging in a different sort of fantasy about who she might ...
1 September 1988
Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... Donald Trump, Norman Mailer, Barbara Walters (they almost married), Cardinal Spellman, nearly all the top Mafia people, Richard Nixon, Si Newhouse, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, William F. Buckley, an endless list of Congressmen and judges and society swells, of the rich and famous. Cohn knew, dealt with, worked for, went to parties with and generally hobnobbed with more celebrities ...

Incandescences

Richard Poirier

20 December 1979
The Powers that Be 
by David Halberstam.
Chatto, 771 pp., £9.95
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... for Halberstam by four conglomerates of the American communications industry, each more or less in the control of a single family: the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), created and run by William Paley; Time Inc, including Life, owned by Henry Luce; the Washington Post and Newsweek, run by Philip and then by Kay Graham; and the Chandler family’s Los Angeles Times. Beginning in the Thirties ...
30 September 1999
Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... later, when I got my first job at Columbia University in 1963, I met many of Saunders’s cast of characters at social events on Morningside Heights: Diana and Lionel Trilling, Daniel Bell, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald – all of them brilliant, feisty, friendly and endlessly voluble. Some of their hangers-on were third-rate intellectual goons like Arnold Beichmann (former Communist, rabid anti ...
6 April 1995
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals 
by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy.
Cape, 268 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 224 03554 1
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The Hidden Life of Dogs 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 148 pp., £12.50, May 1994, 0 297 81461 3
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The Tribe of Tiger 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, October 1994, 0 297 81508 3
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... Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy’s book is a collection of anecdotes, arguments and exhortations which insists on the analogies between human and animal being. The rationale given for this enterprise in Masson’s Preface is ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens

31 July 1997
Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... presence waiting behind a desk. ‘Sit down Mr Bellow. Tell me, what did you study at university?’ Bellow replied that his study had been English literature. He was asked to give his opinion of William Wordsworth as a poet. He responded that he had always thought of William Wordsworth as one of the Romantics. ‘There is no place for you,’ said Chambers on hearing this, ‘in this organisation ...

The Statistical Gaze

Helen McCarthy: The British Census

28 June 2017
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker: The Story of Britain through Its Census, since 1801 
by Roger Hutchinson.
Little, Brown, 352 pp., £20, February 2017, 978 1 4087 0701 2
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... completely. The inaccuracies continued in later counts, fuelling scepticism. When Rickman announced in 1821 that the population had surged from ten to fourteen million over the previous two decades, William Cobbett responded that ‘a man that can suck that in will believe, literally believe, that the moon is made of green cheese.’ As late as 1931, it was discovered that one enumerator, committed to a ...

Every Latest Spasm

Christopher Hitchens

23 June 1994
A Rebel in Defence of Tradition: The Life and ‘Politics’ of Dwight Macdonald 
by Michael Wreszin.
Basic Books, 590 pp., £17.99, April 1994, 0 465 01739 8
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... To have been lampooned once by Mary McCarthy might have been considered a misfortune, but to have been ridiculed by her three times must count as some sort of carelessness. In her ‘Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man’, she presented ...
18 June 1981
Henry James Letters. Vol. III: 1883-1895 
edited by Leon Edel.
Macmillan, 579 pp., £17.50, March 1981, 0 333 18046 1
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Culture and Conduct in the Novels of Henry James 
by Alwyn Berland.
Cambridge, 231 pp., £17.50, April 1981, 0 521 23343 7
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Literary Reviews and Essays, A London Life, The Reverberator, Italian Hours, The Sacred Fount, Watch and Ward 
by Henry James.
Columbus, 409 pp., £2.60, February 1981, 0 394 17098 9
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... own ‘real life’, or the reflection of it that comes through the third and most recent volume of his selected Letters, maintains exactly that same odd poise vis-à-vis experience. When his brother William wrote him half-disapprovingly and half-anxiously about some of Henry’s more difficult, high-life but off-colour French friends who had descended on them, he replied with quiet satisfaction that he ...
18 May 1989
Shoe: The Odyssey of a Sixties Survivor 
by Jonathan Guinness.
Century Hutchinson, 233 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 0 09 173857 1
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Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman 
by Peter Feibleman.
Chatto, 364 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 7011 3441 0
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... and become ‘a self-propelled American folk-heroine’. Feibleman gave her, by his own account, some good advice. He told her that other people, not herself, should record her heroism during the McCarthy years. ‘You can’t be the heroine of your own life ... Not in America.’ But Lillian went ahead, antagonising Mary McCarthy, Martha Gellhorn and other members of what Lillian called dismissively ...

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