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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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... Bare and Bald’, Coleridge enjoyed calling her in private, with more antipathy than inspiration. William McCarthy 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 unwittingly revived Coleridge’s severe hang-ups about his ...

For the Good of the Sex

Susan Eilenberg, 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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... Barbauld writes has this power, this precision or this delicate clarity. But Elizabeth Kraft and William McCarthy, 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 Romantic poets and their canonisers. This is ...

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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... 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 be when she grew up. When Coleridge turned against ...

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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... 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 which the most committed Boswellian might ...

Action and Suffering

Marilyn Butler, 16 April 1981

Ideas and the Novel 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 121 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 9780297778967
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... 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 practitioner, he got the public used to the doctrine of the ...

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 recognisable dome-headed icon of Shakespeare: the portrait-image of Byrd adorning CD sleeves and scores is an unimaginative Georgian-Tudor pastiche ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... 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 than any other American. He did favours for them ...

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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... 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 future Nobel ...

Incandescences

Richard Poirier, 20 December 1979

The Powers that Be 
by David Halberstam.
Chatto, 771 pp., £9.95
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... 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 with President Roosevelt, who, more than any President ...

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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... 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 mental hospital, had prepared fictitious returns in ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 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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... 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-Communist, now an aged relic of the Hoover ...

If Goofy Could Talk

Frank Cioffi, 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 implausible: it is to bridge the ‘tremendous gap between the common sense view (that “animals have such feelings as happiness, anger and fear”) and that of official science ...

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 Jim Barnett, a likeable boy from a promising background who, in the devil’s decade of the Thirties, could nonetheless suit his own fancy: From the very first, Jim was an independent in politics, siding now with the Communists, now with the Lovestoneites, now with the Trotskyists, now with the group of middle-class liberals he had known at college who were trying to build a Farmer-Labour party of their own ...

Surviving the Sixties

Hilary Mantel, 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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... 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 ‘the ladies ...

Henry James and Romance

Barbara Everett, 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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... 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 had known just how it would be: ‘It strikes me exactly ...

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