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Gaslight and Fog

John Pemble: Sherlock Holmes, 26 January 2012

The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Haia Shpayer-Makov.
Oxford, 429 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 19 957740 8
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... Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?’ snapped Edmund Wilson, writing in the New Yorker in 1945. He refused to find out who did, because he’d already discovered that Agatha Christie’s books were garbage and that he couldn’t put them down. This is what you’d expect. Wilson was a literary prude, and detective stories are literature’s oldest profession ...

Drowned in Eau de Vie

Modris Eksteins: New, Fast and Modern, 21 February 2008

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond 
by Peter Gay.
Heinemann, 610 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 434 01044 8
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... old be eliminated. ‘I am dynamite,’ Nietzsche bellowed. Echoing this, the French incendiary Louis Aragon remarked that he could think of nothing more beautiful than a church and some dynamite. The immediate enemy was of course the beefy bourgeois, defender of property and social order, with his fixed ideas about beauty, truth and ...

Rug Time

Jonathan Steinberg, 20 October 1983

Kissinger: The Price of Power 
by Seymour Hersh.
Faber, 699 pp., £15, October 1983, 0 571 13175 1
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... Here is a typical sentence: ‘The revived interest in the White House wiretaps also prompted William Sullivan, who was then in the midst of a power struggle with J. Edgar Hoover, to visit Robert Mardian, head of the Justice Department’s Internal Security Division, and warn him, as Mardian later testified, that Hoover could not be trusted and might try ...

I now, I then

Thomas Keymer: Life-Writing, 17 August 2017

AHistory of English Autobiography 
edited by Adam Smyth.
Cambridge, 437 pp., £64.99, June 2016, 978 1 107 07841 3
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... checking – she didn’t. For the earliest verified usage, we have to wait for the scholar-critic William Taylor in 1797, and even he had his doubts. He disliked ‘self-biography’, coined the previous year by Isaac D’Israeli, because ‘it is not very usual in English to employ hybrid words partly Saxon and partly Greek: yet autobiography would have ...

The Coburg Connection

Richard Shannon, 5 April 1984

Albert, Prince Consort 
by Robert Rhodes James.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 241 11000 9
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... and H.A.L. Fisher, historians whose reputations had faded when Mr James was a schoolboy under Sir Roger Fulford. He puts one in mind of those Sloane Rangers who, so it is said, keep to their A-level texts at university to avoid intellectual fatigue. Yet, as against this, his is the first biography of the Prince to make what might be called both significant ...

Down with DWEMs

John Sutherland, 15 August 1991

ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education 
by Charles Sykes.
St Martin’s, 304 pp., $9.95, December 1989, 0 312 03916 6
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Tenured Redicals: How politics has corrupted our Higher Education 
by Roger Kimball.
HarperCollins, 222 pp., $9.95, April 1991, 0 06 092049 1
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... Culture’s got to go’ (the course, they meant – but it sounded more ominous than that). William Bennett, Secretary for Education, also came to visit the campus. He is the author of To reclaim a heritage: A Report on the Humanities in Higher Education (1984). Bennett thought that Western Culture had to stay and said so, face to face with Stanford’s ...

Eye Contact

Peter Campbell: Anthony van Dyck, 16 September 1999

Anthony van Dyck 1599-1641 
by Christopher Brown and Hans Vlieghe.
Royal Academy, 360 pp., £22.50, May 1999, 9780847821969
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Anthony van Dyck: A Life, 1599-1641 
by Robin Blake.
Constable, 435 pp., £25, August 1999, 9780094797208
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... so are grace, nobility and even the kindness that comes close to being flattery. ‘Van Dyck,’ Roger de Piles noted, ‘took his time to draw a face when it had its best looks on.’ He painted Charles I’s Queen, Henrietta Maria, as a handsome woman – without, it would seem, losing the likeness. Yet her niece, who knew her first from the painting, was ...

Nutty Professors

Hal Foster: ‘Lingua Franca’, 8 May 2003

Quick Studies: The Best of ‘Lingua Franca’ 
edited by Alexander Star.
Farrar, Straus, 514 pp., $18, September 2002, 0 374 52863 2
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... to poison the minds of the young. The academy was overrun by these ‘tenured radicals’ (as Roger Kimball put it in his 1990 book), engaged in the promulgation of an ‘illiberal education’ (Dinesh D’Souza in 1991), dedicated to ‘the closing of the American mind’ (Allan Bloom in 1987). The sense of embattlement is palpable in a recent anthology ...
Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 205 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812980 7
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Representing the English Renaissance 
edited by Stephen Greenblatt.
California, 372 pp., $42, February 1988, 0 520 06129 2
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... future Archbishop of York), published an attack on Catholic exorcists in general and on the Jesuit William Weston in particular. It has been known since the 18th century that Shakespeare knew Harsnett’s work and borrowed from it the names of the devils by whom Edgar, in Lear, claims to be possessed. According to Greenblatt, however, the relation between the ...

Back to Runnymede

Ferdinand Mount: Magna Carta, 23 April 2015

Magna Carta 
by David Carpenter.
Penguin, 594 pp., £10.99, January 2015, 978 0 241 95337 2
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Magna Carta Uncovered 
by Anthony Arlidge and Igor Judge.
Hart, 222 pp., £25, October 2014, 978 1 84946 556 4
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Magna Carta 
by J.C. Holt.
Cambridge, 488 pp., £21.99, May 2015, 978 1 107 47157 3
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Magna Carta: The Foundation of Freedom 1215-2015 
by Nicholas Vincent.
Third Millennium, 192 pp., £44.95, January 2015, 978 1 908990 28 0
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Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter 
by Dan Jones.
Head of Zeus, 192 pp., £14.99, December 2014, 978 1 78185 885 1
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... by Sir Edward Coke to recall Charles I to his constitutional duty: according to Coke’s grandson Roger, he called it ‘the Petition of Shite’. I can find scant mention of this menacing language and conduct in those biographies of Cromwell which have a soft spot for God’s Englishman. Christopher Hill skips lightly over it. John Buchan refers to it as ...

Noisomeness

Keith Thomas: Smells of Hell, 16 July 2020

Smells: A Cultural History of Odours in Early Modern Times 
by Robert Muchembled, translated by Susan Pickford.
Polity, 216 pp., £17.99, May, 978 1 5095 3677 1
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The Clean Body: A Modern History 
by Peter Ward.
McGill-Queen’s, 313 pp., £27.99, December 2019, 978 0 7735 5938 7
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... separate the different domestic smells of cooking, bodily waste and young children. As the lawyer Roger North wrote in 1698, ‘the affectation of cleanliness hath introduc’t much variety of rooms, which the ancients had no occasion for.’ The 18th century’s wholesale replacement of personal scents based on excremental animal odours with fragrant ...

Brideshead and the Tower Blocks

Patrick Wright, 2 June 1988

Home: A Short History of an Idea 
by Witold Rybczynski.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 434 14292 1
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... a polemical framework which is all the more effective for being padded and partially covered. As William Gass pointed out in 1986 when this book was published to rapturous reviews in the United States, Home contains an assault on the ‘modern’ that conforms to type. It appeals to ‘us’, the long-suffering public, and it points the finger at ...

On the Salieri Express

John Sutherland, 24 September 1992

Doctor Criminale 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 343 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 436 20115 1
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The Promise of Light 
by Paul Watkins.
Faber, 217 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 571 16715 2
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The Absolution Game 
by Paul Sayer.
Constable, 204 pp., £13.99, June 1992, 0 09 471460 6
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The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman 
by Louis de Bernières.
Secker, 388 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 436 20114 3
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Written on the Body 
by Jeanette Winterson.
Cape, 190 pp., £13.99, September 1992, 0 224 03587 8
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... a Post-Modern novelist, critic, political theorist, and privy adviser to the world’s great men. Roger Scruton has done the eminent Doctor for Frank Kermode’s ‘Modern Masters’. Alas, Criminale reflects no credit on that worthy series. He is revealed as the most treasonable of clerks, a compound of Waldheim, de Man, Harry Lime and ...

One Chapter More

Leah Price: Ectoplasm, 6 July 2000

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle 
by Daniel Stashower.
Penguin, 472 pp., £18.99, February 2000, 0 7139 9373 1
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... Conan Doyle’s own roll-calls of the SPR’s most droppable names (Alfred Russel Wallace and William James belonged, and Freud was a corresponding member), Daniel Stashower doesn’t discuss the wider impact of the spiritualist subcultures that emerged in the wake of the war that cost Conan Doyle a son and a brother. Like other recent biographies, this ...

Lights On and Away We Go

Keith Thomas: Happy Thoughts, 20 May 2021

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790 
by Ritchie Robertson.
Allen Lane, 984 pp., £40, November 2020, 978 0 241 00482 1
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... towns in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Robertson devotes only a paragraph to it but as Roger Ekirch, a historian of the night, has observed, street lighting transformed the texture of urban life. It opened up the evening as a time for both labour and leisure, and provided a new and enduring metaphor. The coming of the light symbolised the escape ...

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