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Shapeshifter

Ian Penman: Elvis looks for meaning, 25 September 2014

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died 
by Dylan Jones.
Duckworth, 307 pp., £16.99, July 2014, 978 0 7156 4856 8
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Elvis Presley: A Southern Life 
by Joel Williamson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 19 986317 4
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... Tupelo. His older twin, Jesse Garon, was stillborn. (There was ugly gossip later that the doctor, William Robert Hunt, might have had a drink; that he might have saved Jesse if he hadn’t been so preoccupied with the surprise appearance of a second child. But the Presleys were satisfied with his work and Dr Hunt received his standard $15 payment from the ...

All Together Now

Richard Jenkyns, 11 December 1997

Abide with Me: The World of Victorian Hymns 
by Ian Bradley.
SCM, 299 pp., £30, June 1997, 9780334026921
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The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study 
by J.R. Watson.
Oxford, 552 pp., £65, July 1997, 0 19 826762 2
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... Thomas Ken, Watts, Charles Wesley – but many less celebrated names, such as Sir Robert Grant, William Walsham How, William Chatterton Dix: Grant (‘O worship the King, all glorious above’), the Scottish-born English MP who ended his life as Governor of Bombay; Thomas Olivers (‘The God of Abraham praise’), a ...

Too Proud to Fight

David Reynolds: The ‘Lusitania’ Effect, 28 November 2002

Wilful Murder: The Sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ 
by Diana Preston.
Doubleday, 543 pp., £18.99, May 2002, 0 385 60173 5
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Lusitania: Saga and Myth 
by David Ramsay.
Chatham, 319 pp., £20, September 2001, 1 86176 170 8
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Woodrow Wilson 
by John Thompson.
Longman, 288 pp., £15.99, August 2002, 0 582 24737 3
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... these munitions going off. It therefore tried to shift the blame onto the Lusitania’s captain, William Turner, and also played up talk of a second torpedo. Both Ramsay and Preston are emphatic, however, that the U-20 fired only once, and they broadly agree on what could have caused a single torpedo to sink a 30,000-ton liner in 18 minutes. In 1903, Cunard ...

The Man Who Never Glared

John Pemble: Disraeli, 5 December 2013

Disraeli: or, The Two Lives 
by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young.
Orion, 320 pp., £20, July 2013, 978 0 297 86097 6
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The Great Rivalry: Gladstone and Disraeli 
by Dick Leonard.
I.B. Tauris, 226 pp., £22.50, June 2013, 978 1 84885 925 8
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Disraeli: The Romance of Politics 
by Robert O’Kell.
Toronto, 595 pp., £66.99, February 2013, 978 1 4426 4459 5
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... Canal shares) and the transformer of English queens into empresses of India. Peel, reincarnated as William Gladstone, denounces him from beyond the grave. Gladstone sweeps to victory, Byron is toppled and Peel is avenged. Byron dies, leaving posterity perplexed. Had he been a writer who happened to become prime minister, or a prime minister who happened to be ...

Oh! – only Oh!

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Burne-Jones, 9 February 2012

The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 629 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 571 22861 4
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... No bond was more important to him, or longer-lasting, than the friendship he forged with William Morris at Oxford. Morris, too, had flirted with the Church – much wealthier than his friend, he once contemplated using his inheritance to finance a monastery – but by the time they left university ‘we were both settling in our minds,’ as ...

What I heard about Iraq in 2005

Eliot Weinberger: Iraq, 5 January 2006

... that there were 3200 prisoners in Abu Ghraib, 700 more than its capacity. I heard Major General William Brandenburg, who oversees US military detention operations in Iraq, say: ‘We’ve got a normal capacity and a surge capacity. We’re operating at surge capacity.’ A year before, I had heard the President promise ‘to demolish the Abu Ghraib ...

Bebop

Andrew O’Hagan, 5 October 1995

Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-56 
edited by Ann Charters.
Viking, 629 pp., £25, August 1995, 0 670 84952 9
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... their chosen moments in the history of American airtime. Elvis Presley’s top half on the Ed Sullivan Show; John F. Kennedy’s live debate with a melting Richard Nixon; an early episode of I Love Lucy; a dinner-table scene from The Waltons; Neil Armstrong’s One Small Step; the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald; the pilot show of Roseanne. Each viewer wore ...

Peter Conrad’s Flight from Precision

Richard Poirier, 17 July 1980

Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... at being himself’. Why would a man already cartooned in Punch and burlesqued by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience, which had opened in New York and other American cities months before his arrival, still ‘need’ America to ‘liberate’ him or to make him celebrated? In what sense is a man, not convicted of any crime until 1895, who was to marry in ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... come as a total surprise to either Wilde or his wife. It was in the blood. Wilde’s father, Sir William, who was an eye surgeon, had three illegitimate children before his marriage. The year Oscar was born his father began an affair with Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague. She was also his patient. When Sir ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2000, 25 January 2001

... We buy a luminous blue and white Victorian tile at Gabor Cossa which one of the partners thinks is William de Morgan but isn’t and then cross the road to the Fitzwilliam. I take in a chance selection of pictures, dictated by which happen to be in range of available banquettes, and in particular the Van Dyck portrait of Archbishop Laud. It’s hung beside one ...

What makes a waif?

Joanne O’Leary, 13 September 2018

The Long-Winded Lady: Tales from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 215 pp., £10.99, January 2017, 978 1 906539 59 7
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Maeve Brennan: Homesick at the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Angela Bourke.
Counterpoint, 360 pp., $16.95, February 2016, 978 1 61902 715 2
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The Springs of Affection: Stories 
by Maeve Brennan.
Stinging Fly, 368 pp., £8.99, May 2016, 978 1 906539 54 2
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... became engaged to the playwright and theatre critic Walter Kerr. He broke her heart. (Years later William Shawn told a colleague that Kerr would never write for the New Yorker ‘because of Maeve’.) In 1941, Brennan moved to Manhattan and soon found work at Harper’s Bazaar, where she stayed for seven years, rising through the ranks from a copywriter to an ...

Upriver

Iain Sinclair: The Thames, 25 June 2009

Thames: Sacred River 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Vintage, 608 pp., £14.99, August 2008, 978 0 09 942255 6
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... source. My bias, which I will attempt to overcome, tends towards the more cynical view ascribed to William Burroughs by Jack Kerouac. ‘When you start separating the people from their rivers what have you got? Bureaucracy!’ Having triumphantly ghosted London’s autobiography, Ackroyd’s obvious follow-up was the Thames: generator of life, origin of the ...

On Interest

Adam Phillips, 20 June 1996

... and curiosity. ‘Whatever excites and stimulates our interest is real,’ James’s brother William wrote in his Principles of Psychology, knowing how much we can fear the real. Psychoanalysis is the art of making interest out of interest that is stuck or thwarted. It doesn’t, in other words, believe that the football fan isn’t really interested in ...

Madnesses

John Kerr, 23 March 1995

The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement 
by Richard Noll.
Princeton, 387 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 691 03724 8
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... to this delicate, but potent encounter: the young R.D. Laing to a great degree, Harry Stack Sullivan when he was in the mood, D.W. Winnicott with children, and very few others. The patients loved Jung; staff were in awe. For most of this century, the kind of madness people have been willing to settle for has involved such things as guilty childhood ...

Female Bandits? What next!

Wendy Doniger: The incarnations of Robin Hood, 22 July 2004

Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography 
by Stephen Knight.
Cornell, 247 pp., £14.50, May 2003, 0 8014 3885 3
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... there was. We owe the widespread belief that Robin lived in the time of Richard I (1157-1199) to William Stukeley (1687-1765), an eccentric scholar of ancient British history who fabricated for him a crazy family pedigree going back to the Normans. Knight argues that the search for the historical Robin is as quixotic as the search for the historical ...

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