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Suiting yourself

Peter Campbell

27 July 1989
I Modi. The Sixteen Pleasures: An Erotic Album of Renaissance Italy 
by Lynne Lawner.
Northwestern, 132 pp., $35.95, February 1989, 0 8101 0803 8
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The Dress of the Venetians 1495-1525 
by Stella Mary Newton.
Scolar, 196 pp., £28.50, December 1988, 0 85967 735 4
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Fashion Drawings in ‘Vogue’: René Bouët-Willamez and Fashion Drawings in ‘Vogue’: Carl Erickson 
by William Parker.
Joseph, 128 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 0 86350 198 2
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Women and Fashion 
by Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton.
Quartet, 184 pp., £15, March 1989, 0 7043 2691 4
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... the extravagance of women and the death of decency, speedily follow change. The most recent example of sumptuary law in this country (Second World War rationing) is reflected only distantly in William Packer’s two volumes of Fashion Drawings in Vogue – see this issue’s cover – since the artists were working in the USA for the duration, but in one drawing ‘Eric proposes the latest colours ...

Birditis

Ian Penman: The Obsession with Charlie Parker

23 January 2014
Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker 
by Gary Giddins.
Minnesota, revised edition, 195 pp., £15, October 2013, 978 0 8166 9041 1
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Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker 
by Stanley Crouch.
Harper, 365 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 06 200559 5
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Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker 
by Chuck Haddix.
Illinois, 188 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 252 03791 7
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... belongs to Miles Davis, in Miles: The Autobiography, first published in 1989 and officially attributed to ‘Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe’ (see also Lady Sings the Blues by ‘Billie Holiday with William Duffy’). Depending on mood, ethnicity, ideology, drug of choice, an oral biography can strike the reader as an authentic reproduction of voice, in all its self-contradictory rhythm and curl – or ...

A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under

8 May 2003
Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... earth. The better the biography, the worse: the great smooth luxurious Rolls reconverts the energy of the writer’s ascent into mere horizontal force. The publication of the second volume of Hershel Parker’s biography of Herman Melville brings to a close an enterprise of archival and critical scholarship that has lasted forty years – nearly as long as Melville’s writing career. The picture of ...

I am a cactus

John Sutherland: Christopher Isherwood and his boys

3 June 2004
Isherwood 
by Peter Parker.
Picador, 914 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 330 48699 3
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... 1931, ‘is a cactus.’ Prickly, solitary, self-sufficient, hard to handle and difficult to love. How to get to grips with ‘Isherwood’ (as he has chosen to address him) was a problem for Peter Parker: something that perhaps explains the 12 years this usually brisk biographer has spent on his task. A main difficulty is that Isherwood (‘I am a camera’) is himself so intent a watcher of things ...

Lord Cardigan’s Cherry Pants

Ferdinand Mount: The benefits of the Crimean War

20 May 2004
The Crimean War: The Truth behind the Myth 
by Clive Ponting.
Chatto, 379 pp., £20, March 2004, 0 7011 7390 4
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... active service and had been chosen only because he was the queen’s cousin. For the navy it was a choice between the 79-year-old Lord Dundonald, who was tottering on the verge of insanity, and Sir WilliamParker, who himself thought he was a fraction past it at 73. Which left only Sir Charles Napier, a mere 67 but a hopeless alcoholic with a vile temper. The commander-in-chief was the 66-year-old Lord ...

Lethal Pastoral

Paul Keegan: Housman’s Lethal Pastoral

17 November 2016
Housman Country: Into the Heart of England 
by Peter Parker.
Little, Brown, 446 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 4087 0613 8
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... but do as Housman exhorts in one of his blasphemous squibs: ‘Mary-Jane the train is through yer:/Hallelujah, Hallelujah!/We will gather up the fragments that remain.’ In Housman Country, Peter Parker does it by writing the life and times not of the man but of his most famous book: the growing pains of A Shropshire Lad, the vicissitudes of its reception, its cultural ‘aftermaths’. The word ...

At the Foundling Museum

Brian Dillon: Found

10 August 2016
... buttons, a hazelnut, a tiny rouge pot, many heart-shaped mementos and at least one plain metal disc inscribed ‘this is a token.’ The hospital was in a sense Britain’s first public art gallery. William Hogarth was among the founders: he fostered children, designed their uniforms and a coat of arms for the hospital, and solicited donations of work from other artists. The museum contains paintings by ...

Puffed up, Slapped down

Rosemary Hill: Charles and Camilla

6 September 2017
Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life 
by Sally Bedell Smith.
Michael Joseph, 624 pp., £25, April 2017, 978 0 7181 8780 4
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The Duchess: The Untold Story 
by Penny Junor.
William​ Collins, 320 pp., £20, June 2017, 978 0 00 821100 4
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... career journalist, daughter of John Junor, the former editor in chief of the Sunday Express, and she is much closer to her material. She has written two lives of Charles and one each of Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as a group portrait of ‘the troubled life of the House of Windsor’. A year younger than Charles, she has herself become part of the story. Her joint biography of Charles ...
20 March 1997
Why Vote Conservative? 
by David Willetts.
Penguin, 108 pp., £3.99, February 1997, 0 14 026304 7
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Why Vote Liberal Democrat? 
by William​ Wallace.
Penguin, 120 pp., £3.99, February 1997, 0 14 026303 9
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Why Vote Labour? 
by Tony Wright.
Penguin, 111 pp., £3.99, February 1997, 0 14 026397 7
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... the general election without being overtaken by it. Over the last half-century, Penguin have intermittently filled this kind of slot, beginning in 1947, when they commissioned the Labour MP John Parker and the Conservative MP Quintin Hogg, now Lord Hailsham, to produce books of a couple of hundred pages each. ‘When the manuscripts were received,’ the publishers were forced to reveal, ‘it was ...

In Letchworth

Gillian Darley: Pevsner's Hertfordshire

22 December 2019
... set along curving, tree-lined roads – a model for numerous municipal estates in the first half of the 20th century. The plan (and many of the cottages) was the work of Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, who remained closely involved with the area. When George Bernard Shaw, who lived in the nearby village of Ayot St Lawrence, needed a garage, he asked Parker (his revolving writing hut was Shaw’s ...

Pound & Co.

August Kleinzahler: Davenport and Kenner

26 September 2019
Questioning Minds: Vols I-II: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner 
edited by Edward Burns.
Counterpoint, 1817 pp., $95, October 2018, 978 1 61902 181 5
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... In​ 1882, the year Virginia Woolf and William Carlos Williams were born, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. It wasn’t as good as a Remington but it was cheaper. Nietzsche was losing his eyesight, probably ...
7 March 1996
Leaving Las Vegas 
directed by Mike Figgis.
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... to Margot Channing’s theatrical salon in All about Eve, to any Western saloon, booze is the magnifier for all that 30-foot-tall emoting. As Alan Rudolph’s lugubrious 1995 biopic of Dorothy Parker, Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, illustrates, it was Prohibition that made boozing an essential act of transgression among the Hollywood crowd of the Twenties and Thirties, matching the literary ...

Shapeshifter

Ian Penman: Elvis looks for meaning

24 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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... Elvis Aaron Presley​ was born on 8 January 1935 at around 4.30 in the morning, at home in East 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 ...

Crypto-Republican

Simon Adams: Was Mary Queen of Scots a Murderer?

11 June 2009
Burghley: William​ Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I 
by Stephen Alford.
Yale, 412 pp., £25, May 2008, 978 0 300 11896 4
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... William Cecil, First Baron Burghley, served Elizabeth I for nearly forty years, as principal secretary and lord treasurer, and left an enormous body of papers. His correspondence, now dispersed in four major ...
17 March 1983
The Rare Art Traditions 
by Joseph Alsop.
Thames and Hudson, 691 pp., £30, November 1982, 0 500 23359 4
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... at length on the demand for Sung dynasty spitoons and Meissen bedpans. In his discussion of the altered environment of religious art Alsop gives us a previously unpublished quatrain by Dorothy Parker on a picture given by William Randolph Hearst to his mistress: Upon my honour, I saw a Madonna Hanging within a niche Above the door of the private whore Of the world’s worst son of a bitch. I ...

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