Biography & Memoir

Jules Renard by Vallotton, on pink background.

I was Poil de carotte

Richard Taws

4 August 2022

Jules Renard was a brilliant noticer of things. Distinguishing quirks and concrete observations usually take precedence over broader typologies. ‘The man of science generalises,’ he wrote, ‘the artist particularises.’ Renard termed his brand of forensic attention ‘scrupulous inexactness’, and his journal succeeds on its own terms precisely because of this ‘inexactness’. 

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Monarchs and Emperors

Michael Ledger-Lomas

21 July 2022

European monarchies​ and extra-European empires were made for one another, especially in the decades after the 1848 revolutions, when the ancien régime was transformed. Monarchs were increasingly beholden . . .

What Isou Did to Language

Rye Dag Holmboe

21 July 2022

In​ 1942, walking the streets of wartime Bucharest, 17-year-old Isidore Isou posed himself the same question then being asked of the founding of Israel: how to build a better world than the one around . . .

Hrabal’s Categories

Michael Hofmann

21 July 2022

Things​ have not gone quiet around the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, even though he has been dead since February 1997, when he defenestrated himself from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital, à la . . .


Mike Jay

23 June 2022

I’m​ trying to remember the last time I saw someone standing by the side of the road with their thumb out, holding a cardboard sign. Like innumerable other bygones – the last milk bottle on a doorstep . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

Afew weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed...

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Memoirs of a Pet Lamb

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

I cannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on boat-race day where a lady had kindly asked whether I was Oxford or Cambridge. I had answered: ‘I’m a Jew.’

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

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Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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Sylvia Townsend Warner’s diaries and letters demonstrate over and over again how important it was to her that she immerse herself in a milieu or environment. She felt identity above all as a relation....

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Lea Ypi recovers the sensory world of communist Albania: its privations, its ecstasies, but also its banalities. Young people in Albania fretted over what to wear to school just like children elsewhere....

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Dining Room Radicals

Rosemary Hill, 7 April 2022

For Joseph Johnson, who was often described as being quiet at his own table, Henry Fuseli perhaps fulfilled that social role best described as ‘the unacceptable friend’, saying what Johnson could or...

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Unnerved by death threats and assassination plots, Robespierre acquired a trio of bodyguards armed with clubs. In the end, however, his undoing was not the work of a murderous stranger but of his adversaries...

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Walter de la Mare was something of an antiquary who sought out odds and ends from the past, and in their quirky way his collections can feel as obsessed with the strata of history as the great masterpieces...

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The Hierophant: Servant King

Michael Ledger-Lomas, 10 March 2022

The​ Queen’s Dolls’ House, designed by Edwin Lutyens, was put on display at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. A twee descendant of Victoria and Albert’s Crystal...

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Serious Mayhem: The McLaren Strand

Simon Reynolds, 10 March 2022

The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren declared, ‘were anti-music and anti-business’, yet ‘God Save the Queen’ outsold Rod Stewart twice over. This was his knack, and his downfall: to take the uncommercial...

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Diary: Out of Sir Vidia’s Shadow

Paul Theroux, 24 February 2022

Ihad​ planned to become a doctor – I imagined working in a hospital in a tropical country like Dr Schweitzer. I graduated in 1963, but being unable to afford medical school I joined the...

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Diary: Scratched on a Stone

Philip Terry, 27 January 2022

Taking a leap in the dark – and is this not what the bounding horses lining the ceiling of Lascaux’s axial gallery ask us to do? – Jean-Luc Champerret proposes that the grids act as frameworks for...

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Diary: Selling my hair on eBay

Alan Bennett, 6 January 2022

29 May, Yorkshire. I’ve lost count of the number of times on TV I’ve seen the sequence whereby a dead lamb is skinned and the skin fitted onto an orphaned lamb which is then foisted on a bereaved sheep...

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At the Gay Bar

Andrew Durbin, 6 January 2022

At some point​ on a night out an older queen will swing down from the rafters to let you know you’re too late. Five, maybe ten years ago, he explains, it was much better here. The music was better,...

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Strap on an ox-head: Christ comes to Stockholm

Patricia Lockwood, 6 January 2022

The literary stomach of the world is a goat’s, not a hummingbird’s, and Karl Ove Knausgaard knows it. He tosses us crumpled newspapers, cardboard cups, grocery lists – all the detritus that makes...

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Sebald’s deep preoccupation is with what his character Jacques Austerlitz calls ‘the marks of pain’, psychological and physical, in human and other animals. These marks are indelible, and for some...

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Diary: Wrestling Days

Tom Crewe, 16 December 2021

Who cared if it was a low-budget British production, the sort that still tours provincial towns, advertised in newsagent doorways: to sit in the dark, to chew down a hotdog with scalding onions, to watch...

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No Innovations in My Time: George III

Ferdinand Mount, 16 December 2021

George’s defenders cannot have it both ways. Either they take the king whole, hot and strong and stubborn to the last; or they have to sideline him as an endearing nullity. To present him as a great...

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Reading books like this, I feel like a Philip K. Dick character in the grip of wild-eyed madness. I want to run around telling the authors to snap out of it, to stop wasting their time and their Sontag...

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Like Colonel Sanders: The Stan Lee Era

Christopher Tayler, 2 December 2021

The​ great realisation of the Stan Lee era at Marvel was that heroes didn’t need to be paragons. They could be anxious teenagers with money worries, like Spider-Man, or members of a bickering pseudo-family,...

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Life Pushed Aside: The Last Asylums

Clair Wills, 18 November 2021

I am haunted by the figure of Rolanda Polonsky, walking through the hospital corridors. If my eight-year-old self had opened the doors that frightened me I might have found her, back then, exactly as she...

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