Biography & Memoir

Photograph of Ernest Bevin in 1947.

The Importance of Being Ernie

Ferdinand Mount

5 November 2020

Ernest Bevin’s vigorous scepticism and his quick understanding of what other people were actually like – a rare quality in politicians, that race of incurable solipsists – went with an equally quick eye for the possibilities of constructing or improving institutions. Andrew Adonis points out that he ‘never dismantled machines that worked’.

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The only girl in the moshpit

Joanna Biggs

5 November 2020

One​ of the puzzling things about feminism is that it can be confused with being self-centred. If it’s good for me, a woman might say of something she wants to do – whether . . .

Eliot’s Letters

Paul Keegan

22 October 2020

When​ T.S. Eliot asked John Hayward in February 1938 to act as his literary executor (‘in case some unexpected calamity cuts me down like a flower’), he told him to prevent publication . . .

Thom Gunn in New York

Michael Nott

22 October 2020

Thom​ Gunn spent the summer of 1958 in New York City. ‘It was wonderful, and revelatory as it always is,’ he told his friend Tony White. ‘I learn more about people and myself in . . .

Black Forest Thinking

Andrew O’Hagan

22 October 2020

Iopened​ the window to let in some air. Hotel windows can’t always be opened. Some hotels don’t believe in fresh air, or they believe it’s too expensive, if the price of having . . .

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: A Memoir

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

Icannot 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...

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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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Each of us is a snowball: Squares are best

Susannah Clapp, 22 October 2020

Ideal for snoopers, snip­ers, novelists, cartoonists and daydreamers, squares offer the chance of peering out in several directions without someone across from you peering back. They mix urbanity and...

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China after Covid

Wang Xiuying, 22 October 2020

Since China tamed the virus and normal life resumed, the CCP has bestowed its highest honours on key scientists and doctors. Political commentators, like middle-class consumers, are in high spirits. The...

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Goldfish are my homies

John Lahr, 22 October 2020

Fish sleep with their eyes open: not our kind of sleep, more like our kind of daydream. Awake but not awake, just like me; living to eat and conserve energy, just like me; devoid of answers, just like...

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Diary: At the Mexican Border

Carlos Dada, 8 October 2020

I had just arrived in the town of Tapachula in the southern state of Chiapas, not far from the Guatemalan border, when I heard that a boat had capsized. On the morning of 11 October, a fisherman had spotted...

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Diary: On Quitting Academia

Malcolm Gaskill, 24 September 2020

I still can’t decide whether I’ve retired or just resigned, or am in fact redundant and unemployed. I’m undeniably jobless at 53, able-bodied (I hesitate to say ‘fit’), with...

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Jansson had many euphemisms for lesbianism: ‘rive gauche’, as if all Parisian women were at it; ‘borderliner’; a ‘new line’, ‘tendency’, ‘attitude’....

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Diary: My Summer with Boris’s Mother

Wynford Hicks, 10 September 2020

It’s not often I hear news of her, though I know she’s a painter. I did read an interview she gave to Tatler five years ago. ‘I was engaged to somebody called Wynford Hicks,’ she...

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The Suitcase: Part Three

Frances Stonor Saunders, 10 September 2020

‘Where’s Daddy?’ I asked. ‘He’s gone away for the summer.’ There was a van outside our house and men were lifting furniture into it and other things wrapped in blankets....

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‘The new art is really a business,’ Warhol said in 1969. ‘We want to sell shares of our company on the Wall Street stock market.’ This didn’t endear him to some. ‘You’re...

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The realm of writing, for Nathalie Sarraute, remained the neutral, the anonym­ous, the impersonal, expressed as the pre­-conscious and pre-­personal undercurrents of the mind, which she named...

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Whatever Made Him: The Bauman Dichotomy

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 10 September 2020

Do we need biographies of public intellectuals? Is knowledge about a scholar’s life relevant to an understanding of their work? The Polish-Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman thought not, and sedulously...

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Early Kermode

Stefan Collini, 13 August 2020

So when had all that started to happen, when did the smart London weeklies and monthlies begin to commission reviews from the little-known young lecturer who, recruited by D.J. Gordon, had moved to the...

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Art Lessons

Peter Campbell, 13 August 2020

If a botanist or architect had taken the pictures she might have been noticing kinds of plant and kinds of building. I was more interested in the way the world offers itself up as a series of ready-made...

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He​ had two days to prepare. We’d been thinking about it for a year. Four thousand infantry had to be organised. Eight hundred cavalry. Mules, carts, munitions, medical services. A cannon....

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The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders, 13 August 2020

A map is a memory: it’s a representation, a re-presenting of something that has been. It may look good on paper – and that’s already a fiddle, a projection of a sphere onto a plane –...

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Forster in Cambridge

Richard Shone, 30 July 2020

At six I knocked on his door and heard his light-toned ‘Come in.’ At first I could see no one in the large, high-ceilinged room with its mass of Victorian furniture, books and pictures against...

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Diary: In Ashgabat

James Lomax, 30 July 2020

Phillips had been waiting for me to arrive for half an hour. He was desperate to talk to someone, even if that person had been sent to investigate him for fraud. ‘Let’s go for a drink after...

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The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders, 30 July 2020

Childhood is lived not in history but in geography, in the slow, systematic mapping of place. Every child is a pioneer, surveying with great seriousness a world in which everything is new under the sun. Slowly,...

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