Biography & Memoir

Black and white photo of Eve Babitz.

LA Non-Confidential

Lucie Elven

17 June 2021

The pathetic fallacy is always narcissistic, but Eve Babitz’s type of narcissism is extravagantly grievous. Besides, she was once giddy at her own gorgeousness too: ‘I was always scaring the timid junkies with my radiant molecules. In fact, I was obnoxiously radiant.’

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Oxford by Train

Patrick McGuinness

17 June 2021

Edward Thomas​ called the approach to Oxford by train ‘the most contemptible in Europe’. There’s no view to speak of, and the station is a big shed with lots of glass and cheap . . .

Life as a Wife

Tessa Hadley

17 June 2021

Another​ report from the front line of the sex war. New York Review Books has reprinted a clever little book, published in 1972, about the first Mrs George Meredith, which is nothing so crude as . . .

Gender Renegades

Sharon Marcus

17 June 2021

James​ Allen was working for a London shipwright when he was killed by a falling piece of timber in 1829. He had been married to his wife, Abigail, for more than twenty years. The medical students . . .

Adams’s Education

Jonathan Parry

3 June 2021

Three​ books made me fall in love with the dynamics of history: The Forsyte Saga, Buddenbrooks and The Education of Henry Adams. I discovered Adams’s autobiography last, when it headed the . . .

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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I grew a beard: Biden on Crack

Christian Lorentzen, 3 June 2021

The lingo of meritocracy and comic book heroes is always at the ready when Hunter is scoring or cooking drugs. Proximity to a crack haunt sets off his ‘spidey sense’; becoming an expert addict...

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Exemplary craftsman, incorrigible satyr, subversive joker, avid grievance collector, liberal humanist, good son, bad husband, bountiful benefactor, Philip Roth in his prickly contrarieties aroused an ambivalence...

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Daisy Chains: Sappho 1900

Emma Hogan, 20 May 2021

Sylvia Beach said that Americans came to the Left Bank for two things they couldn’t get at home, alcohol and Ulysses, but they also came for the cafés, the galleries, the nightlife. Butch...

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Diary: Fan Power

Mimi Jiang, 20 May 2021

Compared to xiangsheng, which is almost two hundred years old, stand-up comedy (mistranslated in Chinese as ‘talk show’) is still a baby. When Chinese overseas students moved back home in waves...

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Many of the mother and baby home residents were able to make new lives; some feel grateful for the refuge the homes afforded them. Children adopted by loving parents have thrived. But others experienced...

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Staying Alive in the Ruins: Plato to Nato

Richard J. Evans, 22 April 2021

While the British adhered to the well-established concept of the ‘two Germanies’, and tried to bring out the civilised tradition of Beethoven and Goethe while suppressing the uncivilised tradition...

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Diary: Homelooseness

Tom Crewe, 22 April 2021

Voters in the North ‘chose’ the Tories, but it wasn’t a free choice, just as my leaving the North wasn’t a free choice. These are choices conditioned by circumstances, dictated...

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Moi Aussi

Lili Owen Rowlands, 22 April 2021

Vanessa Springora feels the sexual radicalism of post-1968 France marked the world she inhabited: it remained ‘forbidden to forbid’. In a section that slides into polemic, she quotes the open...

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Fed up with Ibiza: Sybille Bedford

Jenny Turner, 1 April 2021

You might start reading her for the food and the celebrity gossip, but you reread for the thrilling materiality, ‘concrete and fastidious’, as she herself once suggested, of her prose:...

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Pissing on Pedestrians: A Great Unravelling

Owen Bennett-Jones, 1 April 2021

The only way to persuade Robert Max­well that a story about his latest incon­sequential meeting with an East European leader shouldn’t run in the Mirror was to suggest it was too important...

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On the Barone

John Foot, 4 March 2021

In September​ the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez turned up at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia to take an Italian test. This tough language exam, a requirement for anybody...

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I would like to read a different biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, one that is less hagiographic but more humane. Surely it is possible to acknowledge this remarkable woman’s foresight, determination,...

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The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya, 18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like...

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Diary: I was a Child Liberationist

Lorna Finlayson, 18 February 2021

I’d made a decision not to tell anybody I was leaving and waited until the end of the autumn term so that nobody would know what I’d done until the new year. It would be my own secret, daunting...

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Miss Skippit

Andrew O’Hagan, 18 February 2021

Mary-Kay Wilmers taught a generation of us that the job was to have a point of view. Vagueness wasn’t a useful quality, and grand declarations are not the same as good writing. If the paper didn’t...

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In this febrile yet curiously static environment of competing claims on our subjecthood and sympathy, we could all do with bearing in mind Wollstonecraft’s distinction between real and affected sentiment....

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Diary: Ethiopia’s Long War

Maaza Mengiste, 4 February 2021

What do we do with all that history – all that rage, all these memories? A young soldier with a slender face. Bruised and beaten men in the back of a truck. The site of a prison, a plaque on a wall....

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A Funny Feeling: Larkin and My Father

David Runciman, 4 February 2021

I was deeply struck by a feeling that the step from the half-life my father had been leading to no life at all was less significant than the earlier step from his full life to his bedbound one. Dying did...

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