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Biography & Memoir

Black and white photo of Flannery O'Connor

Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor

Rupert Thomson

21 March 2020

Towards the end of the correspondence a self-consciousness creeps in. Responding to ‘Parker’s Back’, one of O’Connor’s last stories, Gordon’s self-deprecation borders on cringing: ‘You will understand, I know, that when old Dr G. says she would do it this way or that she is merely trying to give you, offhand, an example of the kind of thing she feels ought to be done.’ A week later, O’Connor wrote to her friend Betty Hester: ‘Caroline gave me a lot of advice about the story, but most of it I’m ignoring.’

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Where water used to be

Rosa Lyster

21 March 2020

On​ the second to last day of last year, I got on a flight to Mexico City. Four hours in, we were told we needed to make an emergency landing in Houston. The captain had noticed an oil leak shortly . . .

‘Mummy est morte’

Christopher de Bellaigue

7 March 2020

‘De Bellaigue?’ The voice belonged to one of the senior boys in the house, someone who had never spoken to me before. I looked up from my desk, where I was surveying my untouched homework . . .

The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

9 February 2020

When​ Deborah Orr died, in October, I hadn’t seen her for more than 16 years. We’d run into each other in 2003 at a book party, when I was pregnant with my son, and she’d tearfully . . .

The Stud File

Kevin Brazil

9 February 2020

By​ the time Samuel Steward began to write his autobiography in 1978, at the age of 69, he’d had sex more than four thousand times with more than eight hundred men. Each encounter was carefully . . .

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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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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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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Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn, 6 February 2020

He was an exceptional shit of a human being, even aside from the defects born of extreme ambition. None of his cult followers has ever squarely denied it, and his enemies never fail to mention it.

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Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 6 February 2020

Corruption and hypocrisy tend to be systemic: if you see them at the top you’re sure to encounter them at the bottom. Liberia has been rebuilt with impressive speed; the road networks are now even...

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Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 6 February 2020

Perhaps Soviet dissent was always less remarkable as an actual political movement in the domestic context than for the magnified reflection it gained in international media.

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Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade, 23 January 2020

Ray Strachey​ is remembered, if at all, for The Cause, her history of the women’s movement, published in 1928. But reading that book – which is dedicated to Strachey’s friend...

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What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud, 23 January 2020

Bin Laden’s wives and daughters were excluded from leadership on grounds of their gender, but their brothers were unsuitable for other reasons. Siham’s son, Khalid, doesn’t seem to have...

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I think those on the front line must have sympathised with the people affected by the disaster, and considered themselves lucky not to live near hazardous industrial parks. I believe they must have done...

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Diary: What I did in 2019

Alan Bennett, 2 January 2020

Whereas a play or whatever on TV would invariably prompt a tipsy telephone call from Peter Cook with congratulations that one had got away with it yet again, Jonathan and I were less indulgent, tending...

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Maggie, Denis and Mandy

Andrew O’Hagan, 2 January 2020

We sat upstairs under a huge portrait of Disraeli. Thatcher was across from me, wearing a blue, sparkly twinset and a flowery brooch. She looked very tired, like someone who’s done too much with...

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Jonathan Miller

Neal Ascherson, 2 January 2020

I first met Jonathan’s knees. This was because Cambridge sofas in the 1950s had broken springs. Once they had buoyed up culture heroes like Rupert Brooke, John Cornford or Guy Burgess.

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Thatcher Undone

David Runciman, 2 January 2020

Her vision of Britain as a Singapore off the coast of Europe no longer has to be hidden. Some, indeed, hope it will soon become official government policy. Yet anyone who wants to see the coming Johnson...

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Short Cuts: ‘Little Women’ Redux

Joanna Biggs, 2 January 2020

I envy girls their literature. There’s no literature about getting old, staying in (or leaving) a marriage, raising (or not raising) children comparable with that about growing up.

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Diary: A Whiff of Tear Gas

John Lanchester, 19 December 2019

You get told, repeatedly, that the protesters are ‘children’, as young as 14 or 15 or even younger. This is supposed to suggest that the protests are in some sense trivial, though of course...

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‘Lost Girls’

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, 9 December 2019

Rather​ D.J. Taylor than me, when it comes to untangling the unbelievably complicated and messy love lives of the so-called Horizon circle: the people who clustered adoringly around Cyril...

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Lewis Namier’s Obsessions

Colin Kidd, 25 November 2019

In​ 1951, at the height of his celebrity and a year before he received his knighthood, the historian Lewis Bernstein Namier was sufficiently well known to appear – only lightly...

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Diary: California Burns

Meehan Crist, 21 November 2019

As we glide along the path of our own destruction, this is how we normalise it – one tweet at a time.

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‘On Chapel Sands’

Bee Wilson, 19 November 2019

In our age of selfies, no one could pretend that the camera never lies. It is capable of obfuscating and deceiving every bit as much as the people who compose, take and edit the photos. But that is not...

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On Michael Neve

Mike Jay, 19 November 2019

Michael​ Neve died on 9 October. I first met him in 1995, at a funeral. We had been taught Nietzsche by the same lecturer at Cambridge; that had been enough academia for me, but Michael had...

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Harold Bloom

Colin Burrow, 19 November 2019

Harold​ Bloom, who died at the age of 89 just before the publication of The American Canon, made his name in 1973 with The Anxiety of Influence. It was a great title, which soon became a...

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