Biography & Memoir

Wild Beasts

Fraser MacDonald

23 September 2021

Iknow​ the road to Abriachan better on the map than on the ground. I can trace it back and forth up the hill as it rises above the old graveyard at Killianan, through the hazel woods, out to the...

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The Children of God

Tabitha Lasley

23 September 2021

Faith Morgan​’s memoir opens in her attic, where her teenage son has stumbled on a cache of newspaper cuttings about the Children of God, forcing her to confront memories she’s spent . . .

Silicon Valley Vampire

David Runciman

23 September 2021

Libertarians would have us believe that unregulated, free-market capitalism is somehow diametrically opposed to state capitalism. One encourages innovation; the other stifles it. What Peter Thiel demonstrates . . .

Ben Hecht’s Cause

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

23 September 2021

In​ the early 1920s, Herman J. Mankiewicz (‘Mank’) and Ben Hecht were not very successful writers in New York. Then Mank ventured west, the first of what was to become an exodus of literary . . .

Charity Refused

Malcolm Gaskill

9 September 2021

Afew weeks ago,​ a man appeared in my front garden as I was trimming the hedge. Slight in stature, in his early twenties with short dark hair, he was wearing a huge hold-all as though it were a rucksack . . .

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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A Few Heroic Men: Naoroji’s Tactics

Priya Satia, 9 September 2021

Imperialism was the foundation of Britain’s power and wealth, and so criticism of it was integral to campaigns for liberty. It was not only Indians and the Indian diaspora who looked to Dadabhai...

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As William Blake finds eternity in a grain of sand, so Walter Benjamin’s Surrealist gaze finds momentous meanings in the trifling and discarded. In the same way, he believes that every moment of...

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Diary: Watch the World Burn

Ben Jackson, 9 September 2021

Climate change doesn’t provide the same clarifying moments as a pandemic, and if we expect COP26 – or a summer of heatwaves – to be such a moment, we will be disappointed. The question...

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I ain’t afeared: In Her Classroom

Marina Warner, 9 September 2021

According to Black Teacher, Beryl Gilroy created her own programmes of learning, devised idiosyncratic projects and sensed where her lessons could eventually lead her pupils – she wasn’t...

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Kings and Kinglets: Cassiodorus

Michael Kulikowski, 12 August 2021

Ancient​ Latin literature has reached us along an improbably narrow path. Two millennia of rats, fire and floods were as nothing compared with three historical bottlenecks. Only one of these...

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Diary: A Free Speech Agenda

Sophie Smith, 12 August 2021

Those who portray themselves as beleaguered defenders of academic freedom also enjoy less tangible benefits: it’s possible for them to configure good faith criticism – the substance of academic...

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One French City

Lydia Davis, 12 August 2021

The city is built on a gentle slope, an outcropping of limestone, with the amphitheatre close to the top. There are perspectives up, and down, and, from the top, out over the countryside. And even as you...

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Swish! Swish! Swish! The Mani Olive Harvest

Patrick Leigh Fermor, 29 July 2021

Everything gathers here. Animals stamp and neigh and collide and rear, swift hands disentangle them; strong backs are bent double under the sacks. Greetings are shouted and gossip has to be exchanged in...

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Diary: Young Hong Kongers

Simon Cartledge, 29 July 2021

Looking back at the Hong Kong protests now – especially at the hundreds of hours of video footage on YouTube and elsewhere – I find it hard not to marvel at what happened. I’m also shocked...

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Barbara Pym’s comedies are disenchanted romances. Her spinsters often marry but do so with their eyes open. Men, they realise, are best treated as children – helpless and often peevish. Eligible...

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True Bromance: Ravi Shankar’s Ragas

Philip Clark, 15 July 2021

The rules stated which notes needed to be emphasised; the stress on certain notes locked others out of the design, thus creating the melodic shapes that gave each raga its personality. In performance,...

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The Terrifying Vrooom: Empsonising

Colin Burrow, 15 July 2021

Reading an Empson essay is like being taken for a drive by an eccentric uncle in a terrifyingly powerful old banger. There are disturbing stains on the upholstery and an alarming whiff of whisky in the...

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Diary: Class 1H

Ian Jack, 15 July 2021

As names were called, children stood up from the benches and gathered at the front, until an entire class had been assembled. A, B, C, D, E and F were called, and I was still there, waiting with around...

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Diary: A Branching Story

Joe Dunthorne, 1 July 2021

I had the constant sense that the next small edit would balance the whole thing out and I was always wrong. A branching story is like a creature with ten thousand limbs – if you tweak one toe, the...

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I am struck by her loneliness. She wanted to merge with the masses, to be anonymous and unobtrusive – a worker, a farmhand, a trade unionist, a soldier – one among many, working and fighting...

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The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg began on 6 March 1951 and lasted sixteen days. The syndicated columnist Inez Robb offered a warning that went out in more than a hundred newspapers: Ethel might...

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The illusion of science, for a writer in the embryonic American marketplace, sold better than the real thing. But Poe had grand scientific ambitions, with which he persisted in the teeth of indifference...

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Diary: Oxford by Train

Patrick McGuinness, 17 June 2021

The canals and rivers of Oxford aren’t working waterways anymore, but livelihoods used to depend on them. Oxford’s crest – an ox ‘fording’ three wavy lines of water –...

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