Clair Wills

Clair Wills is a professor of English literature at Cambridge.

Mothers​ have a hard time in Ali Smith’s novels. I mean that Smith gives them a hard time, as well as acknowledging the hard time they’ve had already, just getting this far, in one piece. In Summer, the final novel of Smith’s seasons quartet, the harried mother is Grace. Grace gets good marks from the novel’s thirtysomethings for her resolve to live on easy terms...

On Hope Mirrlees

Clair Wills, 10 September 2020

The​ Turkish language has a tense for gossip. Officially known as the reported past, it’s also the ‘hearsay’ tense, in which it’s possible to say things without its really being you who says them, or even exactly you who knows them. In Turkish, statements such as ‘they were lovers’ or ‘she had the child adopted’ have a ghostly...

On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills, 6 February 2020

PaulMuldoon enjoys leading his reader astray. On that the critics agree. I have been looking back at reviews of his work over the years. It is remarkable how often people quote from an early interview in which Muldoon describes his poems gently ‘leading people on’ and then leaving them ‘high and dry’ at some terrible party, while he has nipped out the bathroom...

No Waverers Allowed: Eamonn McCann

Clair Wills, 23 May 2019

Who began​ the killing? At root, arguments about the genesis of the Troubles are arguments about responsibility for murder, and that’s one reason it has proved so hard to disentangle history from blame in accounts of Northern Ireland since the late 1960s. In May 1974, in the New York Review of Books, the critic Seamus Deane lambasted Conor Cruise O’Brien, then minister for posts...

Anti-Writer: Plain Brian O’Nolan

Clair Wills, 4 April 2019

In March​ 1957 Brian O’Nolan – better known under his pen names Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen – then aged 45, applied for a series of jobs at the radio broadcasting studios in Cork, including station supervisor, programme assistant, and balance and control officer. The same month he announced his candidacy for the Irish Senate. His principal argument in his...

Ireland today is the place you are most likely to be happy. Your desire for a robust and rising standard of living, political freedom, strong bonds with your extended family, a marriage that survives, even a decent climate – all these wishes are most likely to be granted in the Irish Republic. At least this was the case in 2005, when Ireland came top – the UK was 29th – in...

In​ 1964, shortly after getting married and landing the first research fellowship at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born analyst of...

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In the Gasworks

David Wheatley, 18 May 2000

Marcel Aymé’s novel Le Passemuraille, about a man who can walk through walls, would have interested Thomas Caulfield Irwin (1823-92). Irwin is cited in Paul Muldoon’s To...

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