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Masters of Art

John Sutherland, 18 December 1980

Loon Lake 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 333 30641 4
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Alice fell 
by Emma Tennant.
Cape, 124 pp., £5.50, November 1980, 0 224 01872 8
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The Covenant 
by James Michener.
Secker, 873 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 436 27966 5
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Ancesteral Vices 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 231 pp., £6.50, November 1980, 0 436 45809 8
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... report. The poetry is sufficiently ambitious to have been published as work in progress in the Kenyon Review: the straight narrative is sufficiently ‘accessible’ (a favourite Doctorow term) to have been adapted for Playboy. It’s not done at all easily, but it has to be admitted that a book with this range of appeal performs a remarkable feat of ...

Here to take Karl Stead to lunch

C.K. Stead, 30 January 1992

Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation 
by John Lahr.
Bloomsbury, 242 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1021 0
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... me that at night the timber houses of Auckland look like lanterns. The story first appeared in the Kenyon Review in the United States, and soon afterwards was translated into Spanish, where it appeared in Reviste de Occidente, and into Hungarian for an anthology of ‘the world’s best stories’. It seemed to me significant that literary persons in a Fascist ...


Ian Gilmour, 1 August 1996

The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle 
by John Ehrman.
Constable, 911 pp., £35, May 1996, 9780094755406
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... of Fox into a strong coalition government; instead, he formed a weak, untalented administration John Ehrman’s final volume deals with the years from 1797 to Pitt’s death early in 1806. His biography is on a scale which might be called ‘Victorian’ except that most of the great biographies of Victorian politicians appeared in this century. According ...


John Bayley, 17 September 1987

Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry 
edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese.
Cambridge, 377 pp., £17.50, June 1987, 0 571 14979 0
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Collected Prose 
by Robert Lowell, edited and introduced by Robert Giroux.
Faber, 269 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 30872 0
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... brief “rebellion” against Harvard, which brought him first to Vanderbilt and then to Kenyon, should not obscure the simple truth that he was, like Berryman, the ultimate Ivy Leaguer, the educated genteel intellectual who would spend a good portion of his life on campuses like Harvard or Princeton. Yet the other side of the preppie portrait is ...

Door Closing!

Mark Ford: Randall Jarrell, 21 October 2010

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy 
by Randall Jarrell.
Chicago, 277 pp., £10.50, April 2010, 978 0 226 39375 9
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... to commit suicide, but the coroner decided it was an accident. While the premature deaths of, say, John Berryman and Delmore Schwartz and Sylvia Plath seemed somehow implicit in the trajectory of their careers, there was nothing remotely maudit about Jarrell, until the last couple of years of his life, when the approach of his 50th birthday induced a bout of ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... the impossibility, for him, of Williams’s kind of free verse, and his stubborn anti-Europeanism. John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate had special claims on him. As a young man Lowell had fled Harvard to seek instruction from Ransom and Tate in Tennessee and at Kenyon College, Ohio. Tate, the stronger influence, saw himself as ...

‘The Meeting of the Waters’

John Barrell, 27 July 2017

... made of it than either the waters or their meeting deserve.’ This is the English travel writer John Barrow writing of the Vale of Avoca in 1835. Like him, I find it hard to decide on the register of the phrase, so lyrical as a song title, so grandiloquent as a synonym for ‘confluence’; unlike Barrow, I find these meetings fascinating, but I don’t ...

In His Pink Negligée

Colm Tóibín: The Ruthless Truman Capote, 21 April 2005

The Complete Stories 
by Truman Capote.
Random House, 400 pp., $24.95, September 2004, 0 679 64310 9
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Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote 
edited by Gerald Clarke.
Random House, 487 pp., $27.95, September 2004, 0 375 50133 9
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... face lifted for the fourth time – the Doctors say no more), then Cecil [Beaton] and John Gielgud came to stay with us, and we went to Venice on Arturo Lopez’s yacht … Oh yes, I forgot Noel Coward – he fell in love with Jack. Jack hated it All. Later, in his thirties, he would tire also of the Greeks: ‘The children are so horrid: have ...

Use Use Use

Robert Baird: Robert Duncan’s Dream, 24 October 2013

Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus 
by Lisa Jarnot.
California, 509 pp., £27.95, August 2013, 978 0 520 23416 1
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... Macdonald’s advice to publish under a pseudonym. His admission drew much attention, and caused John Crowe Ransom to retract his acceptance of one of Duncan’s poems for the Kenyon Review. The essay was also notable for its earnest protest against the ‘cult of homosexual superiority’, a volley probably directed at ...

On a Chinese Mountain

Frank Kermode, 20 November 1986

The Royal Beasts 
by William Empson.
Chatto, 201 pp., £12.95, November 1986, 0 7011 3084 9
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Essays on Shakespeare 
by William Empson.
Cambridge, 246 pp., £25, May 1986, 0 521 25577 5
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... Beasts in interest. The volume has a valuable seventy-page introduction and some useful notes by John Haffenden, who arranges the material as far as possible in chronological order. The play or melodrama, Three Stories, was written when the poet was 20, and performed, with him in the cast, by the Cambridge ADC. Long supposed to have been lost as Empson ...

Places Never Explained

Colm Tóibín: Anthony Hecht, 8 August 2013

The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht 
edited by Jonathan Post.
Johns Hopkins, 365 pp., £18, November 2012, 978 1 4214 0730 2
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... to what other writers were doing about the war. In 1943, after reading a story about the army by John Cheever in the New Yorker, he wrote to Mackie: ‘The trouble with writing a story about the army is this: people expect something to happen in a story (Cheever supplied things, lots of things); but the whole point of the army is that nothing ever does ...

The Common Law and the Constitution

Stephen Sedley, 8 May 1997

... applicant.’ He drew authority, in turn, from a decision by an 18th-century Chief Justice, Lord Kenyon, who said: ‘I do not mean to say that a stranger may not in any case prefer this sort of application, but he ought to come to the court with a very fair case in his hands.’ Although not in itself responsible for more than a handful of cases, it is the ...

His Own Prophet

Michael Hofmann: Read Robert Lowell!, 11 September 2003

Collected Poems 
by Robert Lowell, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
Faber, 1186 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 571 16340 8
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... though for me it spoils the ‘line’ of the poem – was reinstated at the petitioning of John Berryman in For the Union Dead (1964); a revised version of that is printed as a separate poem called ‘Ovid and Caesar’s Daughter’ in History (1973); and now Bidart and Gewanter have unearthed a seven-stanza monster that was printed in the ...

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