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Back to the future

Julian Symons, 10 September 1992

The Children of Men 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 239 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 571 16741 1
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A Philosophical Investigation 
by Philip Kerr.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7011 4553 6
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by Georgina Hammick.
Chatto, 212 pp., £13.99, August 1992, 0 7011 4133 6
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The Death of the Author 
by Gilbert Adair.
Heinemann, 135 pp., £13.99, August 1992, 0 434 00623 8
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Jerusalem Commands 
by Michael Moorcock.
Cape, 577 pp., £15.99, July 1992, 0 224 03074 4
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... code names in the computer, names relating to literature and philosophy, so that one is codenamed Charles Dickens, another Bertrand Russell. The killer is one of these: code name Wittgenstein. The trouble with such dead-clever stuff as this is that it wavers between seriousness and farce, and also that the cleverness makes more jarring the frequent ...


E.S. Turner, 19 August 1993

The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules and the Victorians 
by Andrew St George.
Chatto, 330 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 7011 3623 5
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... at least is good manners. The democratic ways of the Americans make for a more satisfying study. Charles Dickens dutifully followed the familiar trail of brown spittle winding through the New World, Fanny Trollope having charted it ten years earlier. He found a law court in which judge, crier, witness and prisoner had their own spittoons, as did the ...


Eleanor Birne: Jane Harris, 6 April 2006

The Observations 
by Jane Harris.
Faber, 415 pp., £12.99, April 2006, 0 571 22335 4
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... She says of herself at the end of her first day: ‘So there I was with two pens, my two titties, Charles Dickens, two slice of bread and a blank book at the end of my first day in the middle of nowhere.’ She fails to write anything at all in her journal that first night. Following much encouragement from her mistress, she writes this brief entry at ...


Andrew O’Hagan: A City of Prose, 4 August 2005

... than a hundred years before people were phoning to complain about Edward Said’s right to write, Charles Dickens was furnishing his new house on the same site, and furnishing his new novel, Bleak House, with characters who struggled to agree about how to live in the world and what to believe. Peter Ackroyd provides a nice picture of the novelist in the ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann, 7 January 1999

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... effortlessly since birth from one favourable literary atmosphere to another. His father had heard Charles Dickens read when he was six, had helped to found Granta and furiously defended the Liberal cause at the Punch table. John himself had been at Eton with Alan Pryce-Jones, Anthony Powell, Eric Blair and Cyril Connolly, who, we are told, stood at the ...

Versatile Monster

Marilyn Butler, 5 May 1988

In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and 19th-century Writing 
by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 207 pp., £22.50, December 1987, 0 19 811726 4
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... Irish Frankenstein’. Usually the creature appears with his middle-class friend, John Bright or Charles Parnell, who cowers in his threatening shadow. But at least once, in 1843, Punch’s monster is on his own, and it’s easy to see how Elizabeth Gaskell, along no doubt with an increasing proportion of the public, came to believe that the name ...

Hoist that dollymop’s sail

John Sutherland: New Victorian Novels, 31 October 2002

by Sarah Waters.
Virago, 549 pp., £12.99, February 2002, 1 86049 882 5
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The Crimson Petal and the White 
by Michel Faber.
Canongate, 838 pp., £17.99, October 2002, 1 84195 323 7
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... Expectations (and Susan in Fingersmith), Fanny’s parentage is not what it seems. But unlike Dickens’s frosty belle, Fanny is not corrupted by her childhood surroundings. She ends up as what Mayhew described as a ‘cohabitant prostitute’ – a kept woman. Half respectable, half whore, she has seen both sides of Victorian society. Running through ...

Tocqueville in Saginaw

Alan Ryan, 2 March 1989

Tocqueville: A Biography 
by André Jardin, translated by Lydia Davis and Robert Hemenway.
Peter Halban, 550 pp., £18, October 1988, 1 870015 13 4
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... Their father was less high-pitched in his legitimism, but as a Prefect under Louis XVIII and Charles X got a reputation for behaving much like an intendant under the Ancien Régime – though he was unloved by the King’s ministers only because he was not very good at fixing elections. Hervé was a man of wide general culture, as well as a diligent ...

The Coat in Question

Iain Sinclair: Margate, 20 March 2003

All the Devils Are Here 
by David Seabrook.
Granta, 192 pp., £7.99, March 2003, 9781862075597
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... the ‘areal’, as proposed by the geographer Carl Sauer (a great favourite of that poet of place Charles Olson). Sauer, like Seabrook, deals in awkward particulars, grit under the eyelid. Areal is what you finish up with when there’s no way out, economically, emotionally, spiritually – with Connex and Railtrack operating the only escape chute. With ...

Something about her eyes

Patricia Beer, 24 June 1993

Daphne du Maurier 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 455 pp., £17.99, March 1993, 0 7011 3699 5
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... as well as anybody and better than some, between writing which is both great and popular (Charles Dickens) and the sort which is merely popular (Monica Dickens). Yet in the general course of the biography she bypasses ideas of better or worse. From time to time, it is true, she slips in, almost ...

‘His eyes were literally on fire’

David Trotter: Fu Manchu, 5 March 2015

The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia 
by Christopher Frayling.
Thames and Hudson, 360 pp., £24.95, October 2014, 978 0 500 25207 9
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... time to propagate the myth of China’s epochal stagnation. During the Great Exhibition of 1851, Charles Dickens and Richard Horne wrote a piece for Household Words that contrasted the wonders of the Crystal Palace with the quaintness of an accompanying display of artefacts from China at a gallery in Hyde Park Place. ‘It is very curious,’ ...

My word, Miss Perkins

Jenny Diski: In the Typing Pool, 4 August 2005

Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture 
edited by Leah Price and Pamela Thurschwell.
Ashgate, 168 pp., £40, January 2005, 0 7546 3804 9
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... look the same.’ Odd then that in printed books it’s possible to distinguish Henry James from Charles Dickens. Nonetheless, most authors have ignored the warnings, bought electronic typewriters and taught themselves to type, and so have those in the world of commerce, with the result that the vast increase of women taking over the clerical work of ...

Enlightenment Erotica

David Nokes, 4 August 1988

Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America 
by Peter Wagner.
Secker, 498 pp., £30, March 1988, 0 436 56051 8
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’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorised Sexuality during the Enlightenment 
edited by Robert Purks Maccubin.
Cambridge, 260 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 521 34539 1
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The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature 
edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown.
Methuen, 320 pp., £28, February 1988, 0 416 01631 6
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... may often be a substitute for, not a summons to, revolution. Rochester’s obscene ‘Satyr on Charles II’ was the work not of a puritan revolutionary but of a privileged fellow libertine, and Private Eye’s fascination with the alleged exploits of ‘Randy Andy’ hardly suggested that the British royal family was in danger from republican ...

Mother Country

Catherine Hall: The Hostile Environment, 23 January 2020

The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment 
by Amelia Gentleman.
Guardian Faber, 336 pp., £18.99, September 2019, 978 1 78335 184 8
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Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation 
by Colin Grant.
Cape, 320 pp., £18.99, October 2019, 978 1 78733 105 1
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Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become Scapegoats 
by Maya Goodfellow.
Verso, 272 pp., £12.99, November 2019, 978 1 78873 336 6
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... to public attention.James Somerset, who had been brought to England from Virginia by his owner, Charles Stewart, and managed to escape and live freely for a brief period, became the subject of a test case in 1772. Was the ownership of people legal in the ‘mother country’? Stewart had employed slave-hunters to capture Somerset and put him on a boat for ...

The Great National Circus

Eric Foner: Punch-Ups in the Senate, 22 November 2018

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War 
by Joanne Freeman.
Farrar, Straus, 450 pp., £20.99, September 2018, 978 0 374 15477 6
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... strode into the Senate chamber shortly after the daily session had ended. Two days earlier, Charles Sumner, the Senate’s most outspoken critic of slavery, had delivered a five-hour speech, ‘The Crime against Kansas’. Sumner not only denounced the ‘rape’ of Kansas by pro-slavery forces, which had terrorised Northern settlers and sacked the town ...

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