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Speaking well

Christopher Ricks, 18 August 1983

Cyril Connolly: Journal and Memoir 
by David Pryce-Jones.
Collins, 304 pp., £12.50, July 1983, 0 333 32827 2
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J.B. Yeats: Letters to His Son W.B. Yeats and Others, 1869-1922 
edited with a memoir by Joseph Hone.
Secker, 296 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 436 59205 3
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... Unlike the publication in 1975 of the touching acute letters of Cyril Connolly to Noel Blakiston, the publication of Connolly’s Journal (1928-1937) does not serve him, except right. He found D.H. Lawrence insufficiently magnanimous (‘Notice how carefully Lawrence refuses to recognise virtue in anyone but himself’), and his sponsor David Pryce-Jones now finds F ...

Mailer’s Psychopath

Christopher Ricks, 6 March 1980

The Executioner’s Song 
by Norman Mailer.
Hutchinson, 1056 pp., £8.85, November 1979, 0 09 139540 2
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... Gary Gilmore robbed the unresisting service-station attendant, told him to lie down, and then shot him in the head. Twice, fast. The next day, Gilmore robbed the unresisting motel manager, told him to lie down, and then shot him in the head. Once only, because the gun jammed, and so the man died slowly. Convicted, Gilmore chose to die as quickly as the law would allow, and chose to be shot ...

Who whom?

Christopher Ricks, 6 June 1985

The English Language Today 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum.
Pergamon, 345 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 08 031078 8
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The English Language 
by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 194 pp., £9.50, January 1985, 9780192191731
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A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 1779 pp., £39.50, May 1985, 0 582 51734 6
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Words 
by John Silverlight.
Macmillan, 107 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 9780333380109
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Faux Amis and Key Words: A Dictionary-Guide to French Language, Culture and Society through Lookalikes and Confusables 
by Philip Thody, Howard Evans and Gwilym Rees.
Athlone, 224 pp., £16, February 1985, 0 485 11243 4
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Puns 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 631 13793 9
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Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 19 212236 3
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... Trust a Director of Freshman Rhetoric to say that ‘the study of language is inherently interesting.’ He would, wouldn’t he? He trusts so. This big batch of language-books brings out that the most interesting argument going is, yes, the feud between conservatives and radicals about correctness and usage. The only snag is that this is also the most boring argument going, since it is not going anywhere ...

Ti tum ti tum ti tum

Colin Burrow: Chic Sport Shirker, 7 October 2021

Along Heroic Lines 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 330 pp., £20, April, 978 0 19 289465 6
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... Alecture​ by the critic Christopher Ricks, now in his late eighties, is a properly theatrical affair. There is much leaning forward on the lectern, legs often crossed; hand frequently raised with intensity to brow (often furrowed, especially when quoting statements of folly); sheets of paper flipped away as though unnecessary to the performance (if you catch a glimpse of them they seem to contain little more than a word or a quotation), such paper flurries occurring particularly at times when in the sober medium of prose one might notice a hiccup or a rough conjunction in argument; meanwhile a building sweat, spreading from the armpits but also on the ample brow, conveys that this is stuff that gets the pulse racing ...

Negative Capability

Dan Jacobson, 24 November 1988

T.S. Eliot and Prejudice 
by Christopher Ricks.
Faber, 290 pp., £15, November 1988, 0 571 15254 6
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... T.S. Eliot and Prejudice. Keats and Embarrassment. The parallel between the title of Christopher Ricks’s new book and that of his earlier study of Keats is not accidental. In each case he takes a state of mind which is usually held to be disadvantageous, humanly and artistically speaking, and offers a critical re-examination of its presence in the work of his chosen author ...

Beddoes’ Best Thing

C.H. Sisson, 20 September 1984

The Force of Poetry 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 447 pp., £19.50, September 1984, 0 19 811722 1
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... This is,’ as Professor Ricks says, in his rather baroque manner, ‘a gathering of essays, not a march of chapters’; each essay ‘attends to an aspect, feature, or resource of the language manifested in poetry’. The book is true to this prospectus insofar as the subject of most of the essays is some point to which the critic wishes to ‘give salience’, rather than the poet whose name appears in the title ...
Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-17 
by T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks.
Faber, 428 pp., £30, September 1996, 0 571 17895 2
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... papers). Valerie Eliot has now allowed the entire notebook to be published, superbly edited by Christopher Ricks, whose T.S. Eliot and Prejudice is still the most acute and fine-grained investigation of the vexed question of the place of prejudice in Eliot’s writing. It is impossible to over-praise Ricks’s work ...

Misgivings

Adam Phillips: Christopher Ricks, 22 July 2010

True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound 
by Christopher Ricks.
Yale, 258 pp., £16.99, February 2010, 978 0 300 13429 2
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... In his first book, Milton’s Grand Style, Christopher Ricks showed us that Milton wanted his readers to be attentive to the fact that when our ‘first parents’ fell, their language fell with them. Paradise Lost could only have been written in the language we were left with after the catastrophe, but is partly about the language we started with, and what happened to it ...

Waving

Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography 
by Frances Spalding.
Faber, 331 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 571 15207 4
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... Lear-and-Thurber-derived drawings, or a serious and in many ways profound literary artist. Christopher Ricks wrote: ‘The first question to ask about the poems of Stevie Smith is, can she possibly be as ingenuous as she sounds?’ Towards the end of this essay, having demonstrated with his usual prestidigitation and allusiveness Stevie Smith’s ...

Provincialism

Denis Donoghue: Karlin’s collection of Victorian verse, 4 June 1998

The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse 
edited by Danny Karlin.
Allen Lane, 851 pp., £25, October 1997, 9780713990492
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... the 19th century as a whole. His major precursors are Quiller-Couch, Yeats, Auden, George MacBeth, Christopher Ricks and Ian Fletcher. I don’t intend a Shopper’s Guide, but I’ll start with two small complaints. Unlike Fletcher, Karlin doesn’t give explanatory notes, except for a few dialect words and phrases in foreign languages. Reading ...

Faculty at War

Tom Paulin, 17 June 1982

Re-Reading English 
edited by Peter Widdowson.
Methuen, 246 pp., £7.95, March 1982, 0 416 31150 4
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Against Criticism 
by Iain McGilchrist.
Faber, 271 pp., £12.50, May 1982, 0 571 11922 0
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... syllabus ‘other forms of writing and cultural production than the canon of Literature’. Where Christopher Ricks believes that it is the teacher’s job to uphold that canon, his opponents assert that it is now time to challenge various ‘hierarchical’ and ‘élitist’ conceptions of literature and to demolish the bourgeois ideology which has ...

English Changing

Frank Kermode, 7 February 1980

The State of the Language 
edited by Leonard Michaels and Christopher Ricks.
California, 609 pp., £14.95, January 1980, 0 520 03763 4
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... however, professors of literature who think we should rather go along with or encourage change. Christopher Ricks writes on clichés, contesting the common view that their prevalence is a sign of decadence: since we can’t beat them, he says, we ought to join them, or rather change them and use them in surprising ways, like the poets Geoffrey Hill and ...

Diary

Frank Kermode: Everybody loves the OED, 20 April 1989

... to a work of his own, and also a parapraxis (‘my own mother, Rates of Exchange’) which Christopher Ricks, come all the way from Boston to perform an unjetlagged, nay virtuoso lexical dance before the ark, dexterously picked up and developed in a perfectly smooth improvisation.It emerged that everybody loves the OED, not always as devotedly as ...

I gotta use words

Mark Ford: Eliot speaks in tongues, 11 August 2016

The Poems of T.S. Eliot: Volume I: Collected & Uncollected Poems 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue.
Faber, 1311 pp., £40, November 2015, 978 0 571 23870 5
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The Poems of T.S. Eliot: Volume II: Practical Cats & Further Verses 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue.
Faber, 667 pp., £40, November 2015, 978 0 571 23371 7
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... in the publication, nearly a century on, of Faber’s two all-comprehending new tomes, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue. The editors promise to ‘elucidate the difficulties’ of Eliot’s work by tracing every possible verbal overlap between the words used in his poems and the words used by other writers, both famous and obscure, in texts ...

Poisonous Frogs

Laura Quinney: Allusion v. Influence, 8 May 2003

Allusion to the Poets 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 345 pp., £20, August 2002, 0 19 925032 4
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... on A.E. Housman, Yvor Winters, David Ferry, plagiarism, metaphor and ‘Loneliness and Poetry’. Ricks has a fine ear, as he knows, and is happiest when demonstrating the unique resources and powers of poetry. His method is essentially evaluative, and it depends on precise examination. Milton’s Adam says, ‘[I] feel that I am happier than I ...

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