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Fenton makes a hit

Blake Morrison, 10 January 1983

In Memory of War: Poems 1968-1982 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 96 pp., £6.95, June 1982, 0 907540 17 1
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... No one can have been more surprised than James Fenton that In Memory of War turned out to be one of the most acclaimed books of 1982. A year ago, used to being told by reviewers that he was a ‘difficult’, even ‘esoteric’ poet, it looked as if he had decided that small publishers and little magazines were the most appropriate place for his work ...

The Man in White

Edward Pearce, 11 October 1990

The Golden Warrior: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia 
by Lawrence James.
Weidenfeld, 404 pp., £19.50, August 1990, 0 297 81087 1
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... tackle a subject variously seen as gallant paladin, pathological liar and career oddity? Mr James, in this sensible, not too long life, answers with as much moderation and dispassion as can be asked for. He strikes no pose: Arabist, Zionist, Regular Army, anti-Army, Lawrentian or anti-Lawrentian. The book is a steady climb by the South Coll, rather ...

Seeing and Being Seen

Penelope Fitzgerald: Humbert Wolfe, 19 March 1998

Harlequin in Whitehall: A Life of Humbert Wolfe 
by Philip Bagguley.
Nyala, 439 pp., £24.50, May 1997, 0 9529376 0 3
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... Bagguley is concerned to show that he was not a Georgian, which is true if it simply means that Marsh didn’t invite him to contribute to the anthologies, but not in the wider sense of, for instance, James Reeves’s Introduction to Georgian Poetry. He belongs to a vanished age of serious light verse. The 13 of his poems ...

Might-have-beens must die

Peter Howarth: Christina Rossetti’s Games, 1 July 2021

New Selected Poems 
by Christina Rossetti, edited by Rachel Mann.
Carcanet, 240 pp., £12.99, March 2020, 978 1 78410 906 6
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... that his sister was ‘a constant and often sadly-smitten invalid’. Rossetti’s biographer Jan Marsh, however, thought the endless winter scenes and paralysed lives must indicate sexual abuse, which had left a buried self-loathing cruelly reinforced by her Tractarian spirituality.Rossetti wondered herself at the contrast between her intensely gloomy output ...

Gangsters in Hats

Richard Mayne, 17 May 1984

Essays on Detective Fiction 
edited by Bernard Benstock.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £20, February 1984, 0 333 32195 2
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Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge 
by William Nolan.
Arthur Barker, 276 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 213 16886 3
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The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 344 pp., £12.95, January 1984, 9780701127664
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Hellman in Hollywood 
by Bernard Dick.
Associated University Presses, 183 pp., £14.95, September 1983, 0 8386 3140 1
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... no such misgivings. Does this mean ceasing to discriminate between literature and yarns? Professor James Naremore, in Professor Bernard Benstock’s symposium, seems to imply that it does. Dashiell Hammett, he writes, ‘challenges the easy distinctions between popular and high art, and the critical language that normally sustains those ...

Creases and Flecks

Laura Quinney: Mark Doty, 3 October 2002

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon 
by Mark Doty.
Beacon, 72 pp., $11, January 2002, 0 8070 6609 5
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Source 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 69 pp., £8, April 2002, 9780224062282
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... these poems recall the ‘loco-descriptive’ poetry of mid-18th-century Britain, best known from James Thomson’s The Seasons. As Dr Johnson demonstrated, you can cut every other line from The Seasons without appreciable loss. The culprits in Doty, as in Thomson, are monotony of tone and monotony of structure. Doty favours meditative lyrics of a standard ...

Boys will be girls

Clive James, 1 September 1983

Footlights! A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy 
by Robert Hewison.
Methuen, 224 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 0 413 51150 2
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... much later made a solid contribution to the British humorous tradition with Much Binding in the Marsh, looked back on his Footlights days with a nostalgia well tempered by a sense of proportion. He said that they weren’t as good as they thought they were. It was different after the war, although not immediately, because for some years the drag artistes ...

As if for the First Time

James Sheehan: Alexander von Humboldt, 17 March 2016

The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science 
by Andrea Wulf.
John Murray, 473 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 84854 898 5
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... biologist who coined the term ‘ecology’), and the great American naturalists George Perkins Marsh and John Muir. It is Muir’s deep commitment to the preservation of the natural world which, Wulf argues, best represents Humboldt’s most important and enduring legacy, a legacy that is especially relevant in an age of global warming, massive ...

Manly Love

John Bayley, 28 January 1993

Walt Whitman: From Moon to Starry Night 
by Philip Callow.
Allison and Busby, 394 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 85031 908 0
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The Double Life of Stephen Crane 
by Christopher Benfey.
Deutsch, 294 pp., £17.99, February 1993, 0 233 98820 3
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... animation on everything the poet saw and put into words. In a sense it was much the same for Henry James, that other great equivocator of the American literary scene, and always a great admirer of Whitman. James’s prose, even the late prose, is paradoxically as physical as Leaves of Grass, and in the same way. A kind of ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... Baroness James, making a rare visitation to a blighted metropolitan zone, downriver of Tower Bridge, has written a very useful book, a book on which I will be happy to draw for years to come. That was back in 1972. Title? The Maul and the Pear Tree; co-authored by T.A. Critchley of the Police Department at the Home Office, where James then earned her crust as a Principal in the Criminal Policy Department ...

Quashed Quotatoes

Michael Wood: Finnegans Wake, 16 December 2010

Finnegans Wake 
by James Joyce, edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon.
Houyhnhnm, 493 pp., £250, March 2010, 978 0 9547710 1 0
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Joyce’s Disciples Disciplined 
edited by Tim Conley.
University College Dublin, 185 pp., £42.50, May 2010, 978 1 906359 46 1
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... Lewis Carroll seems an obvious precursor of James Joyce in the world of elaborate wordplay, and critics have long thought so. Harry Levin suggested in 1941 that Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty was ‘the official guide’ to the vocabulary of Finnegans Wake. Why wouldn’t he be? He was the inventor of the portmanteau word (‘You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word’), an inspired parodist of what Saussure later called the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign (that is, its being grounded in nothing but convention) and extremely proud of his ability to ‘explain all the poems that ever were invented – and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet ...

Seeing in the Darkness

James Wood, 6 March 1997

D.H. Lawrence: Triumph To Exile 1912-22 
by Mark Kinkead-Weekes.
Cambridge, 943 pp., £25, August 1996, 0 521 25420 5
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... as he is a mystic literalist, so too he is a natural stylist. He knew this. He wrote to Edward Marsh about his poetry, thus: ‘I have always tried to get an emotion out in its own course, without altering it.’ And yet, he added, ‘it needs the finest instinct imaginable, much finer than the skill of the craftsmen.’ Lawrence’s naturalness as a ...

I am the fifth dimension!

Bee Wilson, 27 July 2017

Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra Special Talking Mongoose 
by Christopher Josiffe.
Strange Attractor, 404 pp., £15.99, April 2017, 978 1 907222 48 1
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... He​ does not feed like a mongoose,’ James Irving said of the talking mongoose that had taken up residence – or so it was said – in his remote Isle of Man farmhouse in the early 1930s. Irving told psychic investigators that his family had tried the mongoose – who went by the name of ‘Gef’ – on bread and milk, only to have their food rejected ...

Into Council Care

John Bayley, 6 July 1995

Elizabeth Bowen and the Dissolution of the Novel 
by Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle.
Macmillan, 208 pp., £35, December 1994, 0 333 60760 0
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... Trout, whose heroine makes no sense except in bizarre terms of place (Bowen’s Hythe and Romney Marsh fixation). She is a waif who finds her fate in an act of adoption – the adoption of a beautiful dumb child who kills her. This extraordinary and final denial of the single personality – for Eva Trout is fissiparously able to spawn an alter ego and her ...

‘Come, my friend,’ said Smirnoff

Joanna Kavenna: The radical twenties, 1 April 1999

The Radical Twenties: Aspects of Writing, Politics and Culture 
by John Lucas.
Five Leaves, 263 pp., £11.99, January 1997, 0 907123 17 1
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... simply make[s] one sit still in an apathy, and watch the clock spinning backwards’. For Henry James, the war seemed ‘to undo everything’: ‘My sense of what is generally happening all about us here is only unutterable,’ he confessed to Brander Matthews. The country house, that central prop of the idyllic British afternoon, figured prominently in ...

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