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6/4 he won’t score 20

John Sturrock, 7 September 2000

Start of Play: Cricket and Culture in 18th-Century England 
by David Underdown.
Allen Lane, 258 pp., £20, September 2000, 0 7139 9330 8
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... had joined in, 18th-century cricket allowed of a certain provisional democracy. In 1744, Lord John Sackville, the third Duke of Dorset’s uncle, turned out for Kent in a game at the Artillery Ground against a team labelled ‘England’, scored a disappointing 5 and 0 in the two innings but made an important catch (he surely won’t have done any ...

Rhino-Breeder

John Sturrock, 24 May 1990

Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew Bruccoli.
Weidenfeld, 582 pp., £29.95, February 1990, 0 297 81034 0
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... time himself) and Despair, both appeared here in 1936–7 on the list of the Hutchinson-owned John Long, where, writes the betrayed novelist, who has presumably been copytasting the books issuing from that too genteel imprint, Despair can only have stood out ‘like a rhinoceros in a world of humming birds’. These are promisingly sane, resolute letters ...

Wasp in a Bottle

John Sturrock, 10 February 1994

Charles Sanders Peirce 
by Joseph Brent.
Indiana, 388 pp., £28.50, January 1993, 0 253 31267 1
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The Esssential Peirce: Vol. I 
edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Koesel.
Indiana, 399 pp., £17.99, November 1992, 0 253 20721 5
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... whereby we are enabled to test reasons’. This was a science which, Peirce was to argue, contra John Stuart Mill and others, must have nothing to do with psychology but be purely formal, with the task of classifying the products of thought, not of investigating the manner of thought’s production. As the study of validity in argument or inference, logic ...

Call Her Daisy-Ray

John Sturrock: Accents and Attitudes, 11 September 2003

Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol 
by Lynda Mugglestone.
Oxford, 354 pp., £35, February 2003, 0 19 925061 8
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... the headwords with a view to eliminating wrong pronunciations, a method followed also by John Walker in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, which went through more than a hundred editions, and by William Cobbett in his survey of the regional possibilities when it came to pronouncing the word corn. In Walker, the pronunciation of chop-house (‘a ...

Horsey, Horsey

John Sturrock, 16 November 1995

The Search for the Perfect Language 
by Umberto Eco, translated by James Fentress.
Blackwell, 385 pp., £24.95, September 1995, 0 631 17465 6
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Mimologics 
by Gérard Genette, translated by Thaïs Morgan.
Nebraska, 446 pp., £23.95, September 1995, 0 8032 2129 0
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... he calls the ‘a priori’ languages, thought up by such as the 17th-century Bishop of Chester, John Wilkins, or by Leibniz, in order to remedy the perceived illogicalities of existing languages, are mimetic in one sense, because the verbal forms they contain are derived from an analysis of the perceived properties of the things or ideas they stand for; but ...

Rongorongo

John Sturrock: The Rosetta Stone, 19 September 2002

Keys of Egypt 
by Lesley Atkins and Roy Atkins.
HarperCollins, 335 pp., £7.99, September 2001, 0 00 653145 8
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The Rosetta Stone: The Story of the Decoding of Hieroglyphics 
by Robert Solé and Dominique Valbelle, translated by Steven Rendall.
Profile, 184 pp., £7.99, August 2002, 1 86197 344 6
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Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts 
by Andrew Robinson.
McGraw Hill, 352 pp., £25.99, June 2002, 0 07 135743 2
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The Man who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris 
by Andrew Robinson.
Thames and Hudson, 168 pp., £12.95, April 2002, 0 500 51077 6
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... all there were to go on were the few personal remarks about his ‘charm’ and ‘modesty’ that John Chadwick felt able to include in The Decipherment of Linear B (a book first published in 1958 and reprinted many times since). Chadwick was a Cambridge philologist, a specialist in the history of ancient Greek, who collaborated with Ventris on the closing ...

Proust Regained

John Sturrock, 19 March 1981

Remembrance of Things Past 
by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin.
Chatto, 1040 pp., £17.50, March 1981, 0 7011 2477 6
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... In the spring of 1920 Marcel Proust was fretting because the good ‘Gaston’ (Gallimard, his post-war publisher) had been unforgivably slow in arranging for translations of his now successful novel to be started. In the past 12 months Du Côté de chez Swann had been published for a second time (the little-noticed earlier edition was in 1913) and A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs for the first time; and Proust had, strangely, won the Prix Goncourt, a corrupt award which he had wanted but which generally goes to works of uncomplicated mediocrity ...

Where structuralism comes from

John Sturrock, 2 February 1984

Course in General Linguistics 
by Ferdinand de Saussure, translated by Roy Harris.
Duckworth, 236 pp., £24, March 1983, 0 7156 1738 9
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Semiotic Perspectives 
by Sandor Hervey.
Allen and Unwin, 273 pp., £15, September 1982, 9780044000266
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... With Chomsky seemingly off the stage – exit left, the script reads, brooding on the sins of American foreign policy – it is now or never for Ferdinand de Saussure to take his place. One theorist of language at a time is probably all the popular awareness has room for, and over the past twenty years Chomsky has been it, investing grammar with a new, deep-seated charm, and bringing us to see language as a mysterious acquisition which does our species, and our brains, much credit ...

On the Verge of Collapse

John Sturrock, 19 August 1982

The Siren’s Song 
by Maurice Blanchot, edited by Gabriel Josipovici and Sacha Rabinovich.
Harvester, 255 pp., £20, June 1982, 0 85527 738 6
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... The Siren’s Song is the first chance English readers have had to experience Maurice Blanchot. If it is the case, as Gabriel Josipovici pre-emptively asserts in his introduction, that Blanchot ‘is, with Walter Benjamin, the finest literary critic of the century’, then we have been grievously remiss in leaving him for so long untranslated. For Blanchot isn’t new: he is in his mid-seventies, he has been writing criticism for forty years, he has published 15 books and he is, in France, an undoubted star ...

Private Sartre

John Sturrock, 7 February 1985

War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War 1939-40 
by Jean-Paul Sartre and Quentin Hoare.
Verso, 366 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 0 86091 087 3
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... Sartre had a passive, self-centred war, well-suited to his deeply civilian temper, with no heroics and a great deal of free time. He was mobilised in September 1939, served in the East of France until he was captured in the collapse of June 1940, spent nine months as a prisoner of war, then sat out the Occupation in Paris. No matter where he was, he wrote, abundantly – in the field, in the prison-camp and in occupied Paris ...

Above the Consulting-Room

John Sturrock, 26 March 1992

Le Séminaire, Vol VIII 
by Jacques Lacan.
Seuil, 464 pp., frs 190, March 1991, 2 02 012502 1
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Le Séminaire, Vol XVII 
by Jacques Lacan.
Seuil, 251 pp., frs 140, March 1991, 2 02 013044 0
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Lacan 
by Malcolm Bowie.
Fontana, 256 pp., £5.99, February 1991, 0 00 686076 1
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Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan’s Dislocation of Psychoanalysis 
by Samuel Weber.
Cambridge, 184 pp., £30, November 1991, 0 521 37410 3
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... Sessions with Dr Jacques Lacan were famously short, but none I dare say as short as mine. We met professionally not as doctor and patient, but as author and editor, and over the telephone, voice to voice. Newly taken on at the TLS, I was the one appointed to give Lacan the bad news, that an article he had been commissioned to write could not be used ...

The man who wrote for the ‘Figaro’

John Sturrock, 25 June 1992

Selected Letters: Vol. III, 1910-1917 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Philip Kolb, translated by Terence Kilmartin.
HarperCollins, 434 pp., £35, January 1992, 0 00 215541 9
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Correspondance de Marcel Proust: Tome XVIII, 191 
edited by Philip Kolb.
Plon, 657 pp., frs 290, September 1990, 2 259 02187 5
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Correspondance de Marcel Proust: Tome XIX, 1920 
edited by Philip Kolb.
Plon, 857 pp., frs 350, May 1991, 2 259 02389 4
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Correspondance de Marcel Proust: Tome XX, 1921 
edited by Philip Kolb.
Plon, 713 pp., frs 350, April 1992, 2 259 02433 5
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... Proust wrote too many letters: he thought so and so anyone might think, as Philip Kolb’s expanding series of annual volumes edges towards the writer’s death, in 1922. Sheer numbers would not have mattered had they been stronger letters, but Proust’s correspondence is too much of it mechanical or emptily ingratiating, the one remaining exercise of the social virtues by a man who had taken to his bedroom (with occasional querulous sorties late at night to the Ritz Hotel) in order to be alone with his asthma and the prodigiously radiating manuscript of his novel ...

English Words and French Authors

John Sturrock, 8 February 1990

A New History of French Literature 
edited by Denis Hollier.
Harvard, 1280 pp., £39.95, October 1989, 0 674 61565 4
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... There is a hint of Thatcherism about this New History, with its queer fondness for dates. For Number Ten it was, wearing her metahistorian’s hat, who recently ordered dates back into the curriculum, as the sine qua non of history. But surely not of literary history, which is parsimonious over dates, save where it measures out for us the life-spans of authors ...

A Passion for Pears

John Sturrock, 7 July 1994

Balzac 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 521 pp., £20, June 1994, 0 330 33237 6
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Honoré de Balzac 
by Roger Pierrot.
Fayard, 582 pp., frs 180, March 1994, 2 213 59228 4
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César Birotteau 
by Honoré de Balzac and Robin Buss.
Penguin, 279 pp., £6.99, January 1994, 0 14 044641 9
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... If Balzac had had his way, the real Paris would have become a little more like the visionary Paris of his novels. He thought a spiral staircase should be built, leading down from the Luxembourg Gardens into the catacombs, whose verminous labyrinth stretched from there indiscriminately beneath the plush hôtels of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and the slums of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau ...

Something Royal

John Sturrock, 8 September 1994

Le Premier homme 
by Albert Camus.
Gallimard, 331 pp., frs 110, April 1994, 2 07 073827 2
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... It is all but thirty-five years since Albert Camus was killed, when the Facel Vega sports car in which he was a passenger went off the road between Sens and Paris. Among his things was found Le Premier homme, the manuscript he had been working on for nearly a year at the time of the accident and on which there was still some way to go. Only now are we given it to read ...

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