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Deadly Fetishes

Terry Eagleton, 6 October 1994

East, West 
by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 224 pp., £9.99, October 1994, 0 224 04134 7
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... on whose now deathly pale skin the sheen of wealth could still be made out dimly beneath an actual frost.’ It is wonderfully poetic stuff, just the kind of thing we expect from fables of the Orient, and testimony to the bottomless mischicvousness of its author. The narrator adds the odd, slightly maladroit touch – ‘the newborn goblins of ...

Darkness Visible

George Steiner, 24 November 1988

Joseph de Maistre: An Intellectual Militant 
by Richard Lebrun.
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 366 pp., £30.35, October 1988, 0 7735 0645 4
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... it the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Well over a hundred international colloquia will mark the occasion. They will range from platitudinous immensities – ‘the rights of man’, ‘Europe and America after the fall of the Bastille’, ‘the French Revolution and the Third World’ – to genuinely worthwhile specificities (‘music and drama ...
A Word from the Loki 
by Maurice Riordan.
Faber, 64 pp., £6.99, January 1995, 0 571 17364 0
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After the Deafening 
by Gerard Woodward.
Chatto, 64 pp., £7.99, October 1994, 0 7011 6271 6
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The Ice-Pilot Speaks 
by Pauline Stainer.
Bloodaxe, 80 pp., £6.95, October 1994, 1 85224 298 1
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The Angel of History 
by Carolyn Forché.
Bloodaxe, 96 pp., £7.95, November 1994, 1 85224 307 4
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The Neighbour 
by Michael Collier.
Chicago, 74 pp., £15.95, January 1995, 0 226 11358 2
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by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 64 pp., £6.99, March 1995, 0 19 282451 1
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... of the details (eyelashes linked with butterfly – lips linked with salivary glands) being a mark of instinctive craftsmanship. But the poem is somehow spoiled by the portentous exclamation (‘o death’) which opens the second stanza – the kind of thing a fainting diva would cry out with one hand pressed to her forehead. The book contains many ...

Superman Falls to Earth

Ferdinand Mount: Boris Johnson’s First Year, 2 July 2020

... they have been managed by a new Task Force Europe, led by Johnson’s chief negotiator, David Frost, a burly, acerbic diplomat, one of the few in the Foreign Office who has always loathed the EU. Frost’s conversations with Michel Barnier have become openly bitter and recriminatory, in a way not seen before. ...

Subduing the jury

E.P. Thompson, 4 December 1986

... Sirrah, you are an impudent fellow ... The Recorder: You are a factious fellow: I will set a mark on you ... The Mayor: I will cut his nose ... This did not sufficiently strengthen the jury, so they were hauled off to prison for the failure to convict. On appeal, the jury was vindicated, and the precedent was established of the jury’s power to ...


Stephen Fender, 19 January 1989

Landscape and Written Expression in Revolutionary America: The world turned upside down 
by Robert Lawson-Peebles.
Cambridge, 384 pp., £35, March 1988, 0 521 34647 9
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Mark Twain’s Letters. Vol. I: 1853-1866 
edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael Frank and Kenneth Sanderson.
California, 616 pp., $35, May 1988, 0 520 03668 9
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A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature 
by Alfred Kazin.
Thames and Hudson, 240 pp., £15.95, September 1988, 0 500 01424 8
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... roughly from east to west, the ‘West’ was a cultural as well as a geographical experience. To Mark Twain, whose letters from Nevada and California form the bulk of this long-awaited and deftly-annotated edition by the Mark Twain Project at Berkeley, the West presented economic and social, as well as ...

Some Names for Robert Lowell

Karl Miller, 19 May 1983

Robert Lowell: A Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 527 pp., £12.50, May 1983, 0 571 13045 3
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... too, and it’s hardly surprising that he should have been a rereader of The Idiot. It is a mark of his poetry that it frets in all childishness, praising and blaming, over the actions and reputations of the great, while managing to make people feel that it is itself the work of a great man, however bashful, stumbling and dishevelled. It is the work of ...

Elizabeth Bishop’s Aviary

Mark Ford: Elizabeth Bishop’s Aviary, 29 November 2007

... pterodactyls. In the drafts, the bird’s ‘heavy flight’ eventually carries her ‘through the frost-clouded air/to the great rock where/the loved one really lives’. More mystical associations clustered round the owl. As a child, Bishop once dreamed about an owl seated on the back of a rabbit. While at Vassar she related this dream to Margaret Miller, a ...

Here you are talking about duck again

Mark Ford: Larkin’s Letters Home, 20 June 2019

Philip Larkin: Letters Home, 1936-77 
edited by James Booth.
Faber, 688 pp., £40, November 2018, 978 0 571 33559 6
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... silly if we do not amble in the sun while we can, before time elbows us into everlasting night & frost.‘Begin afresh, afresh, afresh’, as the last line of ‘The Trees’ (1967) would put it. But Larkin too was involved in a lifelong battle with melancholia: ‘bloody awful tripe,’ he wrote on the manuscript of this uplifting paean to spring, as if ...

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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... last year in your garden,/Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?’; ‘And you wait for a knock and the turning of a lock for you know the hangman’s waiting for you/And perhaps you’re alive/And perhaps you’re dead/Hoo ha ha/Hoo ha ha/Hoo.’ The tight grip that Valerie (who died in 2012) kept on ...

Chances are

Michael Wood, 7 July 1983

O, How the wheel becomes it! 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 143 pp., £6.95, June 1983, 0 434 59925 5
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Brilliant Creatures 
by Clive James.
Cape, 303 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 224 02122 2
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by Gordon Williams.
Joseph, 233 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 7181 2259 3
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... it’s a cliché, and Powell’s trick is to pretend to forget. A feigned absence of irony is his mark, a form of deadpan. When he writes of ‘the whole unfortunate Course of subsequent events’, the tame formula swarms with modest promise – it’s as if Buster Keaton had just said, with equal solemnity, that he knows how to fly a kite. What is funny in ...

Harrison Rex

Carey Harrison, 7 November 1991

Conversations with Marlon Brando 
by Lawrence Grobel.
Bloomsbury, 177 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 9780747508168
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George Sanders: An Exhausted Life 
by Richard Vanderbeets.
Robson, 271 pp., £15.95, September 1991, 0 86051 749 7
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Rex Harrison: A Biography 
by Nicholas Wapshott.
Chatto, 331 pp., £16, October 1991, 0 7011 3764 9
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Me: Stories of my Life 
by Katharine Hepburn.
Viking, 418 pp., £16.99, September 1991, 0 670 83974 4
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... where his own voice takes command and assesses his central figure directly, he is rarely off the mark. Often witty, always clear-eyed, neither waspish not ingratiating, this is a convincing portrait of the artist as a tyrannical child, so bewildered by his own history that his only recourse is to forget it. ‘The master of amnesia,’ Wapshott splendidly ...

After the Revolution

Owen Bennett-Jones, 20 December 1990

... allowed.’ Mihail turned away, uncomplaining, and waited for two hours in the early-morning frost while I queued to buy food. But then, all the people I was in line with were Romanians – Romanians with the right connections. It’s not only in the special shops that you can procure food. The markets this summer have been piled high with ...

The Positions He Takes

John Barrell: Hitchens on Paine, 30 November 2006

Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 128 pp., £9.99, July 2006, 1 84354 513 6
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... Two, and to escape arrest he fled to France, accompanied by the Wykehamist gentleman-lawyer John Frost, described by Hitchens as secretary of the London Corresponding Society. The LCS was a society of radical artisans, not a gentleman’s club, and its secretary was in fact the shoemaker Thomas Hardy. The trial proceeded in Paine’s absence, and according ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... of her life by Bamber Gascoigne, and then David Attenborough’s reading of two poems by Robert Frost. There appears to have been a Feddenesque delicacy and some well-placed dabs of humour to the whole affair. ‘Very Mary,’ Catherine said. The phrase ‘order of service’ isn’t Catholic. I never heard it in the chapels of my youth (we had Mass, not ...

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