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According to A.N. Wilson

Patricia Beer, 3 December 1992

Jesus 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 269 pp., £15, September 1992, 1 85619 114 1
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... This is a book which is, in both senses of the expression, difficult to put down. As a cliché indicating readability, the phrase is deserved; those interested in the subject – nowadays it is hard to guess how many that would be – are almost bound to be intrigued by the book. When ‘putting down’ means trouncing or violently refuting, the book is safe, principally because one experiences no wish to do either of these things ...

I Should Have Shrieked

Patricia Beer, 8 December 1994

John Betjeman: Letters, Vol. I, 1926-1951 
edited by Candida Lycett Green.
Methuen, 584 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 413 66950 5
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... I was less than fifty pages into this first volume of John Betjeman’s Letters when I felt I must be in for an attack of tinnitus. I kept hearing shrieks of laughter. This condition was caused not by the poet himself but by the editor or Candida Lycett Green, his daughter, who seems to value nothing so much about her father as his ability to make people split their sides ...

Full of Teeth

Patricia Beer, 20 July 1995

The Life of Graham Greene. Vol. II: 1939-55 
by Norman Sherry.
Cape, 562 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 224 02772 7
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Graham Greene: Three Lives 
by Anthony Mockler.
Hunter Mackay, 256 pp., £14.95, July 1994, 0 947907 01 7
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Graham Greene: Friend and Brother 
by Leopoldo Duran.
HarperCollins, 352 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 00 627660 1
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Graham Greene: The Man Within 
by Michael Shelden.
Minerva, 567 pp., £5.99, June 1995, 0 7493 1997 6
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... It is obviously the same person.’ The words of Lady Bracknell, one of the wisest characters in English literature, may eventually be echoed by readers when and if they have worked their way through the four, totally diverse, biographies of Graham Greene which originally appeared in the summer and autumn of last year. The biographers are Norman Sherry, Anthony Mockler, Leopoldo Duran and Michael Shelden ...

For a Lark

Patricia Beer, 21 March 1996

Hearts Undefeated: Women’s Writing of the Second World War 
edited by Jenny Hartley.
Virago, 302 pp., £12.99, May 1995, 9781853816710
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... We have just lived through nearly two years of vox populi. The 50th anniversary of VE Day and, to a lesser extent, VJ Day provoked a massive assemblage of what people had actually said in the course of the Second World War. It was as though these voices had been held back for half a century and were now bursting out. Martin Gilbert in The Day the War Ended, a recent account of the year 1945, showed how inexorably this could happen ...

What he meant by happiness

Patricia Beer, 11 June 1992

The Wreck of the Deutschland 
by Sean Street.
Souvenir, 208 pp., £15.99, March 1992, 0 285 63051 2
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Hopkins: A Literary Biography 
by Norman White.
Oxford, 531 pp., £35, March 1992, 0 19 812099 0
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... Time brings many surprises, as I have long known, but I never imagined being excited by the news that the nun’s famous cry in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ was almost certainly not uttered by Sister Henrica Fassbaender. But in fact Sean Street’s book The Wreck of the Deutschland, which makes much of this incident, is engrossing from start to finish ...

Little Girl

Patricia Beer, 12 March 1992

Hideous Kinky 
by Esther Freud.
Hamish Hamilton, 186 pp., £14.99, January 1992, 0 241 13179 0
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Eve’s Tattoo 
by Emily Prager.
Chatto, 194 pp., £8.99, January 1992, 0 7011 3882 3
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A Dubious Legacy 
by Mary Wesley.
Bantam, 272 pp., £14.99, February 1992, 0 593 02537 7
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... Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky started its career with two disadvantages. One was the title: it suggests whimsy, from which the book is in fact bracingly free. The phrase is explained and has real validity within the story itself, but should have been kept in its place. The second was the nature of the advance publicity, which seemed to have the bossy intention of providing the clef to the roman ...

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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... If in doubt start with the weather. This is a piece of advice that has long been followed by biographers who have mixed feelings about the claims of their subjects to the extensive treatment they are about to apply: subjects, perhaps, whose rank or connections would certainly sell the book but who in any meritocracy would themselves have sunk without trace ...

Memories are made of this

Patricia Beer, 16 December 1993

Aren’t We Due a Royalty Statement? 
by Giles Gordon.
Chatto, 352 pp., £16.99, August 1993, 0 7011 6022 5
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Yesterday Came Suddenly 
by Francis King.
Constable, 336 pp., £16.95, September 1993, 9780094722200
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Excursions in the Real World 
by William Trevor.
Hutchinson, 201 pp., £16.99, September 1993, 0 09 177086 6
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... I was well into Giles Gordon’s Aren’t We Due a Royalty Statement? before I noticed that other readers were taking the book seriously, often to the point of denunciation. Up to then I had been assuming that it had set out to be an ingenious spoof, a sort of hoax or parody which had failed to make its intentions thoroughly clear; and that was nothing to be censorious about ...

Period Pain

Patricia Beer, 9 June 1994

Aristocrats 
by Stella Tillyard.
Chatto, 462 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 7011 5933 2
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... Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats has set out from its publishers with claims beyond even what one expects of conventional hype. There is much to admire in the book, particularly the industry that must have gone into its compilation: the examination of huge family archives which contain, apart from what one might expect in the way of letters and journals, everything from death certificates to poems ...

New Women

Patricia Beer, 17 July 1980

The Odd Women 
by George Gissing.
Virago, 336 pp., £2.50, May 1980, 0 86068 140 8
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The Beth Book 
by Sarah Grand.
Virago, 527 pp., £3.50, January 1980, 0 86068 088 6
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... George Gissing was convinced that the year 1900 would make all the difference. Writing his study of Charles Dickens in the late 1890s, he refers to his own generation as those ‘upon whom the new centurys breaking’. And one of the things the new century would bring was the New Woman. To an extent, of course, as Gissing realised, she had already arrived ...

Ladies and Gentlemen

Patricia Beer, 6 May 1982

The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West 1911-17 
by Jane Marcus.
Macmillan, 340 pp., £9.95, April 1982, 0 333 25589 5
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The Harsh Voice 
by Rebecca West, introduced by Alexandra Pringle.
Virago, 250 pp., £2.95, February 1982, 0 86068 249 8
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The Meaning of Treason 
by Rebecca West.
Virago, 439 pp., £3.95, February 1982, 0 86068 256 0
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1990 
by Rebecca West.
Weidenfeld, 190 pp., £10, February 1982, 9780297779636
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... The Young Rebecca is a collection of the writings of Rebecca West from 1911 to 1917, selected and introduced by Jane Marcus, with just the right amount of explanation and comment. In one respect it is an unfortunate title, suggesting an item from the cast-list of almost any black-and-white film about almost any celebrity, but in the respect that it makes a point of Rebecca West’s youth, it is a good title ...
Selected Poems 
by Patricia Beer.
Hutchinson, 152 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 09 138450 8
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The Venetian Vespers 
by Anthony Hecht.
Oxford, 91 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 19 211933 8
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Nostalgia for the Present 
by Andrei Voznesensky.
Oxford, 150 pp., £3.50, April 1980, 0 19 211900 1
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Reflections on the Nile 
by Ronald Bottrall.
London Magazine Editions, 56 pp., £3.50, May 1980, 0 904388 33 6
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Summer Palaces 
by Peter Scupham.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3, March 1980, 9780192119322
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... Patricia Beer’s Selected Poems contain work composed over a period of two decades. They are a tribute to her consistency rather than to her development: I don’t find myself skipping pages because her inspiration underwent a brief eclipse, or took a direction I happen to dislike. Nor do I turn to the newest or the oldest poems more readily: they are too much of a piece ...

Second Chances

Donald Davie, 22 July 1993

Collected Poems 
by Patricia Beer.
Carcanet, 216 pp., £18.95, July 1990, 9780856357886
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Friend of Heraclitus 
by Patricia Beer.
Carcanet, 59 pp., £6.95, March 1993, 1 85754 026 3
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... Patricia Beer tells how not long ago she was giving a reading at which, presumably in a question-and-answer period, one after another in her small audience savaged a poem she’d written 25 years earlier, and hadn’t included in her programme. When after a while she asked if they wouldn’t switch to one of the two hundred poems she’d written since, it turned out that the early poem was the only one any of them had read, and this because it was the one that their tutor, who was present, had photocopied from an anthology and distributed among them ...

Lovers on a Train

Susannah Clapp, 10 January 1991

Carol 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Bloomsbury, 240 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 7475 0719 8
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... Beryl Bainbridge. All have crime at the heart of their novels. None of them is a crime novelist. Patricia Highsmith is. And in making murder her main point, she has avoided being thought of primarily as a woman novelist. She has made a career of producing books of settled menace, in which acts of homicide surface, almost welcomed, as breaks in routine. Her ...

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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... family call the lavatory “the euph” (pronounced “yoof” to rhyme with roof).’ Patricia Beer staunchly defends euphemisms in literature, especially in the 18th and 19th-century novel; and she points out that ‘maidenhead’ was a euphemism. Diane Johnson and John Murray, on doctors and their proper self-protection, mention ...

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