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Great Tradition

Robert Barnard, 18 December 1980

Plaster Sinners 
by Colin Watson.
Eyre Methuen, 160 pp., £5.95, September 1980, 0 413 39040 3
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Photo-Finish 
by Ngaio Marsh.
Collins, 262 pp., £5.95, September 1980, 0 00 231857 1
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The Predator 
by Russell Braddon.
Joseph, 192 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7181 1958 4
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... there any straight ones in Flaxborough?), a thoroughly repulsive doctor and his teenage dolly-bird, and a rabbit-faced crook of well-tried incompetence – all good Flaxborough figures. If Colin Watson enjoys abundant affection from crime-readers but not quite the esteem that Mesdames Rendall and James reap, it may be because his solutions are sometimes ...

Female Heads

John Bayley, 27 October 1988

Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... head that Clarissa scribbles and Molly Bloom muses. For many male novelists, like the Austrian Robert Musil, erotic self-metamorphosis becomes mystical, a kind of religious substitute. The sphinx has her mystery, but in the final and most subtle analysis it is that of having no secret at all. One of Musil’s most memorable passages, a kind of essay ...

Skeltonics

Helen Cooper: The maverick poetry of John Skelton, 14 December 2006

John Skelton and Poetic Authority: Defining the Liberty to Speak 
by Jane Griffiths.
Oxford, 213 pp., £50, February 2006, 9780199273607
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... figure, and in Anthony Munday’s Robin Hood play within a play, The Downfall and Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon, a ‘real-life’ Skelton takes the role of Friar Tuck. His recovery came on the back of the rise of Modernism, with its opening of readers’ minds to new kinds of non-traditional poetry, and it was confirmed with the appearance of ...

Fire the press secretary

Jerry Fodor, 28 April 2011

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind 
by Robert Kurzban.
Princeton, 274 pp., £19.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14674 4
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... age. Anyhow, the version of anti-intellectualism that’s current is Psychological Darwinism, and Robert Kurzban’s new book is a typical instance. I’ll take a paragraph or two to sketch the connection between what Psychological Darwinists say and the anti-intellectualist thesis that there aren’t any minds. After that, I’ll focus on the latter, as does ...

The Mouth, the Meal and the Book

Christopher Ricks, 8 November 1979

Field Work 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 64 pp., £3, June 1979, 0 571 11433 4
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... Affectionate, delicate, calmingly dark, and as confidently trusting in its own arc as is the bird in its flights nimbly and repeatedly home, the poem goes out of its way (except that this is how the martin skims and veers) to speak in ways which would lend themselves to misconstruction if it weren’t that love is a nesting trust. ‘Far ...

Accidents of Priority

John Redmond, 22 August 1996

Can You Hear, Bird 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 128 pp., £9.95, February 1996, 9781857542240
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The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 
by Jorie Graham.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, March 1996, 1 85754 225 8
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Selected Poems 
by Barbara Guest.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, May 1996, 1 85754 158 8
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Selected Poems 1976-1996 
by George Szirtes.
Oxford, 126 pp., £9.99, March 1996, 0 19 283223 9
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Adam’s Dream 
by Peter McDonald.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1996, 1 85224 333 3
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... psychoanalyst’s. In ‘The Problem of Anxiety’, one of the clearer poems in Can You Hear, Bird, Ashbery, with his Waspish reticence, asks the reader (perhaps the psychoanalyst part of himself) how he would represent himself given the opportunity: Suppose this poem were about you, would you put in the things I’ve carefully left out: descriptions ...

Sperm’s-Eye View

Robert Crawford, 23 February 1995

Dock Leaves 
by Hugo Williams.
Faber, 67 pp., £6.99, June 1994, 0 571 17175 3
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Spring Forest 
by Geoffrey Lehmann.
Faber, 171 pp., £6.99, September 1994, 0 571 17246 6
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Everything is Strange 
by Frank Kuppner.
Carcanet, 78 pp., £8.95, July 1994, 1 85754 071 9
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The Queen of Sheba 
by Kathleen Jamie.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £6.95, April 1994, 1 85224 284 1
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... eventually, a Nazi obsession. In the Fifties, it returns as something brighter. The voice of Robert Lowell’s Life Studies grew out of a negotiation between European and American traditions, not least English and American traditions, with the balance of power tilting decisively towards America. Lowell, coming from an East Coast Wasp society, is ...

Chucky, Hirple, Clart

David Craig: Robert Macfarlane, 24 September 2015

Landmarks 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp., £20, March 2015, 978 0 241 14653 8
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... This book​ is almost parodically characteristic of Robert Macfarlane’s work. He is a scholar of place – of terrain, terroir, the land – and at times references, sources and citations have bulked uncomfortably large in his writing. Certainly he frequents the countryside at close quarters and often strenuously ...

Exasperating Classics

Patricia Craig, 23 May 1985

Secret Gardens 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen and Unwin, 235 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 04 809022 0
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Reading and Righting 
by Robert Leeson.
Collins, 256 pp., £6.95, March 1985, 9780001844131
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Pipers at the Gates of Dawn 
by Jonathan Cott.
Viking, 327 pp., £12.95, August 1984, 0 670 80003 1
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... are continually disparaged for being insufficiently egalitarian, or wide-ranging, or whatever. Robert Leeson, in Reading and Righting, is struck by the failure of children’s authors before the 1960s to represent the working classes satisfactorily in their fiction. He claims a kind of ‘cultural invisibility’ overtook the proletariat, and traces ...

Visitors! Danger!

Lorraine Daston: Charles Darwin, 8 May 2003

Charles Darwin. Vol. II: The Power of Place 
by Janet Browne.
Cape, 591 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 224 04212 2
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... as the scion of two prominent abolitionist families, at the views of the Beagle’s Tory Captain Robert FitzRoy concerning slavery in Brazil. But whereas Desmond and Moore are content to remark that ‘in his Whig heart Darwin knew wrong from right,’ Browne goes on to point out that however sincerely and vehemently the Darwins and Wedgwoods opposed ...

Performing Art

Rosalind Krauss: The Sanctification of Rebecca Horn, 12 November 1998

Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity 
edited by Carl Haenlein.
Scalo, 400 pp., £47.50, January 1997, 3 931141 66 7
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... On one wall of the gallery a fan of black feathers slowly parts in the centre and folds back like a bird on a perch stowing its wings. From the lower area of another wall, 11 black stiletto-heeled shoes project outwards in a sparse cluster, while high above them a mechanical device suddenly jerks two extended ladles upwards against two metal arms so that with each repeated spasm a clang directs the viewer’s attention to the great splatters of blue paint that have been thrown by the device, spraying not only the wall behind it but defiling the shoes and floor below ...

Reader, I married you

Alethea Hayter, 30 March 1989

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett: The Courtship Correspondence 1845-1846 
edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 363 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 818547 2
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... Hugh Stuart Boyd on prosody, with Richard Hengist Horne on contemporary literature, with Benjamin Robert Haydon on the artist’s vocation. Browning in this first letter told her that he loved her poetry with its ‘fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought’. She saw this as another inauguration, with a ...

Little Nips

Penelope Fitzgerald, 26 May 1994

The Moment between the Past and the Future 
by Grigorij Baklanov, translated by Catherine Porter.
Faber, 217 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 571 16444 7
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The Soul of a Patriot 
by Evgeny Popov, translated by Robert Porter.
Harvill, 194 pp., £8.99, April 1994, 0 00 271124 9
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... millions as a departing soul. (‘His spirit has flown!’ murmurs Usvatov’s wife. ‘The bird flew over and that’s all,’ concludes Popov.) Baklanov was born in 1923, Popov in 1946: he was a schoolboy in Siberia when Sinyavsky’s On Social Realism was printed in France. Realism, Sinyavsky wrote, whether genuine or as demanded by the Soviet ...

Flaubert’s Parrot

Julian Barnes, 18 August 1983

... we believe the words enough? Do we think the leavings of a life contain some ancillary truth? When Robert Louis Stevenson died his business-minded Scottish nanny quietly began selling locks of the infant’s hair which she claimed to have cut forty years earlier. The believers, the seekers, the pursuers bought enough hair to stuff a sofa. The house of Croisset ...

At the Hayward

Peter Campbell: Paul Klee, 21 March 2002

... seems not so much to invent as to observe. Yet there is little which is random: in pictures like Bird Drama (1920) and Distillation of Pears (1921) each line has a plausible meaning. It was in the 1920s that Klee began to use a technique of oil transfer drawing, in which ragged-edged lines make elegant twists and turns like pieces of frayed thread. In Dance ...

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