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The Best of Betjeman

John Bayley, 18 December 1980

John Betjeman’s Collected Poems 
compiled by the Earl of Birkenhead.
Murray, 427 pp., £2.50, June 1980, 0 7195 3632 4
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Church Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 7195 3797 5
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... Agnes. Betjeman’s joys and sorrows go straight back to the early Romantics. He is not a bit like Hardy and Philip Larkin, who are often associated with him. No comparison could be more misleading. Their idiom is one of deprivation, of that pleasure in things going wrong, or never having been right, which has become so much a part of English culture and ...

Waiting for the Dawn to Come

Rachel Bowlby: Reading George Eliot, 11 April 2013

Reading for Our Time: ‘Adam Bede’ and ‘Middlemarch’ Revisited 
by J. Hillis Miller.
Edinburgh, 191 pp., £19.99, March 2012, 978 0 7486 4728 6
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... of deep excitement and calm, calm hovering on the edge of ecstasy’. Miller’s Thomas Hardy, published a year before the Wordsworth article, has the subtitle ‘Distance and Desire’. Here Miller was interested in the way this kind of hovering between two contrary states can become in effect the defining stance of an author or the characters he ...

When the Mediterranean Was Blue

John Bayley, 23 March 1995

Cyril Connolly: A Nostalgic Life 
by Clive Fisher.
Macmillan, 304 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 333 57813 9
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... ignoring likewise the claims of later secretaries such as Peter Quennell and Robert Gathorne-Hardy, he bestowed the prize on the latest incumbent, the young John Russell. It was a bitter blow at the time to Connolly, who never found it easy to remain solvent, and who tended with an insouciance which has something rather admirable about it to have little ...

My Missus

John Sutherland, 13 May 1993

Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914-1950 
by Joseph McAleer.
Oxford, 284 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 19 820329 2
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American Star: A Love Story 
by Jackie Collins.
Heinemann, 568 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 434 14093 7
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... beyond romantic stereotype. McAleer contrasts the Mills & Boon product with the iron-knickered Barbara Cartland and her crusade – extended over five hundred novels – against the horrific consequences of pre-marital sex. Cartland is deficient in what McAleer discerns as the ‘light, even witty, touch’ of the best Mills & Boon authors when it comes to ...


Barbara Everett, 10 November 1988

A Sinking Island: The Modern English Writers 
by Hugh Kenner.
Barrie and Jenkins, 290 pp., £16.95, September 1988, 0 7126 2197 0
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... Thomas and other romantics, Yeats becoming prime among them; and Yeats was finally driven out by Hardy. Yet even after the poet had found his style, he continued to write sometimes highly competent verses that didn’t, however, qualify to go into the three volumes of poems he wished to preserve: The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings, High Windows. These ...


John Bayley, 6 September 1984

The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol. V: 1936-1941 
edited by Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie.
Chatto, 402 pp., £17.50, June 1984, 0 7012 0566 0
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Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood 
by Angelica Garnett.
Chatto, 181 pp., £9.95, August 1984, 0 7011 2821 6
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... Rousseau, and Chateaubriand, and Stendhal in La Vie de Henri Brulard, and Newman and Ruskin and Hardy – all the way down to Anthony Powell in his Memoirs and the just published diaries of Barbara Pym. Indeed this contribution to the state of the art by a humbler sister in the fiction business – and appearing ...

Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton, 22 October 1992

The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 759 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 571 15197 3
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... from Thwaite himself, the few who are spared include figures like Vernon Watkins, Gavin Ewart, Barbara Pym: allies who are genuinely liked and admired but who are nonetheless junior to Larkin in talent and repute. The really big hates tend to be reserved for sizable poetic rivals. Ted Hughes is a recurrent, near-obsessive target, with S. Heaney advancing ...

The First Calamity

Christopher Clark: July, 1914, 29 August 2013

The War That Ended Peace 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Profile, 656 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 1 84668 272 8
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July 1914: Countdown to War 
by Sean McMeekin.
Icon, 461 pp., £25, July 2013, 978 1 84831 593 8
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... to reach a wide readership. ‘A phenomenon of such extended malignance as the Great War,’ Barbara Tuchman wrote in The Proud Tower (1966), ‘does not come out of a golden age.’ Two recent studies of the prewar world, Florian Illies’s whimsical kaleidoscopic bestseller, 1913, and Charles Emmerson’s magnificent global study, 1913: The World ...

I’m not an actress

Michael Newton: Ava Gardner, 7 September 2006

Ava Gardner 
by Lee Server.
Bloomsbury, 551 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 7475 6547 3
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... she had starred in a film, all of them famous. First was Mickey Rooney, the star of the Andy Hardy pictures. Rooney was effervescently manic, the kind of man who would attempt to bring the house down during a quiet lunch. As the marriage disintegrated, Howard Hughes appeared on the scene. Hughes saw her for what she was about to become: the commodifiable ...

A Susceptible Man

Ian Sansom: The Unhappy Laureate, 4 March 1999

Living in Time: The Poetry of C. Day Lewis 
by Albert Gelpi.
Oxford, 246 pp., £30, March 1998, 0 19 509863 3
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... or Irish scholar who’d spent years carefully tracking and tracing the continuities between Hardy and Larkin and Geoffrey Hill, say, and producing learned monographs on the Movement or on Ted Hughes suddenly took the notion to write a book about Frederic Prokosch (a poet, like Day Lewis, who made most of his money from novels), or Archibald MacLeish ...

Raging towards Utopia

Neal Ascherson: Koestler, 22 April 2010

Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual 
by Michael Scammell.
Faber, 689 pp., £25, February 2010, 978 0 571 13853 1
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... By now, his first marriage had come apart and he was living with the young English sculptor Daphne Hardy. She was to be his companion through much of the terrifying episode in his life described in Scum of the Earth: internment as a dangerous alien in the camp of Le Vernet in the French Pyrenees, flight from the advancing Germans through a disintegrating ...

I had no imagination

Christian Lorentzen: Gerald Murnane, 4 April 2019

Tamarisk Row 
by Gerald Murnane.
And Other Stories, 281 pp., £10, February 2019, 978 1 911508 36 6
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Border Districts 
by Gerald Murnane.
And Other Stories, 144 pp., £8.99, January 2019, 978 1 911508 38 0
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... together in paragraphs that go on for pages. Here is the end of a section called ‘Clement loves Barbara Keenan’, in which Clement’s gazing at a classmate during Mass yields to a vision of an idealised American landscape he knows only from National Geographic and songs on the radio:Clement sees, a few seats ahead of him, ...


Barbara Everett, 2 April 1987

... who observed, not without point, that our period has produced little at the level of Eliot, Yeats, Hardy: it is probably as good as any single short poem written by any of them. The ‘philistinism’ of ‘Livings 1’ is central to the poem, not incidental; it is ‘principled’ in a full sense. The lines, spoken in the first person, define the life of a ...

Browning Versions

Barbara Everett, 4 August 1983

Robert Browning: A Life within Life 
by Donald Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 334 pp., £12.95, August 1982, 0 297 78092 1
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The Elusive Self in the Poetry of Robert Browning 
by Constance Hassett.
Ohio, 186 pp., £17, December 1982, 0 8214 0629 9
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The Complete Works of Robert Browning. Vol. V 
edited by Roma King.
Ohio, 395 pp., £29.75, July 1981, 9780821402207
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The Poetical Works of Robert Browning: Vol. I 
edited by Ian Jack and Margaret Smith.
Oxford, 543 pp., £45, April 1983, 0 19 811893 7
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Robert Browning: The Poems 
edited by John Pettigrew and Thomas Collins.
Yale/Penguin, 1191 pp., £26, January 1982, 0 300 02675 7
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Robert Browning: ‘The Ring and the Book’ 
edited by Richard Altick.
Yale/Penguin, 707 pp., £21, May 1981, 0 300 02677 3
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... his great contemporary rival Tennyson, and the principal 20th-century poets, including even Yeats, Hardy and Wallace Stevens, let alone the various fashionable Modernists whose reputations are now rightly in rapid decline.’Such an estimate may do justice to the scale of Browning’s work. Whether it comes to terms with Browning’s actual identity as a poet ...

Larkin and Us

Barbara Everett, 4 November 1982

Larkin at Sixty 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 148 pp., £7.95, May 1982, 9780571118786
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The Art of Philip Larkin 
by Simon Petch.
Sydney University Press, 108 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 424 00090 3
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... the poet to ‘go and do unlikewise’, an exercise certainly made fruitful by the succession of Hardy to Yeats as the poet for whom Larkin has a special feeling. Similarly, much that is colloquial and downright in Larkin’s diction seems half to depend on a conscious and remedial turning-away from Modernist abstraction that could hardly have proceeded ...

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