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Gentlemen’s Gentlemen

David Gilmour, 8 February 1990

... than a nun’s bouquet’ could have been written by Lampedusa; so could his dismissal of Victor Hugo as a ‘real charlatan’. Like Don Fabrizio’s, the Senyor’s life oscillates between moments of sensuality and periods of austere contemplation. Like Don Fabrizio, he is a rationalist who knows that his class has no future. Convinced that the ...


Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego, 4 May 2017

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’ 
by David Bellos.
Particular, 307 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 84614 470 7
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... Any reflection​ on Victor Hugo risks degenerating into a procession of superlatives. Poet, dramatist, novelist, romantic, reactionary, revolutionary, mystic, miser and indefatigable philanderer: without him French literature, French politics of the 19th century are unimaginable. The scope of his ambition, the range of his genius, the vastness of his output, the extent of his appetite, the audacity of his opportunism and the oceanic immensity of his self-regard prompt awe – as well as sentences like these, cumulative and insistent, as his own so often were ...

Sunday Mornings

Frank Kermode, 19 July 1984

Desmond MacCarthy: The Man and his Writings 
by David Cecil.
Constable, 313 pp., £9.95, May 1984, 9780094656109
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... miscellaneous essays by MacCarthy, all of which have been collected before, and a memoir by Lord David Cecil, of which a portion appeared as preface to an earlier selection. Desmond MacCarthy was probably the best-known London literary journalist of his time, and it is clearly the view of publisher and editor that his influence can be extended into our ...

Rallying Points

Shlomo Avineri, 1 October 1987

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land 
by David Shipler.
Bloomsbury, 596 pp., £17.95, June 1987, 0 7475 0017 7
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... He is interested in the human story, in the wounded sensibilities of occupier and occupied, of victor and vanquished. He finds a country devastated by Allied saturation bombing, its cities razed to the ground, most of its urban population homeless, hungry and cold. Millions of civilians, many of them women and children, wander aimlessly across the ...


James MacGibbon: Fashionable Radicals, 22 January 1987

... Police – Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were but two of the kind of thing he was after. David Low portrayed him as a funeral mute with thick crêpe on his hat. Even that little classic The Specialist was a cause of some anxiety at Putnam, and a sigh of relief went up when the Times Literary Supplement dubbed it ‘innocently Rabelaisian’. We may ...

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... but himself. If he is in earnest – and if he isn’t we’ll not bother with him, any more than David Trotter does – he thought that he was testing his society by moving out to the periphery of that society, speaking for and with the disaffected, the vagabonds, the ill-adjusted. How disconcerting, then, to find that the disaffection he thought he was ...

Downhill Racer

John Sutherland, 16 August 1990

Lying together 
by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 255 pp., £13.95, June 1990, 0 575 04802 6
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The Neon Bible 
by John Kennedy Toole.
Viking, 162 pp., £12.99, March 1990, 0 670 82908 0
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Solomon Gursky was here 
by Mordecai Richler.
Chatto, 576 pp., £13.95, June 1990, 0 394 53995 8
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Death of the Soap Queen 
by Peter Prince.
Bloomsbury, 277 pp., £13.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0611 6
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... at the Hyde Park Regis with three (fictional) storytellers from earlier segments: Sergei Rozanov, Victor Surkov and Masha Barash. The conference they are attending is an appalling affair. Stuffed shirts like ‘Kington Aimes, the humorous novelist’ rub shoulders with monstrous feminists and Third World demagogues. Thomas’s quartet – true artists that ...


David Runciman: Winners Do Drugs, 3 August 2006

Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, Balco and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports 
by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
Gotham, 332 pp., $26, March 2006, 1 59240 199 6
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... interspersed with routine denials that anything was amiss, had it not been for one man. This was Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (or Balco for short), who masterminded the supply of steroids to some of the top performers in baseball and athletics for over a decade, and whose inability to keep his mouth shut has brought ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers: Brussels, 29 July 1999

... Adjustment, no matter how comfortable it appears to be, is never freedom.’ David Reisman said that in The Lonely Crowd, a work of academic/pop sociology, published in the US in the late Forties; much read and remarked on at the time, and now forgotten. I looked it up the other day when I was due to say something at the South Bank Centre in connection with the Cities on the Move exhibition at the Hayward ...

‘Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal’

Avi Shlaim, 9 May 1991

Israel’s Secret Wars: The Untold History of Israeli Intelligence 
by Ian Black and Benny Morris.
Hamish Hamilton, 603 pp., £20, February 1991, 0 241 12702 5
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... like John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl and Agents of Innocence by the American writer David Ignatius. In recent years, however, a number of scandals have badly tarnished the reputation of Israel’s security services and stimulated calls for greater public accountability. One of the most damaging blows was struck by ...

Narcissus and Cain

David Bromwich, 6 August 1992

Mary and Maria by Mary Wollstonecraft, Matilda by Mary Shelley 
edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 217 pp., £24.95, January 1992, 1 85196 023 6
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Lady Sophia Sternheim 
by Sophie von La Roche, edited by James Lynn.
Pickering & Chatto, 216 pp., £24.95, January 1992, 9781851960217
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... relations to human kind and makes for himself a creature in whom he can nourish the same defects. Victor Frankenstein doubtless resembled Godwin more in theory than in practice, but Mary was made to feel often enough that she existed mainly to prove a point, and like her mother she harboured a wish to be transplanted from her own life. This could only come by ...

Homeric Cheese v. Technophiliac Relish

David Cooper: GM food, 18 May 2000

... novel, Mary Shelley – who was well-acquainted with the Watsons of her day – made it plain that Victor Frankenstein’s project was ‘supremely frightful’, not because of the possibility of disastrous consequences, but because of his ‘human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world’. Shorn of its theological ...

The Fug o’Fame

David Goldie: Hugh MacDiarmid’s letters, 6 June 2002

New Selected Letters 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Dorian Grieve.
Carcanet, 572 pp., £39.95, August 2001, 1 85754 273 8
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... tried to seem like Baudelaire or Nietzsche in his splenetic grandeur the more he came to resemble Victor Meldrew. When he was sacked for drunkenness by the editor of the Carlisle Journal in 1947, he responded that ‘a man of my national and international reputation cannot be dismissed as you dismissed me yesterday without repercussions,’ claiming that he ...

Uses for Horsehair

David Blackbourn, 9 February 1995

Duelling: The Cult of Honour in Fin-de-Siècle Germany 
by Kevin McAleer.
Princeton, 268 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 691 03462 1
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... talking about fighting duels. The subject has recently attracted some fine historians. In 1988, Victor Kiernan published The Duel in European History, a thoughtful account that drew mainly on British and French evidence from the Early Modern period and presented the modern duel as an aristocratic residue. Five years later, Friedhelm Guttandin offered a ...

Axeman as Ballroom Dancer

David Blackbourn, 17 July 1997

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987 
by Richard J. Evans.
Oxford, 1014 pp., £55, March 1996, 0 19 821968 7
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... the subject of many verses and popular broadsheets before reaching the height of his notoriety in Victor von Falks’s The Executioner of Berlin (1890-1), a serialised penny dreadful that reputedly achieved higher sales than any other 19th-century German novel. Evans has much to say about popular representations of capital punishment, without being either ...

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