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Enemies of Promise

Angus Calder, 2 March 1989

Breach of Promise: Labour in Power 1964-1970 
by Clive Ponting.
Hamish Hamilton, 433 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12683 5
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James Maxton 
by Gordon Brown.
Fontana, 336 pp., £4.95, February 1988, 0 00 637255 4
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Forward! Labour Politics in Scotland 1888-1988 
edited by Ian Donnachie, Christopher Harvie and Ian Wood.
Polygon, 184 pp., £19.50, January 1989, 0 7486 6001 1
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... murals of working-class history can be seen around the ceiling: but the speeches were made in the Winter Garden downstairs, where heavy rain dripping through the glass roof and a chill which gnawed one’s bowels did not dismay the two hundred people who had gathered to honour the man who from 1935 to 1950 was Honourable Member for West Fife (Comm.), and an ...


John Campbell, 19 December 1985

The Kitchener Enigma 
by Trevor Royle.
Joseph, 436 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 7181 2385 9
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Kitchener: The Man behind the Legend 
by Philip Warner.
Hamish Hamilton, 247 pp., £12.95, August 1985, 0 241 11587 6
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... in the patriotic mind as a tableau to rank with Nelson expiring in Hardy’s arms at Trafalgar or Gordon’s last stand on the Residency steps in Khartoum. This sort of biscuit-tin iconography cannot be written off as trivial: it is the stuff of immortality. Kitchener was a legend to his contemporaries before he became either a great poster or a martyr. That ...

Why we have them I can’t think

Rosemary Hill: ‘Mrs Woolf and the Servants’, 16 August 2007

Mrs Woolf and the Servants: The Hidden Heart of Domestic Service 
by Alison Light.
Fig Tree, 376 pp., £20, August 2007, 978 0 670 86717 2
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... and colourful Omega rugs. Manners also relaxed. Young men used each others’ first names and in Gordon Square for the whole of Christmas 1905 Virginia ‘never once changed for dinner which is my height of bliss’. But of course she hadn’t cooked the dinner. Sophie Farrell and Maud Chart, the cook and housemaid from Hyde Park Gate, had come with the ...

Short Cuts

David Runciman: Narcissistic Kevins, 6 November 2014

... By now the whole team was in decline and when it fell apart, with a hammering in Australia last winter, all the old wounds reopened. Pietersen turned on everyone. Everyone turned on Pietersen. There was no way back. He was gone for good. The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are described as ‘an overwhelming need for ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home, 3 January 2008

The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... family’s return to Newport: ‘I have not the remotest idea of how I shall spend my time next winter … I wish, although I’ve no doubt it is a very silly wish, that I were going to college.’ His problem was that he had nothing to do. This led to intense periods of reading and writing, but it also led to his needing an alibi as he grew into his ...

Travelling in the Classic Style

Thomas Laqueur: Primo Levi, 5 September 2002

Primo Levi’s Ordinary Virtues: From Testimony to Ethics 
by Robert Gordon.
Oxford, 316 pp., £45, October 2001, 0 19 815963 3
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Primo Levi 
by Ian Thomson.
Hutchinson, 624 pp., £25, March 2002, 0 09 178531 6
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The Double Bond: Primo Levi, a Biography 
by Carole Angier.
Viking, 898 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88333 6
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... survive Auschwitz’, shaken, challenged to the core, ‘but intact’, is the subject of Robert Gordon’s superb book. Its thesis is that very early in his career Levi moved beyond the language of testimony to the ‘language of ethics’, a ‘flexible, sensitive, intelligent language’ that extends his work on the death camps into ‘a hypothetical ...

Body Maps

Janette Turner Hospital, 7 April 1994

The Rest of Life 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £15.99, January 1994, 0 7475 1675 8
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... for existence requires an attention we wouldn’t agree to if we understood its scope.’ For Gordon’s compulsively equivocating narrators, ‘ordinary life’ is a baffling country for which they must keep drafting provisional maps even though the topography forever shifts, resisting categorisation and dissolving its own signposts. The narrators keep ...


John Lanchester: Unbelievable Blair, 10 July 2003

... Blair sounds like a Tory more often than not, his Government’s policies – which perhaps means Gordon Brown’s policies – have been more redistributive than they admit to being. Yes, too much of this money is raised through indirect taxation; and the Government is storing up trouble for itself by refusing to make the case for higher income tax, instead ...
Stafford Cripps: A Political Life 
by Simon Burgess.
Gollancz, 374 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 575 06565 6
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... When the Guardian covered the recent Budget, it had a lot of fun unpacking the surprises sprung by Gordon Brown in the course of his demonstration that ‘all this prudence is for a purpose.’ The point was that his ‘updated Protestant work ethic’ offered rewards both for individuals and for the nation as a whole, in the form of tax cuts and increases in public spending ...

Settling accounts

Keith Walker, 15 May 1980

‘A heart for every fate’: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. 10, 1822-1823 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 239 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 0 7195 3670 7
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... never have thought myself good for any thing – if I had not been detested by the English.’ The winter of 1822-3 was unusally severe in Genoa, and these letters contain many complaints, typically good-humoured, of ill health: I have been confined to my bed with a violent rheumatic and bilious attack – constipation – and the devil knows what ... my ...


Peter Clarke: True or False?, 16 August 1990

... in the meantime, he was on the job again when Callaghan touched down at Heathrow during the Winter of Discontent. One’s first thought, therefore, must be whether our Ben is now editing the Spectator under an assumed name. Yet there have been no serious efforts from the Ridley camp to claim that their man was misquoted or that any breach of ...


William Rodgers: Party Conference Jamboree, 25 October 1990

... trust the Conservative Party to deal effectively with the economy than did so in May. John Smith, Gordon Brown and the Treasury team are the most impressive part of the Shadow Cabinet, but they are faced with voters perverse enough both to reward the Government for success and to trust it with recovery from self-induced failure. How can Labour ever win? The ...

Rigging and Bending

Simon Adams: James VI & I, 9 October 2003

The Cradle King: A Life of James VI & I 
by Alan Stewart.
Chatto, 438 pp., £20, February 2003, 0 7011 6984 2
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... execution, were alarmed to discover that the greatest of the Scottish Catholic peers, George Gordon, Sixth Earl of Huntly, was rapidly becoming his chief confidant. In 1588 James arranged Huntly’s marriage to Henrietta Stuart, daughter of his former favourite the Duke of Lennox, thus admitting him into the wider royal family. In the following ...

No Light on in the House

August Kleinzahler: Richard Brautigan Revisited, 14 December 2000

An Unfortunate Woman 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 110 pp., £12, July 2000, 1 84195 023 8
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Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-70 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 146 pp., £6.99, June 2000, 1 84195 027 0
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You Can't Catch Death 
by Ianthe Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 209 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 1 84195 025 4
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... making an appearance. Brautigan came from the Pacific Northwest, born in Tacoma, Washington in the winter of 1935. His childhood seems to have been appalling and he was reluctant to discuss it. He never knew his father, who, in turn, never knew of his son until reading his death notice. His mother was no bargain either, at one point abandoning Brautigan and ...

Let’s to billiards

Stephen Walsh: Constant Lambert, 22 January 2015

Constant Lambert: Beyond the Rio Grande 
by Stephen Lloyd.
Boydell, 584 pp., £45, March 2014, 978 1 84383 898 2
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... to the Ashton ballet Apparitions (for which Lambert merely chose the late Liszt piano pieces for Gordon Jacob to orchestrate), as he does to Horoscope. He quotes in extenso a long programme note by Rubbra on Summer’s Last Will, as if to excuse himself from the task. And he remorselessly lists composers and performers and repertoire in concerts and ballet ...

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