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You are the we of me

Joyce Carol Oates: The Autobiography of Carson McCullers, 2 September 1999

Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers 
edited by Carlos Dews.
Wisconsin, 256 pp., £19.95, September 1999, 0 299 16440 3
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... parable-like stories were favourites in the influential Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Awards yearly anthologies. If American Southern Gothic survives as a literary mode, it’s only as parody. The reputations of McCullers and Capote have severely diminished even as the reputation of O’Connor has steadily risen. McCullers may be perceived ...

Was Plato too fat?

Rosemary Hill: The Stuff of Life, 10 October 2019

Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life 
by Christopher Forth.
Reaktion, 352 pp., £25, March 2019, 978 1 78914 062 0
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... ability to command a flattering reflection. If anyone thought that at 54 inches around the waist, Henry VIII was fat, they thought twice about saying so and in Holbein’s portraits of the king his bulk is translated into an image of monumentality and strength. The female pharaoh Hatshepsut was portrayed in sculpture as slender with delicate features. The ...

Unlike Kafka

Amit Chaudhuri, 8 June 1995

The Unconsoled 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 535 pp., £15.99, May 1995, 9780571173877
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... embodied in the relations between servants and employers in, for instance, La Règle du jeu, Henry Green’s Loving, in Wodehouse’s writing or Upstairs, Downstairs. In The Unconsoled, the themes of guilt and fear of humiliation persist, as do the means of negotiating them: excessive, insincere flattery, elisions, voluntary or involuntary amnesia. But ...

Possessed by the Idols

Steven Shapin: Does Medicine Work?, 30 November 2006

Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates 
by David Wootton.
Oxford, 304 pp., £16.99, June 2006, 0 19 280355 7
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... to ignore that progress or been duped into denying it. Wootton’s target of choice is Roy Porter, who wrote that ‘only the most dyed-in-the-wool Whig history still polarises the past in terms of confrontations between saints and sinners, heroes and villains.’ Wootton is happy to acknowledge that his book ‘is written against the grain of ...

Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

Other Passports: Poems 1958-1985 
by Clive James.
Cape, 221 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 224 02422 1
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... The James who stated that the modern equivalent of a Donatello statue is not something by Henry Moore but a drop-head Lamborghini was only exaggerating a dearly held truth: that the idea of Two Cultures is as silly a notion today as it would have been when Donatello and Brunelleschi were working in Florence. To the rationalism of the Movement, Clive ...

Trying to Make Decolonisation Look Good

Bernard Porter: The End of Empire, 2 August 2007

Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-68 
by Ronald Hyam.
Cambridge, 464 pp., £17.99, February 2007, 978 0 521 68555 9
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The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire 
by Peter Clarke.
Allen Lane, 559 pp., August 2007, 978 0 7139 9830 6
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Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire 
by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper.
Allen Lane, 673 pp., £30, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9782 8
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... army captain (later Dirk Bogarde) recalled, on his arrival in Calcutta in 1945, seeing an Indian porter being beaten by ‘a fat, ginger-haired, moustached, red-faced stocky little major … Screaming. Thrashing at the cringing Indian with his swagger cane … My first sight and sound of the Raj at work.’ Apparently, little had changed. Assaults on women ...

It’s only a paper moon

Patrick Parrinder, 13 June 1991

Wise Children 
by Angela Carter.
Chatto, 234 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 0 7011 3354 6
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... Brush up your Shakespeare,’ instructed Cole Porter. Is Shakespeare part of popular culture, and if so, whose popular culture? Does the Bard’s writ extend to the wrong side of the tracks – say, to 49 Bard Road, Brixton, where Wise Children begins? Is he still in any sense the poet of the groundlings, and not merely of the powerful and the chattering classes whose legitimation-anxieties he so searchingly addresses? (There is no one so anxious nor so devoted to Shakespeare as a legitimate prince, to judge by the current heir to the throne ...
The Children’s Book of Comic Verse 
edited by Christopher Logue.
Batsford, 160 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 7134 1528 2
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The Children’s Book of Funny Verse 
edited by Julia Watson.
Faber, 127 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 571 11467 9
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Bagthorpes v. the World 
by Helen Cresswell.
Faber, 192 pp., £4.50, September 1980, 0 571 11446 6
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The Robbers 
by Nina Bawden.
Gollancz, 144 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 575 02695 2
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... to the Western mind? We were once the only Europeans present at a Boxing Day performance of Oh Mr Porter in a back-street cinema. Four men were whirled around on the sails of a windmill; we fell about with laughing, the Pakistani children who made up the rest of the audience were silent. They either found the situation totally unfunny, or else lacked the ...

Prinney, Boney, Boot

Roy Porter, 20 March 1986

The English Satirical Print 1600-1832 
edited by Michael Duffy.
Chadwyck-Healey, February 1986
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... Cruikshank, like Giorgione, could be read on many different planes, just as a cartoon featuring Henry Fox and labelled ‘Volpone’ could be appreciated by those who had never heard of Ben Jonson. Yet if cartoons assuredly were not ‘high art’, they certainly must not be seen as part of the ‘little tradition’. Cartoons were an expression of that ...

F for Felon

Roy Porter: Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror by J.M. Beattie., 4 April 2002

Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror 
by J.M. Beattie.
Oxford, 491 pp., £48, July 2001, 0 19 820867 7
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... Bow Street Runners, London’s first semi-public agency geared to bringing miscreants to book, by Henry Fielding and his blind half-brother John. The most innovative sections of this study involve analysis of the workings of criminal law in the court house and attempts to reform it. Beattie has discovered that, at the Restoration, surprisingly little of all ...

Did he puff his crimes to please a bloodthirsty readership?

Bernard Porter: How bad was Stanley?, 5 April 2007

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer 
by Tim Jeal.
Faber, 570 pp., £25, March 2007, 978 0 571 22102 8
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... for an unlikely reputation to rescue, reputations don’t come much unlikelier than that of Henry Morton Stanley. Widely excoriated in his own time as one of the most brutal of African travellers, condemned by historians for his part in the creation of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State, and derided both then and since for his famous but ...

Where is this England?

Bernard Porter: The Opium War, 3 November 2011

The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China 
by Julia Lovell.
Picador, 458 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 330 45747 7
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... You could blame the Chinese, as many Chinese themselves did. ‘If your people are virtuous,’ Henry Pottinger, the most unbending of Britain’s agents in China, claimed, ‘they will desist from the evil practice; and if your officers are incorruptible, and obey their orders, no opium can enter your country. The discouragement of the growth of the poppy ...

Chattering Stony Names

Nicholas Penny: Painting in Marble, 20 May 2021

Painting in Stone: Architecture and the Poetics of Marble from Antiquity to the Enlightenment 
by Fabio Barry.
Yale, 438 pp., £50, October 2020, 978 0 300 24816 6
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... used in English medieval architecture and sculpture is also a limestone. Barry notes that Master Henry of Avranches, the cosmopolitan 13th-century Latin poet and secular priest, likened Purbeck stone to the shining jasper mentioned in the Bible, and to the sheen of a fingernail (an allusion, I suppose, to onyx, the name of which derives directly from the ...

Up from Under

John Bayley, 18 February 1988

The Faber Book of Contemporary Australian Short Stories 
edited by Murray Bail.
Faber, 413 pp., £12.95, January 1988, 0 571 15083 7
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... A famous passage in Henry James’s Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne laments the absence for the writer in America of every relation and institution which made writing socially viable – an army and a navy and a church and a court, and classes and village squires and evening parties. James’s view of the materials available to the writer may strike us today as somewhat old-fashioned and unenterprising, but there is a basic shrewdness in what he says ...

Foodists

John Bayley, 25 February 1993

A History of Food 
by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, translated by Anthea Bell.
Blackwell, 801 pp., £25, December 1992, 0 631 17741 8
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... virtues of the King Edward potato, adding perfunctorily that it was not ‘an eating potato’. Henry James would have seen the point. In 1870 he wrote to his elder brother William from Malvern, England, where the hotel fed him mostly on mutton and potatoes, to say how much he missed ‘unlimited tomatoes & beans & peas & squash & turnips & carrots & corn ...

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