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Scholarship and its Affiliations

Wendy Steiner, 30 March 1989

... In Alan Bennett’s A Question of Attribution, Anthony Blunt instructs Her Majesty the Queen about pictures. ‘Because something is not what it is said to be, Ma’am, does not mean it is a fake.’ ‘What is it?’ she asks. Sir Anthony gingerly suggests: ‘An enigma?’ Here as in Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, the figure of the spy illustrates the irreducibility of human and aesthetic mystery, the contradictions that all personalities enshrine, the confusion that no amount of pedantic energy can resolve ...

Farewell Hong Kong

Penelope Fitzgerald, 24 February 1994

The Mountain of Immoderate Desires 
by Leslie Wilson.
Weidenfeld, 374 pp., £15.99, February 1994, 0 297 81371 4
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... not his real father and mother. He believes that he is the illegitimate son of Queen Victoria by her servant John Brown, who must have ‘lifted his kilt’ on some unrecorded occasion. Everywhere, on tea-caddies and biscuit-tins, he looks proudly at images of his mother’s face. Samuel believes it, but we don’t, any more than we believe Pip’s great ...

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Peter Clarke, 18 May 1989

The Pleasures of the Past 
by David Cannadine.
Collins, 338 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 00 215664 4
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... AT THE QUEEN’S BEDSIDE – She kept him talking for ten minutes ... Then a footman came to her aid.’ We are told that the man had shinned up the drainpipe, and thus managed to snatch his few brief moments of early-morning chit-chat with Her Majesty. It is not recorded that he was a historian, who would expect ...

About as Useful as a String Condom

Glen Newey: Bum Decade for the Royals, 23 January 2003

... worse deal than blacks and homosexuals. In November the Princess Royal got a criminal record after her pet pit bull gored a child (the dog escaped the chop thanks to the Princess’s top-dollar brief). Even Prince William, once the press’s golden boy, was reported to have dispatched flunkeys to buy him porno mags from the local newsagent. Then came bruits of ...

Royal Bodies

Hilary Mantel, 21 February 2013

... to come up with an answer, however, so I chose Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and I chose to give her a book published in 2006, by the cultural historian Caroline Weber; it’s called Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution. It’s rather that I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll ...

Heaven’s Gate

Rosemary Hill, 8 September 1994

Pugin: A Gothic Passion 
edited by Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright.
Yale, 310 pp., £45, June 1994, 0 300 06014 9
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... of medieval architectural motifs to modern shapes. Much of it survives in use at Windsor and if Her Majesty dips into this volume she may be puzzled by the stern tone in which Clive Wainwright endorses Pugin’s ‘quite proper’ renunciation of her ‘horrific’ furniture, most of which is considered too ...

On Wings of Song

Frederick Seidel, 8 May 1986

... Whom I would have done anything to please. Aquiline and aloof in the land of the button nose, her smile Made her seem a witch, my goddess, Too cool, too cold. She was my muse Because she hardly spoke a word. We used to pronounce her name to rhyme with Casbah, Mimicking ...

Russian hearts are strange

Andrew Solomon, 20 June 1996

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter 
by Robert Massie.
Cape, 308 pp., £17.99, November 1995, 0 224 04192 4
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The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution 
by Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev.
Yale, 444 pp., £18.50, November 1995, 0 300 06557 4
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... The story of Anna Anderson, the most plausible of the pretenders, fully discredited only when her blood samples were posthumously tested for DNA matches, is especially good fun. What is nauseating is the eagerness of a substantial section of the Western public to believe these people. Finally, Massie deals with the surviving members of the family, mostly ...

Tony and Caroline

Ben Pimlott, 26 November 1987

Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963-67 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 592 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 09 170660 2
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... of a diary may not be the same as the rational justification. Beatrice Webb, for example, used her diary for deep introspection. Hugh Dalton used his sometimes as a private seminar, for working out new ideas, on other occasions as a kind of mirror, in order to practise a political pose, or as a psychic release, a place to express feelings of frustration or ...

Shaved, Rouged and Chignoned

Terry Eagleton: Fanny and Stella, 7 March 2013

Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England 
by Neil McKenna.
Faber, 396 pp., £16.99, February 2013, 978 0 571 23190 4
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... writer, a ‘notorious and shameless poof’ married a street woman and fathered two sons with her, both of whom followed in their father’s professional footsteps. A male prostitute known as Fair Eliza kept a fancy woman in Westminster who, McKenna writes, did ‘not scruple to live upon the fruits of his monstrous avocation’. Female sex workers might ...

Call it magnificence

Michael Hofmann: Antonio Muñoz Molina, 20 December 2018

Like a Fading Shadow 
by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated by Camilo A. Ramirez.
Serpent’s Tail, 310 pp., £9.99, May 2018, 978 1 78125 894 1
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... On the wall behind him: a colour portrait of the Queen of England – 007 at the service of Her Majesty.The sentences have the involuntary, palpable beauty of snowflakes. He follows Rilke’s almost Oriental prescription that one must have seen and experienced many things in life, and then forgotten them. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a less ...

Non-Party Man

Ross McKibbin: Stafford Cripps, 19 September 2002

The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps 
by Peter Clarke.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 7139 9390 1
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... blighted rather than fostered scholarship. ‘Dame Isobel’s well-meaning effort to keep alive her husband’s flame has had the perverse effect of threatening to extinguish it.’ In particular, it has meant that those with whom Cripps served have all had their ‘versions’ published long before. Of the big five of the 1945 Labour Government ...

Stubborn as a Tomb

James Meek: Shadows over Eurasia, 22 April 2021

Absolute Zero 
by Artem Chekh, translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna.
Glagoslav, 154 pp., £17.99, July 2020, 978 1 912894 67 3
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The Monastery 
by Zakhar Prilepin, translated by Nicholas Kotar.
Glagoslav, 660 pp., £24.99, July 2020, 978 1 912894 78 9
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... combat. A soldier’s wife, for instance, far from the front, has a heart attack after he tells her what he’s going through. The book isn’t directly about fighting, or even about fear; to the extent it recounts the hardships of a soldier’s life, they’re pretty universal – boredom, cold, not enough booze – but with 21st-century Ukrainian ...

‘Just get us out’

Ferdinand Mount, 21 March 2019

... the glorious letter he wrote to the queen at the end of January. Its immediate purpose was to ask Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament in order to prevent Remainers from frustrating Brexit. That might seem chutzpah enough, but his follow-up was more ineffable still: ‘Your Majesty’s Ministers were gravely in error and ...


Jenny Diski: New words, 1 January 1998

... form, a stroke on the shoulder with the flat of a sword’, which permits a dream moment when Her Majesty announces: ‘I now proclaim you rad. Arise Sir Damien.’) Wicked (‘excellent, great, wonderful’), you may notice, has avoided becoming a snappy monosyllable. It is, we are told after the definition, ‘a reversal of meaning’, which seems ...

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