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Blessed, Beastly Place

Douglas Dunn, 5 March 1981

Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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Gillespie 
by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... Hunt. A poet found himself in a city of prose. He came from ‘the ploughtail’, said R. L. Stevenson, ‘to an academy of gilt unbelief and artificial letters’. Mr Royle does not neglect Burns’s social embarrassment in Edinburgh, but he goes no further than to indicate frustrated opportunity and ambition. By now Edinburgh was consolidating itself ...

At the Ashmolean

Rosemary Hill: The Capture of the Westmorland, 19 July 2012

... subjects might as well have stuck their heads through a hole in a pre-painted background. But as John Brewer emphasises in his catalogue essay, the Tour was more socially mixed than it might appear. Basset, the biggest spender among the consigners to the Westmorland, was not an aristocrat but the beneficiary of a recent family fortune made from Cornish ...

Sitting it out

Paul Sieghart, 2 August 1984

Two men were aquitted 
by Percy Hoskins.
Secker, 221 pp., £9.95, May 1984, 0 436 20161 5
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... The trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams at the Old Bailey in 1957 was one of the causes célèbres of the post-war years. Apart from sex, it had everything. Adams was a fashionable Eastbourne doctor. Portly. With a chauffeur-driven Rolls. Charged with murdering one of his rich old women patients, for a chest of silver. There were strong hints she was not his only victim ...

Gaslight and Fog

John Pemble: Sherlock Holmes, 26 January 2012

The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Haia Shpayer-Makov.
Oxford, 429 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 19 957740 8
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... clichés from the Victorian literary bazaar. Dickens and the melodrama supplied fog and gaslight; Stevenson, Wilde and Pater props and accessories: revolver, boxing gloves, jack-knife, briar pipe, jewelled snuffbox, Stradivarius violin, a penchant for recondite chemistry, cocaine, Sarasate and the polyphonic motets of Lassus – and eyelids that are a little ...

The First Hundred Years

James Buchan, 24 August 1995

John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier 
by Andrew Lownie.
Constable, 365 pp., £20, July 1995, 0 09 472500 4
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... with a Cabinet Minister will know that it is not just the labourer who is thus incapable. John Buchan, whose grandson I am, was a late and flesh-and-blood representative of that lost epoch before economic expediency: a writer who not so much rejected the division of labour (Baudelaire and the Romantics do that) as overcame it. He fascinated his ...

‘The Meeting of the Waters’

John Barrell, 27 July 2017

... made of it than either the waters or their meeting deserve.’ This is the English travel writer John Barrow writing of the Vale of Avoca in 1835. Like him, I find it hard to decide on the register of the phrase, so lyrical as a song title, so grandiloquent as a synonym for ‘confluence’; unlike Barrow, I find these meetings fascinating, but I don’t ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder, 18 November 1993

The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... Cheered on by the Tory faithful, John Major recently dismissed as ‘claptrap’ a letter signed by 500 university teachers of English attacking the proposed revisions to the National Curriculum. The academics were accused – falsely, I believe – of wanting to undermine the teaching of Shakespeare. A few months earlier, the Education Secretary John Patten sent back an official report on English in schools with the comment that 15-year-olds perhaps ought to be made to study the ‘great tradition of the novel ...

Sisi’s Way

Tom Stevenson: In Sisi’s Prisons, 19 February 2015

... worse, statesmen around the world praise its role in Egypt’s ‘democratic transition’. When John Kerry visited Cairo last year he reported that Sisi had given him ‘a very strong sense of his commitment to human rights’. These issues, he said, were ‘very much’ on Sisi’s mind. For more than thirty years it was US policy to support autocratic ...

For ever Walsall

Angus Calder, 21 March 1985

Rural Life in England in the First World War 
by Pamela Horn.
Gill and Macmillan, 300 pp., £25, November 1984, 0 312 69604 3
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Britain in Our Century: Images and Controversies 
by Arthur Marwick.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 9780500250914
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Labour and Society in Britain: 1918-1979 
by James Cronin.
Batsford, 248 pp., £8.95, August 1984, 0 7134 4395 2
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Women in England 1870-1950: Sexual Divisions and Social Change 
by Jane Lewis.
Wheatsheaf, 240 pp., £16.95, November 1984, 0 7108 0186 6
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... so deeply divided, and so unstable, as to be on the brink of social disintegration, was given by John Stevenson and Chris Cook in The Slump.’ He immediately produces an ‘image’ – one of his book’s 149 illustrations – of the Jarrow Marchers. They look proud and determined. ‘But as the eye pans along to the left and we take in the British ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Pop Poetry, 25 July 2002

... for Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Alan Rickman plays a ghost who tries to help his widow (Juliet Stevenson) come to terms with his untimely death. One of the tricks he tries is to recite Pablo Neruda’s ‘Dead Woman’ (‘I shall stay alive,/because above all things you wanted me’) – a fact advertised in an essay in the Bloodaxe anthology, the point ...

Dream on

C.K. Stead, 3 December 1992

A World of My Own: A Dream Diary 
by Graham Greene.
Reinhardt, 116 pp., £12.99, October 1992, 1 871061 36 9
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... In that sense he was always a storyteller for boys, in the tradition (a very good one) of R.L. Stevenson and John Buchan. In A Sort of Life, which was as near to an autobiography as he was ever prepared to go (and itself the result of psychotherapy for a period of writer’ block), Greene tells how he first came to keep ...

Unmuscular Legs

E.S. Turner, 22 August 1996

The Dictionary of National Biography 1986-1990 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 607 pp., £50, June 1996, 0 19 865212 7
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... the ‘gunpowder plot’ and literary impostor (a category not yet extinct). In the latest volume John Stone-house appears as politician and confidence trickster, but Harold Philby is dubbed Soviet agent rather than traitor and Klaus Fuchs gets by as theoretical physicist. Other less controversial occupations include entrepreneur, man of letters, geologist ...

I’m a Cahunian

Adam Mars-Jones: Claude Cahun, 2 August 2018

Never Anyone But You 
by Rupert Thomson.
Corsair, 340 pp., £18.99, June 2018, 978 1 4721 5350 0
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... and this is true, but in a rather unexpected way. In an essay on Cahun’s photography, James Stevenson, photographic manager at the V&A, examined material in the Jersey Heritage Trust’s collection, much of it originally bought at auction by a local man after Moore’s death in 1972.* He paid £21 for what was meant to be ten separate lots housed in tea ...

Wigan Peer

Stephen Koss, 15 November 1984

The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford and 10th Earl of Balcarres, during the Years 1892 to 1940 
edited by John Vincent.
Manchester, 645 pp., £35, October 1984, 0 7190 0948 0
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... Ballin, compiled 54 ornately-bound volumes of diaries, which his son eventually entrusted to John Vincent for editing ‘That Lord Crawford was a man of distinction was agreed by all,’ attests Vincent, who seems unduly impressed by royal letters of condolence. Nevertheless, Vincent admits to finding it slightly difficult ‘to convey something of his ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... Oxford who caused him concern’: he believed him to be his illegitimate brother. Her grandfather John Horatio Lloyd had, in the 1830s, ‘exposed himself in the Temple Gardens’ and run ‘naked in the sight of some nursemaids’, thus losing the opportunity to become solicitor-general. He ‘was forced to retire from political and legal work for four ...

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