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The Strange Case of Peter Vansittart

Martin Seymour-Smith, 6 March 1986

Aspects of Feeling 
by Peter Vansittart.
Peter Owen, 251 pp., £10.95, January 1986, 0 7206 0637 3
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... Peter Vansittart, novelist, historian and writer for children, has been singled out for praise by critics as diverse as Philip Toynbee, Francis King, Angus Wilson and Andrew Sinclair. All feel that he lacks the large audience he deserves. Yet the curious reader, anxious to gain more information about this somewhat enigmatic writer, of undoubted power (and above all vision), may easily find himself defeated ...

Hello to All That

Martin Seymour-Smith, 9 October 1986

Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic 1895-1926 
by Richard Perceval Graves.
Weidenfeld, 387 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 297 78943 0
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... This is the first volume of a projected three-volume ‘definitive’ biography of Robert Graves by his nephew, Richard Perceval Graves. It takes over where the author’s father, Robert’s younger brother John Graves, left off. John, who died in 1980, had been described by Robert as a ‘typically good pupil of a typically good school’ (to which he returned as teacher); he had for long contemplated the composition of a book called My Brother Robert ...

His Only Friend

Elaine Showalter, 8 September 1994

Hardy 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Bloomsbury, 886 pp., £25, February 1994, 0 7475 1037 7
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... the book. Could the cosmic wires have been crossed and could the spiritualist have been talking to Martin Seymour-Smith? For this massive biography of Hardy – or ‘Tom’, as Seymour-Smith chummily calls him – has the vehemence of divine revelation and the fervour of personal mission. ‘I wrote ...

Beastliness

Harry Ricketts, 16 March 1989

Rudyard Kipling 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Macdonald, 373 pp., £16.95, February 1989, 0 356 15852 7
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... than others. Edel, for instance, is both meticulous and plausible. The same can hardly be said of Martin Seymour-Smith in his new critical biography of Kipling. In addition to being one of the most lopsided lives ever written – 23 chapters on the first forty years, only two chapters on the last thirty – this is also one of the most incorrigible in ...

Queen Famine’s Courtier

Paul Delany, 3 February 1983

Robert Graves: His Life and Works 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Hutchinson, 607 pp., £14.95, May 1982, 0 09 139350 7
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In Broken Images: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1914-1946 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Hutchinson, 371 pp., £12.95, May 1982, 0 09 147720 4
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Progress of Stories 
by Laura Riding.
Carcanet, 380 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85635 402 3
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... his comfort, and choosing to have eight children, Graves always knew what was owed to Mammon. Martin Seymour-Smith has the task, therefore, of explaining two personalities within a single identity: the daimonic poet, and the practical man of letters. For Graves himself, this was no problem. He knew he was schizoid: but poetry justified his manic ...

Old Gravy

Mark Ford, 7 September 1995

Robert Graves: Life on the Edge 
by Miranda Seymour.
Doubleday, 524 pp., £20, July 1995, 0 385 40423 9
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Robert Graves and the White Goddess 
by Richard Perceval Graves.
Weidenfeld, 618 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 297 81534 2
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Robert Graves: His Life and Work 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Bloomsbury, 600 pp., £25, June 1995, 0 7475 2205 7
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Robert Graves: Collected Writings on Poetry 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Carcanet, 560 pp., £35, June 1995, 1 85754 172 3
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Robert Graves: The Centenary Selected Poems 
edited by Patrick Quinn.
Carcanet, 160 pp., £15.95, April 1995, 9781857541267
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... but it seems that it also reflected his strait-laced German mother’s high Protestant ideals. Martin Seymour-Smith, Graves’s first biographer and a close friend, traces the demonic bloodlust of the White Goddess all the way back to Graves’s cradle: ‘The infant looked up into its mother’s face, and sensed that – without much ambiguity ...

Mountain Novel, Hitler Novel

D.A.N. Jones, 1 October 1987

The Spell 
by Hermann Broch, translated by H.F. Broch de Rothermann.
Deutsch, 391 pp., £11.95, May 1987, 0 233 98049 0
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Hermann Broch: A Biography 
by Paul Michael Lützeler, translated by Janice Furness.
Quartet, 329 pp., £25, June 1987, 0 7043 2604 3
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... it is a good, readable story. Hermann Broch is considered ‘very hard to read’, wrote Martin Seymour-Smith in his useful guide, Novels and Novelists. ‘He used most of the Modernist technical devices available to him, but mainly stream of consciousness.’ Broch’s work has often attracted comments like that and they sound, to the general ...
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... found Nabokov ‘rich in what is given to few writers and poor in what is given to most men’. Martin Seymour-Smith, reviewing Laughter in the Dark, described Nabokov as ‘a kind of Satanic Mantovani, coming into cruel close-up on your screens at the end of the compelling torment to ask (the question mark ironic): “You have been distressed by my ...

An Outline of Outlines

Graham Hough, 7 May 1981

... critical essays, with short useful bibliographies to take things farther. In Fifty European Novels Martin Seymour-Smith redeems himself for the awfulness of Novels and Novelists. He is a man of immense reading in several languages, and without aiming at critical profundity, a lively, vigorous and intelligent commentator on all that he has read. Fifty ...

Comprehending Gaddis

D.A.N. Jones, 6 March 1986

The Recognitions 
by William Gaddis.
Penguin, 956 pp., £7.95, January 1986, 0 14 007768 5
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JR 
by William Gaddis.
Penguin, 726 pp., £7.95, January 1986, 0 14 008039 2
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Carpenter’s Gothic 
by William Gaddis.
Deutsch, 262 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 233 97932 8
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... with respect and caution: but in Britain he has sometimes been received with a suspicious snort. Martin Seymour-Smith writes in his useful guide, Novels and Novelists, that ‘The Recognitions, a complex novel about forgery and illusion, was found by most critics to be impenetrable and possibly pretentious.’ Now that The Recognitions of ...

Schusterism

C.H. Sisson, 18 April 1985

Diaries: 1923-1925 
by Siegfried Sassoon, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Faber, 320 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 571 13322 3
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... The troubles he encountered during and after the war must of course have had earlier origins, and Martin Seymour-Smith is probably right in his diagnosis: ‘Possibly his strange and neurotic personality and its written expressions were in part a reaction against his having been deprived of both paternal influence and the Jewishness he knew he had ...

Ludic Cube

Angela Carter, 1 June 1989

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words 
by Milorad Pavic, translated by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric.
Hamish Hamilton, 338 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12658 4
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... that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end in that order. In Yugoslavia, according to Martin Seymour-Smith, ‘except for a few years after Tito came to power in 1945, Modernism has flourished almost, if not quite, as it wished’ (Guide to World Literature, edition of 1985). Dictionary of the Khazars fulfils, almost too richly, all ...

Imagine Tintin

Michael Hofmann: Basil Bunting, 9 January 2014

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting 
by Richard Burton.
Infinite Ideas, 618 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 1 908984 18 0
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... but almost more important he holds the two sides of the Atlantic together as well. Burton cites Martin Seymour-Smith, for whom Bunting was the only English poet to solve the problem of how to assimilate the lively spirit of American poetry without losing his own sense of identity (a nice and a true description). So somehow the persistence and adequacy ...

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