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In the Golfo Placido

P.N. Furbank, 9 October 1986

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. II: 1898-1902 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 483 pp., £27.50, August 1986, 0 521 25748 4
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... comfort, but with aristocratic luxury. ‘He sat almost in rags and groaned with the fear that his pen would not be able to provide for his children and grandchildren great mansions to withstand the snow, elaborately ornamented sleighs, blood horses, innumerable retainers and halls opening out, the one into the other, beyond the eyesight.’ Ford has very ...

Sick mother be damned

P.N. Furbank, 6 March 1986

Bernard Shaw’s Collected Letters. Vol. III: 1911-1925 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 989 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 370 30203 6
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... It is difficult, yet not impossible, to imagine Bernard Shaw at a loss for words. The thing indeed occurred in 1928 at Thomas Hardy’s funeral, when Shaw and Kipling were paired in the procession of mourners but could find nothing whatever to say to each other. Shaw’s own excuse was that it was absurd to have coupled such a tall man with such a very short one ...

Fools

P.N. Furbank, 15 October 1981

Ford Madox Ford: Prose and Politics 
by Robert Green.
Cambridge, 218 pp., £16.50, July 1981, 9780521236102
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... particular pathos which attached to it, was, of course, a favourite of Balzac’s (see Le Cousin Pons, Le Curé de Tours and Le Père Goriot), and it was also central to Henry James (think of ‘Daisy Miller’ and The Wings of the Dove), as it was to Ford. The other strand of French tradition comes from Flaubert, and the important point about this ...

Enfield was nothing

P.N. Furbank: Norman Lewis, 18 December 2003

The Tomb in Seville 
by Norman Lewis.
Cape, 150 pp., £14.99, November 2003, 0 224 07120 3
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... I hate voyages and explorers,’ Lévi-Strauss writes in his Tristes Tropiques (1955). So what is he doing, he asks himself, in producing this account of his expeditions? Must I relate so many insipid details and insignificant occurrences? Adventure has no place in the ethnographic profession: it is merely a form of servitude, it burdens effective work with the weight of weeks or months lost in travelling; idle hours in which informants disappear; hunger, fatigue, sometimes illness; and always those thousand duties which consume the days in pure loss and reduce the dangerous life in the virgin forest to an imitation of military service ...

On wanting to be a diner not a dish

P.N. Furbank, 3 December 1992

The Rituals of Dinner 
by Margaret Visser.
Viking, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1992, 0 670 84701 1
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... If I were offered one wish by a benevolent Providence, mine would be not to be squeamish – a miserable affliction which locks one out from so much within the walls of disgust and shame. It occurs to one how enormously this matter must figure for an anthropologist. There is a story told by Lévi-Strauss of some Brazilian tribe with whom he was staying, who spoke with the greatest scorn and a disgust of a certain species of maggot, which was found in abundance in their neighbourhood ...

Sartre’s Absent Whippet

P.N. Furbank, 24 February 1994

The Psychology of Social Class 
by Michael Argyle.
Routledge, 305 pp., £13.99, December 1993, 0 415 07955 1
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... to this method you are supposed to heap up everything possible to be known about the serpent: puns on its name, etymologies, methods for its capture, remedies for its bite, allegories, adages, dreams and its role in literature and heraldry. Sociologists are even more unstoppable about ‘class’ than ordinary people, and for a very good reason. According ...

Like Steam Escaping

P.N. Furbank: Denton Welch, 17 October 2002

Denton Welch: Writer and Artist 
by James Methuen-Campbell.
Tartarus, 268 pp., £30, March 2002, 1 872621 60 0
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... enter the doctor’s house, he merely ‘slunk into the garden and flattened my face against the pane of the living-room window’. Welch was very fortunate in his literary career. He received what he called a ‘plum, jewel, diadem knock-out’ letter of encouragement about Maiden Voyage from Edith Sitwell, and a ‘fine letter’ from E.M. Forster, ‘full ...

A Little ‘Foreign’

P.N. Furbank: Iris Origo, 27 June 2002

Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Murray, 351 pp., £22, October 2000, 0 7195 5672 4
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... Iris Origo, who died in 1988 at the age of 86, was a highly esteemed biographer and autobiographer, author of The Last Attachment (1949), about Byron and Teresa Guiccioli, his last mistress; The Merchant of Prato (1957), about a 14th-century Tuscan merchant and banker, and other Italy-oriented works. Her father, Bayard Cutting, came from an exceedingly rich New England family, with a fortune derived from the railroads and land development; her mother, Sybil, was daughter of Lord Desart, an Irish peer ...

Picshuas

P.N. Furbank, 18 October 1984

Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusion of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) 
by H.G. Wells.
Faber, 838 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 571 13330 4
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H.G. Wells in Love: Postscript to an Experiment in Autobiography 
edited by G.P. Wells.
Faber, 253 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 571 13329 0
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The Man with a Nose, and the Other Uncollected Short Stories of H.G. Wells 
edited by J.R. Hammond.
Athlone, 212 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 485 11247 7
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... The problem for social prophets, it would seem, lies not in getting the future right, which appears not to be too difficult, but in predicting the response which the future will command. ‘A thousand men at a thousand glowing desks, a busy specialist press, will be perpetually sifting, criticising, condensing, and clearing the ground for further speculation ...

Secret Purposes

P.N. Furbank, 19 September 1985

Defoe and the Idea of Fiction: 1713-1719 
by Geoffrey Sill.
Associated University Presses, 190 pp., £16.95, April 1984, 0 87413 227 4
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The Elusive Daniel Defoe 
by Laura Curtis.
Vision, 216 pp., £15.95, January 1984, 0 85478 435 7
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Dofoe’s Fiction 
by Ian Bell.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £17.95, March 1985, 0 7099 3294 4
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Realism, Myth and History in Defoe’s Fiction 
by Maximillian Novak.
Nebraska, 181 pp., £21.55, July 1983, 0 8032 3307 8
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... We owe a large debt to the famous chapter on Robinson Crusoe in Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel. Watt really made us use our wits about that novel and forced us to relate it to our most serious interests. Reread after twenty years, moreover, the chapter still has all of its intellectual impact and verve. The trouble is, I now find myself wanting to quarrel with almost every sentence in it ...

Henry James’s Christmas

P.N. Furbank, 19 July 1984

Henry James Letters. Vol. IV: 1895-1915 
edited by Leon Edel.
Harvard, 835 pp., £24, April 1984, 9780674387836
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... What strikes one about the garden at Lamb House, as redesigned by Henry James, is that it possesses all the ingredients of an old-English garden, yet the impression it makes is American. It seems on principle to want to do without mystery, even the mild mysteries beloved of English gardening-folk. In some indefinable way it is a public garden. There was, and perhaps still is, a difference between British and American attitudes towards the ‘public’, the British nursing an ambivalence towards publicity that Americans, with their Augustan inheritance, find perverse ...

Nesting Time

P.N. Furbank, 26 January 1995

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa 
by Jan Potocki, translated by Ian MacLean.
Viking, 631 pp., £16, January 1995, 0 670 83428 9
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... Now translated in full from the French for the first time, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a great literary, as well as a great bibliographical, curiosity. Its author, Count Jan Potocki, who was born in 1761, belonged to one of the small handful of landowning families – the Potockis, Radziwills, Branickis, Czartoryskis and Sapiehas – who for centuries ran Poland ...

What sort of man?

P.N. Furbank, 18 August 1994

The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. Vol. I: 1854-April 1874 
edited by Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew.
Yale, 525 pp., £29.95, July 1994, 0 300 05183 2
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The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. Vol. II: April 1874-July 1879 
edited by Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew.
Yale, 352 pp., £29.95, July 1994, 0 300 06021 1
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... According to Stevenson’s wishes, his letters were first presented to the public by his friend, the art historian Sidney Colvin. Colvin, described by Stevenson as a ‘difficult, shut up, noble fellow’, did the job reasonably conscientiously. He was, however, an arch-bowdleriser, using, as he said, ‘the editorial privilege of omission without scruple where I thought it desirable’ and painstakingly altering the novelist’s ‘bloody’ to ‘beastly’, his ‘constipation’ to ‘indigestion’ and his ‘God grant’ to ‘I only hope ...

Jolly Bad Luck

P.N. Furbank, 24 March 1994

Letters from a Peruvian Woman 
by Françoisc de Graffigny, translated by David Kornacker.
Modern Language Association, 174 pp., £5.95, January 1994, 9780873527781
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... stage. The regulars were expected to contribute literary offerings, and Graffigny, taking to the pen for the first time, submitted a melancholy story entitled ‘La Nouvelle Espagnole’. The general opinion was that it was very bad, the Academician Duclos saying he wished to be spared so much local colour: such things were better conveyed by what characters ...

Condy’s Fluid

P.N. Furbank, 25 October 1990

A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture 
by Samuel Hynes.
Bodley Head, 514 pp., £20, October 1990, 0 370 30451 9
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Killing in Verse and Prose, and Other Essays 
by Paul Fussell.
Bellew, 294 pp., £9.95, October 1990, 0 947792 55 4
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... That the ‘Great War’ is still deeply disturbing to the imagination came home to one last year, when a First World War tank stood on display in the forecourt of the British Museum. One reacted to the sight with a shudder of horror, and also an obscure resentment – at the idea, which seemed to be implied, that we must now proudly regard this appalling object as part of our ‘heritage ...

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