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Under the Sphinx

Alasdair Gray, 11 March 1993

Places of the Mind: The Life and Work of James Thomson (‘B.V.’) 
by Tom Leonard.
Cape, 407 pp., £25, February 1993, 9780224031189
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... If Pope’s Dunciad, Johnson’s ‘London’, Blake’s Songs of Experience and Shelley’s ‘Peter Bell’ are set before it. Thomson takes his place in a tradition linking the Augustans and Romantics with the Moderns: a metropolitan tradition reflecting the state of Britain. This was not noticed because Tennyson, Browning and Arnold provided a greater ...
Criticism in the University 
edited by Gerald Graff and Reginald Gibbons.
Northwestern, 234 pp., £29.95, September 1985, 0 8101 0670 1
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... of academic life in general, but one can guess at more particular reasons. Not long ago Sir Peter Medawar remarked that when the momentous DNA discoveries were being made there were plenty of people in the English faculties of universities quite as clever as Crick and Watson – but Crick and ...

The Amazing …

Jonathan Lethem: My Spidey, 6 June 2002

Spider-Man 
directed by Sam Raimi.
May 2002
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... always like that for him,’ the child mused when, in the film’s opening sequence, Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s ‘real’ teenage self, missed the school bus. In that one remark the child encapsulated what the director and producers had got so right in casting Tobey Maguire as the misfit character, and in their gentle faithfulness throughout ...

It Got Eaten

Peter Godfrey-Smith: Fodor v. Darwin, 8 July 2010

What Darwin Got Wrong 
by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini.
Profile, 262 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84668 219 3
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... of its influence. Pioneered in the early 20th century by Edward Lee Thorndike, Clark Hull and J.B. Watson, behaviourism rejected explanations of action in terms of mysterious inner processes such as ‘thought’ and tried to explain behaviour purely in terms of the organism’s conditioning by experience. By the middle of the century, the behaviourist ...

Radical Literary Theory

John Ellis, 8 February 1990

Fraud: Literary Theory and the End of English 
by Peter Washington.
Fontana, 188 pp., £4.99, September 1989, 0 00 686138 5
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... as the reference of a word which used to be about the business of analysing such things. Peter Washington’s book is a polemic against the viewpoint which is often spoken of as if it were quite simply modern theory of literature rather than the particular critical ideology that it is. While his title accepts the identification of theory with this ...

One Chapter More

Leah Price: Ectoplasm, 6 July 2000

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle 
by Daniel Stashower.
Penguin, 472 pp., £18.99, February 2000, 0 7139 9373 1
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... series circles back to earlier cases, with the inexplicable disappearances and reappearances of Watson’s shadowy wives underlining the lack of any consistent chronological order. That freedom from linearity was Conan Doyle’s undoing. Unlike a novel, a series of cases has no built in conclusions: nothing prevents an author from making more money by ...

On Orford Ness

Sam Kinchin-Smith: ‘Afterness’, 23 September 2021

... of the readers into ‘poetry voice’ recall The Borough, a ‘theatrical journey’ through Peter Grimes staged at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2013. It, too, was experienced through headphones that weren’t quite noise-cancelling, so that the recorded sounds – waves, gulls, footsteps on shingle – merged and swapped places with the same sounds in real ...

The Human Frown

John Bayley, 21 February 1991

Samuel Butler: A Biography 
by Peter Raby.
Hogarth, 334 pp., £25, February 1991, 0 7012 0890 2
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... and his religious opinions.’ Whether that applied to women as well is less easy to say. Nor does Peter Raby, in an admirably balanced and judicious biography, have much light to throw upon the question. However unusual he was as an individual, Butler belonged to a well-defined Victorian male grouping, whose representatives in literary terms would range from ...

Cockaigne

Frank Kermode, 24 October 1991

Orwell: The Authorised Biography 
by Michael Shelden.
Heinemann, 563 pp., £18.50, October 1991, 0 434 69517 3
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... about Orwell, including the memoir of Richard Rees and The Unknown Orwell by William Abrahams and Peter Stansky (lamed by the late Soni Orwell’s refusal of permission to quote), and, more recently, the expansive Life by Bernard Crick, at first authorised by the widow to emphasise her rejection of Stansky and Abrahams, and later de-authorised by her to ...

Pity the monsters

Richard Altick, 18 December 1980

The Elephant Man 
by Bernard Pomerance.
Faber, 71 pp., £2.25, June 1980, 0 571 11569 1
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The Elephant Man: the Book of the Film 
by Joy Kuhn.
Virgin, 90 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 9780907080091
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The Elephant Man 
by Christine Sparks.
Futura, 272 pp., £1.25, August 1980, 0 7088 1942 7
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The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences 
by Frederick Treves.
Star, 126 pp., £95, August 1980, 0 352 30747 1
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The Elephant Man and Other Freaks 
by Sian Richards.
Futura, 197 pp., £1.25, October 1980, 0 7088 1927 3
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The True History of the Elephant Man 
by Michael Howell and Peter Ford.
Allison and Busby, 190 pp., £6.95, March 1980, 0 85031 353 8
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... It might almost be mistaken for the dénouement of an early Sherlock Holmes story: Dr John H. Watson describing the scene in an East End police station when Holmes literally unmasks the man with an old scar running across his face from eye to chin which turned up his lip into a perpetual grimace, a ‘crippled wretch of hideous aspect’ who hid out in a ...

Floreat Brixton

Tam Dalyell, 5 December 1985

An Eton Schoolboy’s Album 
by Mark Dixon.
Debrett, 118 pp., £10.95, November 1985, 0 905649 78 8
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... Work and scholarship mattered to teachers like Oliver Van Oss, M.N. Forrest, A.J. Marsden and Peter Hazell, fresh back from Normandy, Arnhem or the Far East. ‘You’d better realise how lucky you are to be here, and you’d better justify yourselves’: that was their attitude. I don’t detect the same pressures in Dixon’s book, nor the same ...

A Ripple of the Polonaise

Perry Anderson: Work of the Nineties, 25 November 1999

History of the Present: Essays, Sketches and Despatches from Europe in the Nineties 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
Allen Lane, 441 pp., £20, June 1999, 0 7139 9323 5
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... of St John Philby and Robert Byron, of Norman Douglas and Patrick Leigh-Fermor, of R.W.Seton-Watson and Rebecca West. Sorties farther afield – like Peter Fleming’s expeditions to the Gobi or Matto Grosso – were fewer. Paradoxically, the vast expanse of the Empire itself was not fertile soil for this kind of ...

Medawartime

June Goodfield, 6 November 1986

Memoir of a Thinking Radish: An Autobiography 
by Peter Medawar.
Oxford, 209 pp., £12.50, April 1986, 0 19 217737 0
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... My first encounter with Peter Medawar revealed something about us both. When he was the new Mason Professor of Zoology in the University of Birmingham I was a student at University College, Nottingham, and one of my tasks as president of the student Zoological Society was to give votes of thanks to visiting speakers ...

Sunny Days

Michael Howard, 11 February 1993

Never Again: Britain 1945-51 
by Peter Hennessy.
Cape, 544 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 224 02768 9
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Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 
by Paul Addison.
Cape, 493 pp., £20, November 1992, 0 224 01428 5
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... Peter Hennessy has chosen for the dust jacket of Never Again a picture that exactly captures the mood of 1945. A returning British serviceman is being welcomed home by his wife and small son. ‘Home’ is a pre-fab, decked for the occasion with Union Jacks. The wife is wearing a neat, knee-length utility-model dress ...

Lab Lib

M.F. Perutz, 19 April 1984

Rutherford: Simple Genius 
by David Wilson.
Hodder, 639 pp., £14.95, February 1984, 0 340 23805 4
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... aversion to speculation beyond what is justified by the experimental results. When Crick and Watson lounged around, arguing about problems for which there existed as yet no firm experimental data instead of getting down to the bench and doing experiments, I thought they were wasting their time. However, like Leonardo, they sometimes achieved most when ...

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