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Denis Donoghue, 2 February 1984

Towards 2000 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 273 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 9780701126858
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Writing in Society 
by Raymond Williams.
Verso, 268 pp., £18.50, December 1983, 0 86091 072 5
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Radical Earnestness: English Social Theory 1880-1980 
by Fred Inglis.
Martin Robertson, 253 pp., £15, November 1982, 0 85520 328 5
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... you may as well take this one as any other, though it’s hard to do any worthwhile thinking so long as you burden yourself with such a thing. I infer from Inglis’s reference to ‘the chic notation of the Parisian deconstructionists’ and from a footnote citing Jacques Derrida’s Grammatology that radical earnestness is what he claims for the ...

The Great War Revisited

Michael Howard, 23 April 1987

The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 
by Trevor Wilson.
Polity, 864 pp., £35, September 1986, 9780745600932
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British Strategy and War Aims 1914-1916 
by David French.
Allen and Unwin, 274 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 04 942197 2
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The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos 
by Peter Parker.
Constable, 319 pp., £15, March 1987, 0 09 466980 5
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... group stood the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, who had, according to Dr French, a long-range strategy of his own. Kitchener was an Imperial soldier-statesman who saw no point in defeating Germany only to restore the power of Britain’s traditional rivals – France, and, especially Russia, who might, victorious in Europe, turn her attention ...

To litel Latin

Tom Shippey, 11 October 1990

Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age 
by J.W. Binns.
Francis Cairns Press, 761 pp., £75, July 1990, 0 905205 73 1
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... saying sadly: Heu michi quia sterilem duxi vitam iuvenilem. But her view is one of the great, long-lasting English fallacies, a fine example of post hoc propter hoc. Because for many centuries sharp-witted boys (but not girls) were picked out and taught Latin, it was observed that sharp-wittedness and Latin went together, and concluded that learning Latin ...

Breeding

Frank Kermode, 21 July 1994

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner 
edited by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 384 pp., £25, June 1994, 0 7011 3659 6
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Sylvia and David: The Townsend Warner/Garnett Letters 
Sinclair-Stevenson, 246 pp., £20, June 1994, 1 85619 341 1Show More
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... and since she produced these stories rather easily, she came to think of the New Yorker, for a long time an indispensable financial support, as a generous old admirer whom she could please fairly easily when she needed to. In addition to the stories and novels she wrote poetry, and a biography of T.H. White. She also translated Proust’s Contre ...

In the Iguanodon Diner

J.W. Burrow, 6 October 1994

Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist 
by Nicolaas Rupke.
Yale, 462 pp., £35, February 1994, 0 300 05820 9
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... soon to be Owen’s junior colleague as lecturer at the School of Mines, was about to begin, long before the Darwinian controversy, what looks suspiciously like a systematic campaign of detraction, designed to establish his own reputation on the ruin of Owen’s, which was to reach its celebrated climax a decade later. In fact, ten years on, in ...

Short is sweet

Christopher Ricks, 3 February 1983

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs 
edited by J.A. Simpson.
Oxford, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 19 866131 2
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A World of Proverbs 
by Patricia Houghton.
Blandford, 152 pp., £5.95, September 1981, 0 7137 1114 0
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... undying. ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male’ (Kipling, 1911) will last as long as the war between the sexes, and ‘It takes two to tango’ (it took two, Hoffman and Manning, 1952) will last as long as the old dance. This dictionary reminds us not only that many a proverb coined its age-old wisdom ...

On the white strand

Denis Donoghue, 4 April 1991

The Selected Writings of Jack B. Yeats 
edited by Robin Skelton.
Deutsch, 246 pp., £12.99, March 1991, 0 233 98646 4
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... paintings were prejudiced in their favour. Besides, the Ireland that appears in those paintings is long gone, and while few of us cry out for its recovery, we are touched by its residual signs. Most of the famous paintings were done between the turn of the century and, say, 1950: these include Memory Harbour, The County of Mayo, The Priest, The Cake Cart at ...

Throw your testicles

Tom Shippey: Medieval Bestiaries, 19 December 2019

Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World 
edited by Elizabeth Morrison, with Larisa Grollemond.
Getty, 354 pp., £45, June 2019, 978 1 60606 590 7
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... Tales filtered back from Crusaders and distant travellers of a giant herbivore with a nose so long and pliable that it could pick up men and seat them on its back, and of an armour-plated carnivore that lurked in water and could be mistaken by the unwary for a log of wood. These were as improbable – and therefore as possible – as a white horse with a ...

Endearingness

Donald Davie, 21 March 1991

The Oxford Book of Essays 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 680 pp., £17.95, February 1991, 0 19 214185 6
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... any interest it might have for strangers would be antiquarian: it was a relic from a time, not so long ago, when for the aspiring young the printed word, and that special kind of it called literature, was a medium not seriously challenged by any other. That time was surely gone, I thought, and printed literature now had a hard time claiming even parity with ...

Species-Mongers

Steven Shapin: Joseph Hooker and the Dead Foreign Weeds, 20 November 2008

Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science 
by Jim Endersby.
Chicago, 429 pp., £18, May 2008, 978 0 226 20791 9
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... on the plants of the Antarctic, New Zealand and Tasmania. Taking a break from his travels only long enough to get engaged (prudently, to the daughter of the Cambridge professor of botany), he put off marriage in favour of another epic voyage, this time to the Himalayas. His father got him a government commission of £400 a year – though Joseph later ...

Immoralist

José Harris, 1 December 1983

John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920 
by Robert Skidelsky.
Macmillan, 447 pp., £14.95, November 1983, 0 333 11599 6
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... moral, philosophic, above all sexual. From his early days at Eton Keynes became involved in a long series of more or less serious affairs with male contemporaries. At King’s, and as a member of the Cambridge Apostles, homosexuality became for Keynes not merely a private diversion or expression of emotion but a whole way of life, almost a ...

Taking Darwin in

Michael Mason, 16 February 1984

Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and 19th-Century Fiction 
by Gillian Beer.
Routledge, 303 pp., £17.95, September 1983, 0 7100 9505 8
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... his reactions. Other readers have recognised The Origin as, in Darwin’s own words, ‘one long argument’, brilliantly, if subtly, urged from the start. Mrs Beer also notes that Chapter One opens with the words ‘When we look ...’, a telling observation tellingly developed, and one of many in this book (another is that the word ‘fact’ is ...

Lost Property

Andrew O’Hagan, 20 December 2018

... Before we get to the gas masks left behind, the book itself is an object. The hard cover and the long, regimented columns – ‘Date Found’, ‘Where Found’, ‘Article’, ‘Description’, ‘Name, Marks, Initials, Addresses, Labels’, ‘By Whom Found’, ‘How Disposed Of’, as well as the handwriting itself – speak of a world before virtual ...

Hooked

Margaret Visser: Mega-Fish, 16 April 1998

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 294 pp., £12.99, March 1998, 0 224 05104 0
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... middling size – a number that will baffle all the efforts of man to exterminate.’ People have long enjoyed marvelling at the sheer amount, the endlessness of cod. The vast cod-grazing grounds off the American Atlantic coast may well have drawn the very first Europeans to the continent: Mark Kurlansky provides evidence that not only Viking explorers but ...

Everything but the Glue

Richard Fortey: A Victorian sensation, 22 August 2002

Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception and Secret Authorship of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ 
by James Secord.
Chicago, 624 pp., £22.50, February 2002, 0 226 74410 8
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... shelf life of Vestiges for 15 years until the Origin was published – and it continued to sell long afterwards. The compelling thing about the book’s anonymity was that different social groups could each invent their own author. In aristocratic circles authorship was attributed to one of their own – Sir Richard Vyvyan was a popular candidate at ...

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