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Fried Fish

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Colson Whitehead, 17 November 2016

The Underground Railroad 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fleet, 320 pp., £14.99, October 2016, 978 0 7088 9839 0
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... In his story​ ‘The Student’, Chekhov writes of a young seminarian who comes across two widows warming themselves at a fire: And now, shrinking from the cold, he thought that just such a wind had blown … in the time of Ivan the Terrible and Peter, and in their time there had been just the same desperate poverty and hunger, the same thatched roofs with holes in them, ignorance, misery, the same desolation around, the same darkness, the same feeling of oppression – all these had existed, did exist, and would exist, and the lapse of a thousand years would make life no better ...

Sheer Enthusiasm

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Zadie Smith, 30 August 2018

Feel Free: Essays 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 464 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 241 14689 7
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... Several​ of the last century’s finest non-fiction writers – Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin – longed to be novelists. In interviews with the Paris Review, each touched on the tension and insecurity involved in their dual métier. Sontag wrote in surprisingly aspirational tones of ‘the novelist [I’d] finally given myself permission to be ...

Knife, Stone, Paper

Stephen Sedley: Law Lords, 1 July 2021

English Law under Two Elizabeths: The Late Tudor Legal World and the Present 
by John Baker.
Cambridge, 222 pp., £22.99, January, 978 1 108 94732 9
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The Constitutional Balance 
by John Laws.
Hart, 144 pp., £30, January, 978 1 5099 3545 1
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... salutary way from that of the judge who in 1797 directed the jury trying Tom Paine’s publisher, Thomas Williams, for blasphemy that the Christian religion was part of the law of England. In these and endless other ways, the UK’s constitution changes constantly, blown by winds of which the actors are barely aware. Who today would like to be heard ...

Carry up your Coffee boldly

Thomas Keymer: Jonathan Swift, 17 April 2014

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 573 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 300 16499 2
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Parodies, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises: ‘Polite Conversation’, ‘Directions to Servants’ and Other Works 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Valerie Rumbold.
Cambridge, 821 pp., £85, July 2013, 978 0 521 84326 3
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Journal to Stella: Letters to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley, 1710-13 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Abigail Williams.
Cambridge, 800 pp., £85, December 2013, 978 0 521 84166 5
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... awful’. Early memoirists take us further with Swift’s character, but only so far. His godson Thomas Sheridan recalled that ‘he always appeared to the world in a mask, which he never took off but in the company of his most intimate friends.’ Yet this unmasking, such as it was, only seems to have confused things further. The most memorable assessments ...

AmeriKKKa

Thomas Sugrue: Civil Rights v. Black Power, 5 October 2006

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice 
by Raymond Arsenault.
Oxford, 690 pp., £19.99, March 2006, 0 19 513674 8
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... for massive reparation payments to black Americans. The Monroe Ride was hosted by Robert Franklin Williams. Nicknamed ‘Chairman Rob’ by his supporters, Williams was second only to the Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X as an outspoken advocate of ‘armed self-reliance’. The head of the Monroe branch of the NAACP in the ...

What Philosophers Dream Of

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Bernard Williams, 2 July 2015

Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 435 pp., £24.95, January 2014, 978 0 691 15985 0
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... going to say better than you understand it yourself’, Gilbert Ryle said of the young Bernard Williams, ‘and sees all the possible objections to it, all the possible answers to all the possible objections, before you’ve got to the end of your sentence’. Williams’s declared enemies in philosophy ...

Imbalance

Michael Hofmann: The Charm of Hugo Williams, 22 May 2003

Collected Poems 
by Hugo Williams.
Faber, 288 pp., £20, September 2002, 0 571 21233 6
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... It is a curious thing that of the three judges offering superlatives on the jacket of Hugo Williams’s Collected Poems – Edna Longley, Douglas Dunn and Peter Porter – none is English. And yet Williams, born in Windsor during World War Two, the son of the English actor Hugh Williams, schooled by Life and Eton, a youthful toiler for Alan Ross’s London Magazine, an erstwhile globetrotter and a lifelong London resident, seems as English as they come ...

Streets Full of Suitors

Jonah Miller: Early Modern Women, 21 August 2014

City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London 
by Eleanor Hubbard.
Oxford, 297 pp., £24.99, September 2014, 978 0 19 872204 5
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Women, Work and Sociability in Early Modern London 
by Tim Reinke-Williams.
Palgrave, 225 pp., £60, April 2014, 978 1 137 37209 3
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... where we dwell’ and ‘We are London Gentle-women borne.’ Both Eleanor Hubbard and Tim Reinke-Williams emphasise that ‘sexual behaviour was not the only activity which determined female identity and reputation.’ They use court records to examine the lives of 17th-century London women who married and raised children but also worked and socialised. Poor ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Angels aren’t what they used to be, 16 December 2004

... like and none of it needs to make any sense so long as it makes someone feel better. As Robbie Williams sang in his glucosic smash-hit rock ballad ‘Angels’, ‘through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong.’ But if you’re going to believe in angels, it seems to me (young fogey that I am), it ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: How to Type like a Man, 10 May 2007

... an hour along Highway 91 through the Nevada desert. Shortly after five o’clock, the writer Mason Williams rolled down the passenger window, and threw out a Royal Model X typewriter. Patrick Blackwell photographed the results. Although Wershler-Henry devotes twenty pages or so to ‘the typewriter girl’ and ‘Remington priestesses’, and notes that ...

A Passion for the Beyond

Bernard Williams, 7 August 1986

The View from Nowhere 
by Thomas Nagel.
Oxford, 244 pp., £17.50, April 1986, 0 19 503668 9
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... It seems to me that nothing approaching the truth has yet been said on this subject,’ Thomas Nagel says in the middle of this complex, wide-ranging and very interesting book; and he says it at the end of a chapter (on the freedom of the will) not, as some other philosophers might, at the beginning. The book argues in a determined way about the largest philosophical questions: the nature of reality, the possibility of knowledge, freedom, morality, the meaning of life ...

An Invitation to Hand-Wringing

Thomas Nagel: The Limits of Regret, 3 April 2014

The View from Here: On Affirmation, Attachment and the Limits of Regret 
by R. Jay Wallace.
Oxford, 279 pp., $45, April 2013, 978 0 19 994135 3
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... prevented or repaired if possible? Third example: Gauguin. In his essay ‘Moral Luck’ Bernard Williams imagined an artist, loosely modelled on Gauguin, who abandons his wife and children in France to go to the South Seas, where he achieves the fulfilment of his talent and ambition, producing the work that gives meaning to his life as an artist. While his ...

Chicory and Daisies

Stephanie Burt: William Carlos Williams, 7 March 2002

Collected Poems: Volume I 
by William Carlos Williams, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan.
Carcanet, 579 pp., £12.95, December 2000, 1 85754 522 2
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Collected Poems: Volume II 
by William Carlos Williams, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan.
Carcanet, 553 pp., £12.95, December 2000, 1 85754 523 0
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... painters have paid too much attention to the ism and not enough to the painting,’ William Carlos Williams wrote in 1928. Something similar could be said about Williams’s own critics: since his death in 1963, attention to his theories and to his life has been getting in the way of his poems. With ...

Almighty Godwin

Paul Foot, 28 September 1989

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family 
by William St Clair.
Faber, 572 pp., £20, June 1989, 0 571 15422 0
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... with us two hundred years later. It was reinforced the following year by the more readable Caleb Williams, Godwin’s first novel. The tyranny of society in general is symbolised by the aristocratic monomaniac Lord Falkland, the good sense and misery of its common people by the aristocrat’s servant, the narrator, who spends much of the book in ...

Character

Paul Seabright, 5 September 1985

Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy 
by Bernard Williams.
Collins and Fontana, 230 pp., £10.95, March 1985, 0 00 197171 9
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... Bernard Williams’s new book is the nearest thing to a systematic and comprehensive discussion of moral philosophy we can hope for from someone who thinks a yearning for systematic and comprehensive discussion is the main defect of moral philosophy today. The author identifies ethics as the subject constituted by certain kinds of attempt to answer Socrates’s question: how one should live ...

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