Biography & Memoir

Black and white photograph of Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä, c.1960.

Letters from Tove

Emma Hogan

24 September 2020

Jansson had many euphemisms for lesbianism: ‘rive gauche’, as if all Parisian women were at it; ‘borderliner’; a ‘new line’, ‘tendency’, ‘attitude’. She had become more discreet since her affair with Vivica Bandler. Some of this reticence was due to her parents’ reaction. Her father tried to ask her if the rumours were true, but couldn’t say the word ‘homosexual’ because it made him so angry.

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On Quitting Academia

Malcolm Gaskill

24 September 2020

In​ May, I gave up my academic career after 27 years. A voluntary severance scheme had been announced in December, and I dithered about it until the pandemic enforced focus on a fuzzy dilemma. Already . . .

The Bauman Dichotomy

Sheila Fitzpatrick

10 September 2020

Do we need​ biographies of public intellectuals? Is knowledge about a scholar’s life relevant to an understanding of their work? The Polish-Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman thought not, and . . .

The Trials of Andy Warhol

Colm Tóibín

10 September 2020

Andy Warhol in 1955 ‘Overlooked No More’ is the title of an occasional series in the obituaries section of the New York Times that prints obituaries of those – mainly women but also African . . .

Sarraute gets her due

Toril Moi

10 September 2020

When I mentioned​ to a friend that I was going to review a biography of Nathalie Sarraute, his first question was: ‘Will she last?’ I hesitated to reply. First of all, it’s not . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

Afew weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed...

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Memoirs of a Pet Lamb: A Memoir

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

Icannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on...

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

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Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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The Suitcase: Part Three

Frances Stonor Saunders, 10 September 2020

‘Where’s Daddy?’ I asked. ‘He’s gone away for the summer.’ There was a van outside our house and men were lifting furniture into it and other things wrapped in blankets....

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Diary: My Summer with Boris’s Mother

Wynford Hicks, 10 September 2020

It’s not often I hear news of her, though I know she’s a painter. I did read an interview she gave to Tatler five years ago. ‘I was engaged to somebody called Wynford Hicks,’ she...

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Art Lessons

Peter Campbell, 13 August 2020

If a botanist or architect had taken the pictures she might have been noticing kinds of plant and kinds of building. I was more interested in the way the world offers itself up as a series of ready-made...

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The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders, 13 August 2020

A map is a memory: it’s a representation, a re-presenting of something that has been. It may look good on paper – and that’s already a fiddle, a projection of a sphere onto a plane –...

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Early Kermode

Stefan Collini, 13 August 2020

So when had all that started to happen, when did the smart London weeklies and monthlies begin to commission reviews from the little-known young lecturer who, recruited by D.J. Gordon, had moved to the...

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He​ had two days to prepare. We’d been thinking about it for a year. Four thousand infantry had to be organised. Eight hundred cavalry. Mules, carts, munitions, medical services. A cannon....

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Forster in Cambridge

Richard Shone, 30 July 2020

At six I knocked on his door and heard his light-toned ‘Come in.’ At first I could see no one in the large, high-ceilinged room with its mass of Victorian furniture, books and pictures against...

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Diary: In Ashgabat

James Lomax, 30 July 2020

Phillips had been waiting for me to arrive for half an hour. He was desperate to talk to someone, even if that person had been sent to investigate him for fraud. ‘Let’s go for a drink after...

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The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders, 30 July 2020

Childhood is lived not in history but in geography, in the slow, systematic mapping of place. Every child is a pioneer, surveying with great seriousness a world in which everything is new under the sun. Slowly,...

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Diary: Insane after coronavirus?

Patricia Lockwood, 16 July 2020

My mind had moved a few inches to the left of its usual place, and I developed what I realised later were actual paranoid delusions. ‘Jason’s cough is fake,’ I secretly texted a friend...

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Michael Tippett’s freewheeling creative spirit had started to rub the British classical music establishment up the wrong way. He was going rogue at a time when much British music sounded stiff, rule-bound...

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Ooh the rubble: Churchill’s Cook

Rosemary Hill, 16 July 2020

Churchill ran into the kitchen during an air raid and told her to get into the shelter, but Landemare, who was making a delicate pudding, refused: ‘If I’d’ve turned it out it’d’ve...

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He was a heretic who remained on the left, never a Cold War renegade who sang the virtues of capitalism or colonialism. Had he done so, many avenues would have opened up for him in the West. His books...

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Diary: In Mali

Rahmane Idrissa, 2 July 2020

Djenné was exactly as I’d expected. For somebody like me, who grew up in the Sahel, it isn’t exotic. The mudbrick houses, the people on the streets, the heat (dry, despite the surrounding...

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Short Cuts: In the Bunker

Thomas Jones, 2 July 2020

Elaborate and secret bunkers tend to be linked in the popular imagination (and perhaps in reality too) with evil megalomaniacs: every other Bond villain is to be found lurking in an underground lair –...

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Diary: How to Draw an Albatross

Gaby Wood, 18 June 2020

When my plate was processed and printed – a chemical bite into metal; a slow rotating wipe of blackened scrim; a heavy roll of the printing press – the effect, at least to my eyes, was of an...

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Krazy Glue for All Eternity: Mrs Escobar

Jessica Loudis, 18 June 2020

In his own memoir, published in 2014, Juan Pablo wrote that while he considered himself one of his father’s victims, he placed himself at the very bottom of the list. Victoria Eugenia Henao makes...

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Over the decades the princess and her lady in waiting became an effective double act. They made a striking couple: at nearly six foot tall, Anne Glenconner towered over Margaret’s 5'1''. Margaret...

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