Biography & Memoir

Scratched on a Stone

Philip Terry

27 January 2022

InAugust 2006 I visited an architect friend called David Martin who lived near the town of Montignac in the Dordogne. He was in the middle of a complicated job converting the interior of a...

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Selling my hair on eBay

Alan Bennett

6 January 2022

27 February. The hair is getting to be a problem. As children, my brother and I had our hair cut at Mr Shaw’s, the barber on Armley Moor Top in Leeds. It was a wearisome business, after school . . .

At the Gay Bar

Andrew Durbin

6 January 2022

At some point​ on a night out an older queen will swing down from the rafters to let you know you’re too late. Five, maybe ten years ago, he explains, it was much better here. The music was . . .

Silences for Sebald

Michael Wood

6 January 2022

The coroner​ decided, on the basis of a post-mortem examination, that the unnatural death had a natural cause: a heart attack. W.G. Sebald lost control of the car he was driving, and it crashed into . . .

Christ comes to Stockholm

Patricia Lockwood

6 January 2022

Imight have​ met him once. In September 2015 I flew to Norway for a literary festival. Knausgaard was the headliner, but he cancelled at the last minute and was replaced by an Elvis impersonator . . .

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

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

I cannot 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 boat-race day where a lady had kindly asked whether I was Oxford or Cambridge. I had answered: ‘I’m a Jew.’

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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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No Innovations in My Time: George III

Ferdinand Mount, 16 December 2021

George’s defenders cannot have it both ways. Either they take the king whole, hot and strong and stubborn to the last; or they have to sideline him as an endearing nullity. To present him as a great...

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Reading books like this, I feel like a Philip K. Dick character in the grip of wild-eyed madness. I want to run around telling the authors to snap out of it, to stop wasting their time and their Sontag...

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Diary: Wrestling Days

Tom Crewe, 16 December 2021

Who cared if it was a low-budget British production, the sort that still tours provincial towns, advertised in newsagent doorways: to sit in the dark, to chew down a hotdog with scalding onions, to watch...

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Like Colonel Sanders: The Stan Lee Era

Christopher Tayler, 2 December 2021

The​ great realisation of the Stan Lee era at Marvel was that heroes didn’t need to be paragons. They could be anxious teenagers with money worries, like Spider-Man, or members of a bickering...

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Life Pushed Aside: The Last Asylums

Clair Wills, 18 November 2021

I am haunted by the figure of Rolanda Polonsky, walking through the hospital corridors. If my eight-year-old self had opened the doors that frightened me I might have found her, back then, exactly as she...

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We must think! Hannah Arendt’s Islands

Jenny Turner, 4 November 2021

Thinking is what Arendt probably claimed to have been spending whole days doing: ‘the two in one’, ‘the soundless dialogue ... between me and myself’. She would be thinking, and...

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Craxton liked small jokes, hiding the date of a painting in the label on a bottle of beer, or turning his signature into part of the pattern on a cigarette packet. His art had become a quest for colour,...

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Outside in the Bar: Ten Years in Sheerness

Patrick McGuinness, 21 October 2021

In Uwe Johnson’s work, perspective doesn’t come from a bird’s-eye view but from staying at eye level – from looking and never stopping. His characters are suspicious of any claim...

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On Gertrude Beasley

Elisabeth Ladenson, 21 October 2021

One​ of the last things Gertrude Beasley wrote before her disappearance in 1927 was an article called ‘I Was One of Thirteen Poor White Trash’. It came out in Hearst’s...

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Milman Parry, Albert Lord and Nikola Vujnović toured the villages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, interviewing and recording the guslari they met there. Some sang tales from legend; others told of the...

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Diary: Louisiana Underwater

Rosa Lyster, 7 October 2021

When people in Louisiana say that a city will disappear, they don’t just mean that it will be taken over by industry, or abandoned after one too many hurricanes or floods. They mean that it will...

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Kid Gloves: Memory-Obsessed

Miriam Dobson, 7 October 2021

In Memory of Memory shows that the compulsive wish to remember and be remembered is in no way peculiar to the digital age. Maria Stepanova sees our obsession with genealogy websites, with social media...

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Richard Wright wasn’t interested in the structures of support or mutual aid that enabled black people to survive as a collective. He was drawn to outcasts and desperados who had fallen through...

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Diary: Wild Beasts

Fraser MacDonald, 23 September 2021

There’s a more general disquiet among the unlanded residents of the areas that are increasingly deemed ‘wild’. For them, beavers or wild cats aren’t the problem. They question why...

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Systemite Pop: The Children of God

Tabitha Lasley, 23 September 2021

The Children of God called themselves several different things: the Family of Love, the Family, the Family International. These name changes suggest something of a branding problem. Indeed, by the time...

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How can a libertarian be comfortable cosying up to sovereign wealth funds, the military-industrial establishment and the security state? One possible answer is that Peter Thiel is not a libertarian at...

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A Little Holiday: Ben Hecht’s Cause

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 23 September 2021

Although Hollywood had a Jewish drama of its own, Jewishness wasn’t openly expressed and Jewish themes were neither the subjects nor the subplots of films. Success couldn’t buy you access to...

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Short Cuts: Charity Refused

Malcolm Gaskill, 9 September 2021

Nextdoor works like a neighbourhood watch scheme, but laced with all the toxic gossip once exchanged at the village pump, or by the fireside as women span and their menfolk brooded, puffing on clay pipes....

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