Biography & Memoir

Philip Roth in 1977.

Undoing Philip Roth

James Wolcott

20 May 2021

Exemplary craftsman, incorrigible satyr, subversive joker, avid grievance collector, liberal humanist, good son, bad husband, bountiful benefactor, Philip Roth in his prickly contrarieties aroused an ambivalence unlike that of almost any other American writer, and this ambivalence may have been what helps keep him alive for us, always under contention, a disputable proposition. Or kept him alive because, from here on, who the hell knows?

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Ireland’s Lost Children

Clair Wills

20 May 2021

Unlike Tuam, which closed in 1961, the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home continued to operate until 1998. Members of the congregation claimed not to know where the children might be buried. The commission . . .

Fan Power

Mimi Jiang

20 May 2021

The comedy business​ in China used to be dominated by male entertainers from the north of the country. In the radio and television era, the most popular forms were xiangsheng (two-handers) and xiaopin . . .

Sappho 1900

Emma Hogan

20 May 2021

Three​ decades after meeting the American heiress Natalie Barney, the ‘impératrice des lesbiennes’ in Paris, Truman Capote still sounded starstruck. In the years just after the . . .

Moi Aussi

Lili Owen Rowlands

22 April 2021

When​ Vanessa Springora first met the French writer Gabriel Matzneff at a dinner party in 1986, she liked the sound of his name. She was only there because her mother, who worked in publishing, couldn’t . . .

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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Diary: Homelooseness

Tom Crewe, 22 April 2021

Voters in the North ‘chose’ the Tories, but it wasn’t a free choice, just as my leaving the North wasn’t a free choice. These are choices conditioned by circumstances, dictated...

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Staying Alive in the Ruins: Plato to Nato

Richard J. Evans, 22 April 2021

While the British adhered to the well-established concept of the ‘two Germanies’, and tried to bring out the civilised tradition of Beethoven and Goethe while suppressing the uncivilised tradition...

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Pissing on Pedestrians: A Great Unravelling

Owen Bennett-Jones, 1 April 2021

The only way to persuade Robert Max­well that a story about his latest incon­sequential meeting with an East European leader shouldn’t run in the Mirror was to suggest it was too important...

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Fed up with Ibiza: Sybille Bedford

Jenny Turner, 1 April 2021

You might start reading her for the food and the celebrity gossip, but you reread for the thrilling materiality, ‘concrete and fastidious’, as she herself once suggested, of her prose:...

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I would like to read a different biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, one that is less hagiographic but more humane. Surely it is possible to acknowledge this remarkable woman’s foresight, determination,...

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On the Barone

John Foot, 4 March 2021

In September​ the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez turned up at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia to take an Italian test. This tough language exam, a requirement for anybody...

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Miss Skippit

Andrew O’Hagan, 18 February 2021

Mary-Kay Wilmers taught a generation of us that the job was to have a point of view. Vagueness wasn’t a useful quality, and grand declarations are not the same as good writing. If the paper didn’t...

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The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya, 18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like...

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Diary: I was a Child Liberationist

Lorna Finlayson, 18 February 2021

I’d made a decision not to tell anybody I was leaving and waited until the end of the autumn term so that nobody would know what I’d done until the new year. It would be my own secret, daunting...

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A Funny Feeling: Larkin and My Father

David Runciman, 4 February 2021

I was deeply struck by a feeling that the step from the half-life my father had been leading to no life at all was less significant than the earlier step from his full life to his bedbound one. Dying did...

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In this febrile yet curiously static environment of competing claims on our subjecthood and sympathy, we could all do with bearing in mind Wollstonecraft’s distinction between real and affected sentiment....

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Diary: Ethiopia’s Long War

Maaza Mengiste, 4 February 2021

What do we do with all that history – all that rage, all these memories? A young soldier with a slender face. Bruised and beaten men in the back of a truck. The site of a prison, a plaque on a wall....

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News from No One

Jane Miller, 21 January 2021

I’ve​ had several official letters recently (including two in one week) telling me to look out because I’m a ‘clinically extremely vulnerable person’. They’re signed...

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The Head in the Shed: Reading Bones

Gavin Francis, 21 January 2021

When the police bring Sue Black a bag of bones and ask what she makes of them she starts out with four questions: Are they human? Are they of forensic interest? Who was this person? Do they tell us anything...

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Diary: At the Temple

Long Ling, 21 January 2021

Everyone around me in the temple was concentrating on their own business, so I copied them and kowtowed three times to the statue of the God of Fortune. I organ­ised my thoughts into a prayer chant,...

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Tabitha Lasley finds out more and more about the oil industry and about masculinity, while mourning one man. She is a woman looking at men looking at women dealing with men.

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The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack, 7 January 2021

A bright winter’s day, the journey south across the Thames on the top deck of a number 4 bus, the walk along Lower Marsh towards the great naval guns at the Imperial War Museum’s entrance....

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Diary: A Round of Applause

Alan Bennett, 7 January 2021

28 April. The most one can hope from a reader is that he or she should think: ‘Here is somebody who knows what it is like to be me.’ It’s not what E.M. Forster meant by ‘only connect,’...

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