Biography & Memoir

One French City

Lydia Davis

12 August 2021

Because we have photographic evidence, in a postcard photo of a flock of sheep filling the rue du Quatre Septembre many decades ago, and because we can recognise, in the photo, a certain doorway that still exists, we can walk up to this doorway, in the now empty street, look at its threshold, and know that on that spot, many decades ago, a single sheep, out of a flock of several hundred, paused to turn her head and look back at the rest of the flock coming up behind her.

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A Free Speech Agenda

Sophie Smith

12 August 2021

Within​ 24 hours of its launch on 13 June, some of the advertisers on GB News began pulling their ads. The Swedish cider brand Kopparberg was first, followed by a dozen others, including Ikea, Vodafone . . .


Michael Kulikowski

12 August 2021

Ancient​ Latin literature has reached us along an improbably narrow path. Two millennia of rats, fire and floods were as nothing compared with three historical bottlenecks. Only one of these was . . .

The Mani Olive Harvest

Patrick Leigh Fermor

29 July 2021

Everything gathers here. Animals stamp and neigh and collide and rear, swift hands disentangle them; strong backs are bent double under the sacks. Greetings are shouted and gossip has to be exchanged in . . .

Spinsters and Clerics

Alison Light

29 July 2021

In the summer​ of 1934, after finishing her English degree at Oxford, Barbara Pym drafted a comic novel. Sending up her closest friends, she cast the arrogant fellow graduate she was in love with . . .

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: Young Hong Kongers

Simon Cartledge, 29 July 2021

Looking back at the Hong Kong protests now – especially at the hundreds of hours of video footage on YouTube and elsewhere – I find it hard not to marvel at what happened. I’m also shocked...

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Diary: Class 1H

Ian Jack, 15 July 2021

As names were called, children stood up from the benches and gathered at the front, until an entire class had been assembled. A, B, C, D, E and F were called, and I was still there, waiting with around...

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True Bromance: Ravi Shankar’s Ragas

Philip Clark, 15 July 2021

The rules stated which notes needed to be emphasised; the stress on certain notes locked others out of the design, thus creating the melodic shapes that gave each raga its personality. In performance,...

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The Terrifying Vrooom: Empsonising

Colin Burrow, 15 July 2021

Reading an Empson essay is like being taken for a drive by an eccentric uncle in a terrifyingly powerful old banger. There are disturbing stains on the upholstery and an alarming whiff of whisky in the...

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The illusion of science, for a writer in the embryonic American marketplace, sold better than the real thing. But Poe had grand scientific ambitions, with which he persisted in the teeth of indifference...

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I am struck by her loneliness. She wanted to merge with the masses, to be anonymous and unobtrusive – a worker, a farmhand, a trade unionist, a soldier – one among many, working and fighting...

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Diary: A Branching Story

Joe Dunthorne, 1 July 2021

I had the constant sense that the next small edit would balance the whole thing out and I was always wrong. A branching story is like a creature with ten thousand limbs – if you tweak one toe, the...

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The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg began on 6 March 1951 and lasted sixteen days. The syndicated columnist Inez Robb offered a warning that went out in more than a hundred newspapers: Ethel might...

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Diary: Oxford by Train

Patrick McGuinness, 17 June 2021

The canals and rivers of Oxford aren’t working waterways anymore, but livelihoods used to depend on them. Oxford’s crest – an ox ‘fording’ three wavy lines of water –...

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Female husbands expressed their masculinity through their choice of clothing, names, behaviours and, above all, their labour and their marriage status. As tavern keepers, soldiers, sailors, mountebanks,...

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A Parlour in Purley: Life as a Wife

Tessa Hadley, 17 June 2021

George Meredith couldn’t leave Mary Ellen’s story alone – in novel after novel he returned to portraits of women dissatisfied with their lumbering males, who are always one step behind...

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The pathetic fallacy is always narcissistic, but Eve Babitz’s type of narcissism is extravagantly grievous. Besides, she was once giddy at her own gorgeousness too: ‘I was always scaring the...

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Angelic Porcupine: Adams’s Education

Jonathan Parry, 3 June 2021

The Education of Henry Adams is less about an aristocratic intellectual’s unsuitability for a democratic world than about an apprenticeship in an absorbingly difficult but vital modern skill. Adams...

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I grew a beard: Biden on Crack

Christian Lorentzen, 3 June 2021

The lingo of meritocracy and comic book heroes is always at the ready when Hunter is scoring or cooking drugs. Proximity to a crack haunt sets off his ‘spidey sense’; becoming an expert addict...

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Diary: Fan Power

Mimi Jiang, 20 May 2021

Compared to xiangsheng, which is almost two hundred years old, stand-up comedy (mistranslated in Chinese as ‘talk show’) is still a baby. When Chinese overseas students moved back home in waves...

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Many of the mother and baby home residents were able to make new lives; some feel grateful for the refuge the homes afforded them. Children adopted by loving parents have thrived. But others experienced...

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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...

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Daisy Chains: Sappho 1900

Emma Hogan, 20 May 2021

Sylvia Beach said that Americans came to the Left Bank for two things they couldn’t get at home, alcohol and Ulysses, but they also came for the cafés, the galleries, the nightlife. Butch...

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