Biography & Memoir

Black and white photo of E.M. Forster

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 Morris-style wallpaper, curtains drawn, softly lit by table lamps. Then I discovered Forster in a cushiony chair by the fireplace, glass of red Cinzano in hand.

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In Ashgabat

James Lomax

30 July 2020

Monument to Gur­banguly Berdimuhamedow, the president of Turkmenistan, in Ashgabat, 2015 Iwas​ sitting next to a Coca-Cola sales exec on the flight to Ashgabat. ‘I hope you’ve got . . .

The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders

30 July 2020

Who rise from here to the sky of the upper worldAnd re-enter the sluggish drag of the body?What possesses the poor souls? Why this mad desireTo get back to the light? Seamus Heaney, Aeneid, Book VIThe​ . . .

Tippett’s Knack

Philip Clark

16 July 2020

By​ the time his first opera, The Midsummer Marriage, had its premiere at Covent Garden in 1955, Michael Tippett was considered, alongside Benjamin Britten, the most significant and original British . . .

Victor Serge’s Defective Bolshevism

Tariq Ali

16 July 2020

Mexico​ City, 6 July 1946. Victor Serge had a year to live. He had spent the morning, as he sometimes did, with Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova. They had been writing a joint memoir of Trotsky; . . .

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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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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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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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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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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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: 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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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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Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana, 4 June 2020

In late March, Yonas heard that another rescue boat, the Alan Kurdi, was on its way to Libyan waters. But he didn’t manage to get on board. On 7 April, the boat, crammed with 150 migrants, headed...

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Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice, 4 June 2020

The feeling of being unsafe is more acute in a world where everyone is beginning to feel unsafe. To be seriously ill in ordinary circumstances is to measure one’s distance from health. To be seriously...

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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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At Home

Jane Miller, 4 June 2020

It’s​ april, and beyond our back wall a line of ambulances is queuing up to deliver sick passengers to the hospital. We are self-isolated, safe in our fortress, as we wait on our order...

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In Beijing

Long Ling, 4 June 2020

I replied no to each question and then asked: ‘What if someone hides this information?’ Without looking up she said: ‘Nobody can hide. Everything is under control.’

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The Bournemouth Set

Andrew O’Hagan, 21 May 2020

‘Remember the pallid brute that lived in Skerryvore like a weevil in a biscuit,’ Stevenson wrote. Yet his three years there, the only period he spent in England, were the best years of his...

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Diary: In Guy Vaes’s Footsteps

Iain Sinclair, 21 May 2020

The poet’s London was a literary mausoleum edited from quotations. And then, in growing excitement, a place actually experienced from a number 14 bus, before he struck out in whichever direction...

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Diary: The 1956 Polio Epidemic

Patrick Cockburn, 7 May 2020

The poliovirus was worse for the very young; for the coronavirus it’s the old who are hardest hit. In both cases respiratory aids – the ‘iron lung’ and the ventilator – have...

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