An interview with Angus Wilson

Posted on by Tom Fleming

CWEB: You have called yourself a liberal humanist. Could you say something about the evolution of your political and moral convictions. AW: Well, I suppose I should begin with my family life. We lived in a kind of genteel poverty but mother would never acknowledge it. And I suppose that as a young boy I […]

Trusting Well-Wisher

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In his last travel book – though ‘travel book’ does not quite describe A Turn in the South – V S Naipaul spoke about a more conventional book, the sort many travellers write today and the sort of country they travel in. The place might be in Africa or South America. ‘It is often enough for […]

Freud’s Fallacies

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Woman, for Freud, was a problem he never completely felt he had cracked. Towards the end of his life, he declared, shoulder-shrugging: ‘That is all I have to say to you about femininity. It is certainly incomplete and fragmentary and does not always sound friendly … If you want to know more about femininity, enquire […]

What Ills from Beauty Spring

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Western civilization offers no more commonplace or tedious litany than the conversation between a man and a woman in which the latter has encountered a nasty shock on the weighing scales. In vain he sympathises, as she proceeds from incredulity to rage and self pity. Struggling, he observes that she is gloriously unchanged, only to […]

Submit or you Vill Haf no Bananas!

Posted on by Tom Fleming

If Charles Powell had been marginally more imaginative and a bit less insular he would have invited Günter Grass to the notorious Chequers teach-in on Germany. True, it would have meant abandoning foolish fifth-form prejudices and avoiding banal generalities on German ‘character’, but the Prime Minister might have found it an instructive lesson in history […]

Dirty Dick Pikeman

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Here are the opening words of Anthony Howard’s introduction to the condensed version of The Crossman Diaries, published in 1979: ‘Dick Crossman was one of those meteors that occasionally lighten the British political firmament … who fleetingly bring a glow to the normally grey and dingy skies of British politics.’ And here are the opening […]

Interview: Christopher Hitchens on his new book about the Special Relationship

Posted on by Tom Fleming

One likes to be prepared when talking to Christopher Hitchens; he is, after all, one of the sharpest wits in fact or fiction, at least in Washington DC. So it was with a sinking feeling that I realised, just as my train was pulling out of New York’s Penn Station en route to this nation’s […]

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A Rage for Perfection

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Let’s start by blaming the parents. When the infant Bjorn Borg threw a tantrum at his local tennis club, his parents Margarethe and Rune locked his rackets up in a cupboard for a few weeks; Bjorn didn’t thereafter misbehave. Kay and John McEnroe Senior never tried this tactic on John Junior, perhaps fearing that the […]

Dora and Nora, Two Batty Old Bags

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Sometimes the pleasure an author has taken in researching a novel adds a kind of radiance to the text. Wise Children is such a book. Despite being a magnificently vivid and funny first-person narrative delivered by Dora Chance (a 75-year-old ex-chorus girl, daughter of a famous Shakespearian actor), Wise Children is yet haunted by an […]

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Wanna Get Funky?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

It’s no use pretending that this book will be of interest to every Literary Review reader, so let’s get rid of the riffraff: Shots From the Hip is a collection of the pop journalist Charles Shaar Murray’s interviews and record reviews between 1971, when he was writing for Oz, and 1990, when he was writing […]

Exploring the Nature of Historical Truth

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Simon Schama is a professional historian who teaches at Harvard University. He is also a popular historian, whose 1983 book about the French Revolution, Citizens, became a well-deserved bestseller. But he is not a popular historian in the A J P Taylor mould, fascinated by problems of historical causation and able to express them in […]

Hasty Scrawls

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The nineteenth-century journalist and novelist Harriet Martineau insisted that her letters should never be published, begging the recipients of her correspondence to throw away the incriminating evidence as quickly as possible. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of them – in fact, she thought them rather good but, as she explained to the diarist Henry […]

He Told Us So

Posted on by Tom Fleming

This is the first edition of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France for twenty years. No edition of his other writings on the subject – Hints for a Memorial to be delivered to Monsieur de M M (1791), Preface to Brissot’s Address to his Constituents (1794), and others – have appeared for over a […]

A Nice, Old-Fashioned Sort of Girl

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘The first one she married was Mahler Whose buddies all knew him as Gust-av And each time he saw her he’d holler Ach, that is the fraulein I must have.’ So goes Tom Lehrer’s ditty penned after reading an obituary, in 1964, of that strapping Viennese beauty and mother-muse, Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel. Born in Habsburg Austria […]

Nothing Is Explained

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Conrad is in the fortunate position of having, for all purposes, no private existence. The great shaping influences on his life are public events and historical movements. The childhood in the vacuum of Poland, the youthful smuggling of arms for the Carlists, disillusionment in the Belgian Congo are happenings not just for a biographer but […]

Chompin’ On

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Deterring Democracy has nothing to say about the lamentable failure of the Iraqi top brass to finish Stormin’ Norman’s job and bump off Saddam Hussein. It is silent on the crushed uprising of the Shiites in Basra and the Kurds in the north, tacitly encouraged by the United States and then decimated by Iraqi bombers. […]

What Would Have Happened If It Had Worked

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The fifth of November is, I suppose, after Christmas Day and St George’s Day, the holiest fixed date in our national calendar. For centuries it has been celebrated annually with comminatory sermons, feux de joie, and (at least in robuster times) with the ceremonial burning (or, in Lewes, drowning) of combustible (or submersible) popes. And […]

‘Lewis No Virgin’ Shock! Horror!

Posted on by Tom Fleming

C S Lewis attracted so reverential a following that practically all his literary remains have now been seen into print, though the final contributions contain much of indifferent quality that does little service to his memory. Various groups of his letters have been published and the diary he kept – with many long gaps – […]

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Long Ago Eighties

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Like her or loathe her, you can’t deny that she made her mark. And you had to feel sorry for her, the way they got rid of her just like that. They suddenly decided she was ‘out of touch’, and dumped her. She was swept onto the scrapheap by a tide of misogynism. Yes, the […]

Did Light Novels Finish the French Monarchy?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The fall of the House of Windsor will at the time appear inevitable. But the precise causes, when subsequent historians come to tease them out, will still lack clarity. To what extent did the dynasty auto-destruct, blundering away the natural advantages of its position in a display of vanity, greed, petty squabbling and iffy morals? […]

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