Vexed His Readers

Posted on by David Gelber

When the World’s Classics series was launched in 1901, two of the first twenty title were by William Hazlitt, who sat on the shelf alongside Swift, Bunyan, Dickens and Darwin. Nearly a hundred years later, under the stewardship of the Oxford University Press, the series has just a one-volume selection of Hazlitt. Ruskin and Arnold […]

New Literary Form Was Not Writing but Typing

Posted on by David Gelber

The tragedy that killed Jack Kerouac grew from a terrible misunderstanding. When Kerouac’s best and most famous book, On the Road, was published in 1957, most people assumed that its protagonist, the exuberant, irresponsible, fast-talking hipster Dean Moriarty, was Kerouac himself. In fact, Moriarty was modelled on Kerouac’s friend, the juvenile car thief and proto-bohemian […]

Getting Nearer

Posted on by David Gelber

The traditional test for all biographical subjects is that of whether or not we should have wanted to sit down to dinner with them. Composers, it must be said, seldom score well on this one. Handel, for example, would probably have pinched most of the tastiest morsels for himself. Gruff, agoraphobic Verdi, absolutely refusing to […]

Is He A Genius?

Posted on by David Gelber

Sir James Stirling was and still is the central figure in postwar British and possibly world architecture. He was the godfather to the high-tech generation of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster as well as to their successors. And, globally, he is the most influential figure in ‘third-generation modernism’. 

First Attempt

Posted on by David Gelber

It does seem strange that there should until now have been no biography of Siegfried Sassoon. ‘But surely there is one. There must be!’ Thus Jean Moorcroft Wilson begins her Introduction, reproducing the incredulity of friends and colleague when she told them of her project. Such is the popularity of the genre that most people […]

Do Not Despise the Dilettante

Posted on by David Gelber

Until the biographers began raking over his private life, William Beckford was best known for two flamboyant feats: writing a wild Gothick novel, Vathek, and building Fonthill Abbey, in Wiltshire, of which the tower collapsed just before Beckford was due to give Nelson and Lady Hamilton a guided tour. 

New Selected Spells by the Royal Witch Doctor

Posted on by David Gelber

There is a satire by Vernon Scannell in which he considers a cow busy chewing the cud and wonders what is going on in its head. Can the creature be contemplating the composition of ‘a long poem about Ted Hughes’? The point of Scannell’s little joke is, of course, that for a while in the […]

Why did the Bitch Have to Leave Him?

Posted on by David Gelber

This life of George Barker does something every poet’s biography should do: it relates the poems, in knowledgeable and lively detail, to the life. It was a long life, and there were a lot of poems. Robert Fraser has worked hard and lovingly; it must have taken ages. But readers also need independent, responsible, objective […]

Diana Athill at Home

Posted on by David Gelber

I first met Diana Athill in 1984 when the publishing firm she had co-founded with André Deutsch forty years previously was in gloomy straits. The glory days of the Fifties and Sixties when ‘André Deutsch’ had been synonymous with the best kind of literary fiction seemed more and more distant, as the firm struggled to […]

Chip, Gary and Denise

Posted on by David Gelber

Correction takes many forms in Jonathan Franzen’s dazzlingly accomplished third novel, from the nagging reproofs of its Midwestern matriarch Enid Lambert, to chemical therapy and prison, to economic slump. But the first version you encounter, significantly, is the changing of a text: Chip, a sacked academic turned would-be screenwriter, deserts Enid and his father Alfred […]

Is Clinton Frightening The Innocents?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It’s tempting to think of Thompson in the past tense. Along with his alma mater, Rolling Stone magazine, he was a counter-cultural babe. Seeing him still knocking around is akin to coming across an old-time sage with tales to tell from another time. Certainly, Thompson’s patented ‘Gonzo Journalism’ style – which set up the reporter […]

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Diarist who Makes your Hair Stand on End

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

About himself, Anthony Powell never revealed an awful lot in his fortnightly reviews for the Telegraph, which he sustained with great distinction over fifty years. He was not averse to giving others a pasting (for example to Geoffrey Grigson, ‘most other reviewers lacking the guts to do so’), but generally you learnt little of what […]

Young Women on the Verge of Life

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Two Sisters, one beautiful, the other lively and witty, living in the country, virtually penniless… and into the neighbourhood come two young men, wealthy, unmarried; there are misunderstandings, coldness, but, finally, love triumphs (and the sisters are no longer poverty-stricken). No, this is not the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but of a somewhat later […]

They Sang Against Each Other Most Harmoniously

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Peter Everett’s 1960s novel, Negatives, was innovatory and gripping, intelligent and strange. I have been conscious of a space where he should have been in our fictional landscape, an emptiness, ever since. Now he is back, and his new novel is also technically brilliant, fiercely intelligent and moving. It tells the story of the Second […]

A Model Protestant

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At the end of this massive, balanced and without doubt enduring biography of Thomas Cranmer the reader is still left wondering what he really believed. A small clue to his final theological position is given by the two portraits of the Archbishop among the numerous illustrations in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book: in the earlier portrait by […]

Synge, Yeats, Marx and Europe part 2

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Katharine Worth offers her readers a European perspective on Irish drama and a celebration of Yeats as a master of 20th century theatre. With elegance and lucidity she traces the influence of Maeterlinck’s ‘static drama’ on the theories of Yeats, who conceived a horror of excessive physical movement on the stage. Lady Gregory taught her […]

Synge, Yeats, Marx and Europe part 1

Posted on by Tom Fleming

It has been said by more than one Irish writer that the first duty of an artist is to insult rather than flatter his fellow-countrymen. J M Synge incurred the wrath of Irish nationalists for his healthy refusal to idolise the peasant at a time when most native politicians were demanding a drama which would […]

No Worse Than Lloyds

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At $10,000 million, BCCI was the biggest bank fraud of all time. They smuggled out millions for General Noriega. They laundered drug money in zillions. They took Abu Nidal on Knightsbridge shopping trips. They worked with the CIA and MI5. They were based in, and did most of their business in, London. But it is […]

The Old Devil Interviewed

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Kingsley Amis was just back from his hols which had been ‘wet outside and in’. We met at the offices of his publishers, Century Hutchinson. Every five minutes (or so it seemed), some glamorous young publishing person would stick her or his (usually her) head around the door to check that Amis was ‘all right’. […]

They Cannot Be Blamed for Hitler’s Excesses

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

They gave us Kant and Herder, Frederick the Great and Kaiser Bill; they gave us red Gothic castles and dreary country estates; they gave us Berlin and the Junkers, and when they disappeared, their name became part of the English language. But although Prussian (adj: synonym for spartan) can be found in the dictionary, the […]

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