Spectator Sport

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

BERTRAND RUSSELL pointed out a time ago that men’s aims were determined by their passions, the role of the intellect being limited to finding the means of implementing them. The behaviour and utterances of our intellectual leaders worshiping totalitarian regimes or regarding them as ‘interesting experiments’ confirm the truth of this observation. But our respect […]

Another King Alfred

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN THE early nineteenth century the Tennysons were an utterly undistinguished family trying to struggle up from minor to less minor gentry status in the middle of Lincolnshire. Their affairs were complicated by hypochondria, hot temper and drugs – alcohol, opium and nicotine. It also happened that one of them, unknown to the rest, was […]

The Long Wait

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1954 I received a long and highly articulate letter from Caryl Chessman, who had then been six years on Death Row in San Quentin Prison, California, awaiting electrocution for kidnapping and theft. It told me, unforgettably, about the effects of America’s ultra-slow-motion criminal justice on the mind of the waiting captive. We corresponded for […]

Communist, But Clever

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN HIS THIRTY-FIVE years of life, Paul Nizan was a key intellectual in the French Communist Party. He published three novels, polemical essays, translations and a large quantity of militant journalism on home and foreign affairs. He left the Party on the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. In his excellent study, Michael Scriven […]

Venice Stoned

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN THE MIDDLE of the eighteenth century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu offered a typically biting description of the young men on the Grand Tour, men who kept ‘an inviolable fidelity to the language their nurses taught them’, embarked on adventures like ‘ the important conquest of some waiting gentlewoman of an opera queen’ and thought […]

Tales for Young Peasants

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Stories for my Children is a selection from Tolstoy’s Primer, published in 1872. This, in turn, was based on the notebooks he had kept since the founding of his first school for peasant children in 1849. Tolstoy inherited the family country estate of Yasnaya Polyana when he was nineteen. For the previous ten years, after […]

Get Rid of Unwanted Odours

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

CAT’s EYE IS reminiscence without nostalgia, stripping the rosy haze of the past to reveal the power politics behind the apparently artless charm of little girls and their games. Margaret Atwood has never been a reassuring writer, but here she outdoes herself, in writing which is more malicious, unillusioned and witty than ever before. Her […]

A Great Story, but Only One Side Given

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A FEW YEARS ago, I mentioned to a London Jewish friend that I was writing an article about the Irish diaspora. ‘Diaspora?’ he shouted. ‘We’re the ones with the diaspora. Is there nothing the bloody Irish won’t annex? Next you’ll be telling me you had a Holocaust.’ At which point I had to explain gently […]

An Ageing Writer’s Great Revenge and Final Triumph

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Of all those big American novelists who emerged after the Second World War, John Updike has been the most consistent, the most productive, and probably the most pleasurable. A writer’s writer, he has played across the genres: long serial novels, crisp novellas, realistic tales, social chronicles, strange fantasies, short stories, literary criticism, poetry, books on […]

Posted in 247 | Tagged , | Comments Off on An Ageing Writer’s Great Revenge and Final Triumph

Come Again?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ERICA JONG’s Fear of Flying, the bible of sexually liberated women, first appeared twenty-five years ago. I was just married and trying for a baby; its tales of voracious sex devoid of commitment (the ‘zipless fuck’) passed me by. Since then, Jong has produced seven more novels, plus poetry and non-fiction, and she now has her […]

Follow Literary Review on Twitter