Orwell as Icon

Posted on by David Gelber

The New Musical Express is not, I imagine, a publication much consulted by readers of The Literary Review although it has a circulation of nearly a quarter of a million -.mostly among young people in their late teens and early twenties. The NME, as it likes to be called, has a number of fascinations: contemporary […]

The Paradoxes of Progress

Posted on by David Gelber

This fascinating study of the ways in which the Victorians approached the past reveals far more about Victorian values than volumes of Victorian anthology. Interest either in antiquity or in the middle ages – and the interest could be complementary or antagonistic was not confined to an elite of artists and social critics. It ran […]

Poor Passing Facts

Posted on by David Gelber

Asked to name the greatest American poet, Robert Lowell once replied ‘Milton’. The joke had a point to it. Contemporary English poets in the mainstream admire poets like Marvell or Robert Graves who set themselves limits and succeed within them. Ambition and scale are the American dream, the American hang-up. Added to the intensity of […]

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Making Ends Meet: An Interview with Norman Mailer

Posted on by David Gelber

A lot of funny stories about Norman Mailer have reached us from across the Atlantic through the years, each one adding to the increasingly complex sum of his legend: Mailer Stabs Wife, Mailer Runs for Mayor, blacks the eye of Gore Vidal, gets arrested for disorderly conduct, boxed John Updike at two a.m. on a […]

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Epater Les Highbrows

Posted on by David Gelber

‘It is unlikely’ Patrick Taylor-Martin writes, ‘that even Betjeman’s most fervent admirers would claim that he was a major poet.’ Is that so? What, then, are we to make ofchristopher Booker’s claim that ‘A Lament for Moira ‘McCavendish’ is the most heartrending poem in the English language? How are we to take the constant adulation […]

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Stars & Saints

Posted on by David Gelber

Some time ago, on the anniversary of Grace Kelly’s death, an amiable-sounding clergyman called Monsignore Piero Pintus suggested that she ought to be made into a saint. ‘She was an excellent actress who was ‘never involved in any scandal. She gave up a lucrative career to become a wife, a mother and a sovereign’.

Fortress Koestler

Posted on by David Gelber

Last year on March 3rd the bodies of Arthur and Cynthia Koestler were found in their house in Montpelier Square. Koestler’s membership of Exit was well known. His belief in voluntary euthanasia can be traced back to the way he overcame the terror of an operation in childhood. He described in Arrow in the Blue […]

A Sea: A Sailor’s Story

Posted on by David Gelber

The sky was as black as ink and we could scarcely see the lights of the disappearing port. A chill, damp wind whistled, yet we felt stifled by the heavy rain clouds above us. The crew had trooped onto the lower deck to draw lots. Ribald jokes were exchanged to the accompaniment of loud, drunken […]

Excellent Ephemera

Posted on by David Gelber

Firebird is our most important annual anthology of new writing; part commissioned, part selected from submissions. Last year Robin Robertson extended his editorial catchment area to include poetry and this year travel writing is represented briefly (he only gets as far as North Yorkshire) by Peter Levi. As was the case last year, women do […]

Stylistic Prohibition

Posted on by David Gelber

In ‘Burnt Norton’, T S Eliot tells us that ‘human kind / Cannot bear very much reality’. You could say the same thing about eighteenth-century verse with more justice. The Augustans could bear much more propriety than now seems tolerable. They were easily shocked by breaches of decorum: Dr Johnson, commenting on Shakespeare’s King John, […]

Prose Clothes

Posted on by David Gelber

For those of us who can’t afford our own sensory deprivation units, Ellen Gilchrist’s The Anna Papers is a cheap but effective substitute. Instead of going to all the bother and expense of suspending yourself in a vat of lukewarm saline solution, and excluding every vestige of light and sound, now all you need is […]

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Writing on the Wall

Posted on by David Gelber

When John Updike was a young kid picking psoriatic skin from his back, he drew a picture called ‘Mr Sun sees Mr Winter in his office’. Mr Sun, a corny ball of fire with stick legs is seated behind a desk like an orthodontist, in consultation with his client Mr Winter, a large rain cloud. […]

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Hero Who Blew It

Posted on by David Gelber

Flann O’Brien, Myles na Gopaleen, John James Doe, Brother Barnabas: behind these anonyms lurked a small, insecure and disappointed Dubliner whose name people kept getting wrong: Brian O’Nolan, or Nolan or O Nualláin. No one is quite sure who he was or exactly what he did; what is certain, however, is that this Mr X, […]

Brightman or Barnacle?

Posted on by David Gelber

Given the chance, would James Joyce have married Sarah Brightman? It was one of Joyce’s complaints that he received absolutely no star treatment from Nora Barnacle, his life-long partner, and in a letter to his Aunt Josephine he grumbled: ‘Nora does not seem to make much difference between me and the rest of the men […]

The Boat to Oslo

Posted on by David Gelber

Thousands and thousands of years ago, when I was an innocent and idealistic undergraduate, I spent a summer travelling alone in Greece. One evening, as I was making my way to a restaurant on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, I was accosted by a group of youths who wanted me to go dancing with them. […]

God With The Grits

Posted on by David Gelber

The dust jacket of Within the Ribbons promises that we will find the spirit of Flannery O’Connor hovering over this book’s nine stories, and Manley’s potent combination of the South and religion makes any other comparison very difficult. Manley has different strengths, of which more later, but he shares an interesting weakness with O’Connor, a weakness […]

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The Chinese Box

Posted on by David Gelber

Eco’s thoughts on his astonishingly successful novel were originally published in an Italian journal in 1983, and subsequently reprinted as a free supplement to the Italian paperback edition of the book. This translation by William Weaver may therefore seem rather expensive for such a brief piece, but it contains a lot of fascinating information for […]

A Lot of Sky

Posted on by David Gelber

I thought Max Beerbohm’s dictum that premature greyness is the sign of a charlatan was a generalisation born of a particular dislike till I flew by Royal Air Maroc. Now I see that he must have suffered some experience peculiarly precursive of mine on flight 914 B, Tangiers to London. Two dozen or so of […]

Irresistibly Readable

Posted on by David Gelber

Trevor-Roper is an historical essayist rather than a constructive historian like Trevelyan, creatively building book upon book with big significant subjects, and with the proper organic structure a book should have. Nearly all these essays have been published before; but I am grateful to have them conveniently gathered together.

Lips Part like Split Plums

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Graham Swift’s Waterland, a young historian absorbed by the history and mystery of the Fens finds himself faced with the question of how history differs from story-telling and legend. Swift’s precision as a writer enables him to treat each strand of the question separately and yet do justice to the whole.

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