Neglected Importance of the Clown’s Pedigree

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Noel Malcolm is a Cambridge scholar, but intelligent to a degree which is inevitably aggressive. I first encountered this remarkable and welcome quality in his furious book about Bosnia, and although at first I doubted his case, he was clearly unanswerable, and has been proved more or less right. But he has also edited two […]

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Carnival Spirit

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Very few of us are privileged to leave this plane of existence without unfinished business – the exceptions are either appallingly well organised, or else cannot have had any real business in the first place – and this, ahem, ‘slim’ volume contains the unfinished business of one of the finest and most unorthodox British writers […]

After The Bomb

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I have never encountered any difficulty in responding to the question ‘where were you when President Kennedy was shot?’ On my knees is the answer, trying to get the sick out of the carpet – the eldest son having mastered the art of the fast crawl. It was that balmy time before experience triumphed over […]

No Laughing Matter

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Penelope Gilliatt’s To Wit is a promising enough idea – a celebration of comedy and the philosophy of laughter, by an elegant and erudite writer. Unfortunately, elegant and erudite writers tend not to be made of the same common clay as the rest of us. Gilliatt is one of […]

When They Were Young

Posted on by Tom Fleming

We take child musicians, both composers and players, very seriously indeed, but not young writers. Perhaps it is true that no little boy has ever written a novel to rival Mozart’s operetta Bastien und Bastienne, nor a youth of 17 a poem quite on a par with Bizet’s Symphony in C, but Neville Braybrooke’s anthology […]

Decadent Decade Which Brought Forth Modernism

Posted on by David Gelber

The Nineties happened some time between the Queen’s 1887 Jubilee and the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, at which point The News of the World was pleased to announce that ‘The aesthetic cult in the nasty form is over’. Even at this remove, the period continues to exert a quasi-mystical fascination, with its taint […]

Lettres De Cachet

Posted on by David Gelber

One mid-July evening in the summer of 1975, I was attending a performance of Rossini’s opera Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra in the Roman amphitheatre at Aries. The moon had risen, and whilst the players of the orchestra were tuning their instruments, I overheard from the row in front an elderly gentleman reply to some question from […]

Dearest Diaries

Posted on by David Gelber

The great attraction of the diary form for aspirant authors is its apparent simplicity. Many who would quail at the challenge of producing a readable novel or poem will embark quite confidently on what seems the relatively undemanding task of setting down their day by day impressions of experience. They may perhaps first read a […]

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Not For The Proles

Posted on by David Gelber

In his own country, it is said, Georges Bataille is revered as a philosophical sage, ‘one of the most important writers of the century’ according to that dubious icon, Michel Foucault. Cynical foreigners may suspect this is due to the erotic violence of his novels, several of which, awash with slavering carnality, are available in […]

Fallen from the Trees

Posted on by David Gelber

Calling any collection ‘complete’ tempts fate. As Dr Tom Staley of the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, says, ‘As soon as any collection of letters is published, more fall out of the trees.’ In the case of Oscar Wilde, however, the editors of these 1,500 or so letters have enjoyed a commanding position. Merlin […]

Ingredients Rather Than Cake on Offer

Posted on by David Gelber

Well, how do you read the Literary Review? One review a day? As they come? Picking one anywhere, lured by the title, or the picture, or just the way the pages fall open? Numbers in the Dark is an assorted lot of short and very short texts by Italo Calvino, and it is oddly difficult […]

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Man and Superman

Posted on by Tom Fleming

If you’re among those who think David Mamet is America’s most original living playwright, this short entertaining book of speeches and essays is one you must buy – if only to get a closer look into the mind of the author of such dark, fiercely intelligent plays as American Buffalo and Glengarry Glenn Ross. It’s […]

A Call for Women Poets to Become Sensible

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1979, Germaine Greer published The Obstacle Race, a compendious study of women painters and of their confrontation by ‘obstacles both external and surmountable, internal and insurmountable of the race for achievement’. In Slip-Shod Sibyls, she turns her attentions to women poets, including some on whose scholarly editions she has previously worked. Beginning with Sappho, […]

Further Prattling from Old Subversive Smartyboots

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Gore Vidal is approaching seventy and fat books of essays like this one seem to sound the right note of elderly solidity. Equally, he might, at his age, be forgiven for the touch of complacent paranoia in the title. The United States in question are not the nation but the three categories into which he […]

A Most Ridiculous but Lovable Man Revived

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sir Isaiah Berlin has been the most brilliant talker when he has chosen, and the most faultless prose writer in his own manner, the best memoirist that anyone seems to remember. His standby has always been that he has read and thought about great men who were hardly known even as names to his younger […]

We Could Do With A Few More, Monsieur

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Fantastic!’ the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn is said to have exclaimed, on first looking into the collected works of Shakespeare. ‘And it was all written with a feather!’ Greater minds have given birth to more subtle thoughts on the subject, though not all of them as memorable. Wittgenstein, that unacknowledged humorist, worried away at the […]

Life in them Old Bones?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Who should stand guard over the Classical tradition today – hunchbacks in inaccessible keeps, dragging bunches of rusty keys along the floor, or sincerely hoarse personalities bugling ‘Loadsaculchah! Sunnink for everyone!’ at the lager-belching proletariat? The strong impression that comes over from Stuart Gillespie’s fascinating anthology The Poets on the Classics is that the tradition […]

Worth Investigation

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Edith Wharton tells a story about Henry James, who once managed to get lost on the Kings Road, Chelsea. In desperation he accosted a local and proceeded to treat him to the usual orotundity and prolixity of the Jamesian period, replete with many an ‘in short’ – the inevitable prelude with James to a fresh […]

Perils of Candour

Posted on by David Gelber

Much of Blake Morrison’s writing is an offshoot of what used to be called ‘the new journalism’, the journalism of involvement, which eschews any pretence of the reporter’s detachment. When Hunter S Thompson wrote about Las Vegas and Nicholas Tomalin about war in Vietnam, they themselves were present in the picture they were describing.

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 […]

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