Pencils at Dawn

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Except in an occasional, jokey, ironic fashion, nobody fights duels any more. Of all the various ways in which European and American manhood has sought, over the centuries, to validate itself, this must be one of the most absurd. A so-called affair of honour, its ritual demanding a choice of weapons, the assistance of seconds and the presence of a doctor to perform the necessary headshaking should injury result in death, a duel satisfies nothing except the inflated amour-propre of the surviving challenger. Whatever the allure of this kind of pseudo-gallantry might once have been, nowadays the crack of pistols at dawn or the clatter of unbuttoned fencing sabres constitutes a retro step too far. With all its attitudinising, self-righteousness and snobbery, the duel has been a gift for writers ever since the 16th century, when reputation-conscious Spanish noblemen began working out an appropriate etiquette for stabbing one other (shooting was a later sophistication) in the best possible taste.

The Odd Couple

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

America lost faith in itself during the 1960s. Assassins made martyrs, cities burned, priests renounced their gods and Vietnam butchered. The salvation of the times, however, was the quality of self-awareness, particularly in the writing. Kevin M Schultz’s dual biography of Norman Mailer and William F Buckley is an embarrassing reminder of how much better […]

Rich Pickings

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On his deathbed, after doctors confirmed that there was no hope, Lope de Vega said, ‘In that case, I can say it: Dante bores me!’ Might it be that, for all his prodigious output and national renown, the celebrated Spanish dramatist had a sense that the Florentine refugee would outlive him in literary fame? The […]

The Hidden Tradition

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Harold Bloom’s latest book is a rhapsody to twelve giants of classic American literature who have touched the sublime. He has, Bloom says, been a ‘Longinian critic since earliest youth’. Aged eighty-four, that youth is well behind him. The sublime he defines as an ‘incessant demand to transcend the human without forsaking humanism’. Bloom’s dozen […]

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