The Joke That Sunk

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1910, a telegram arrived on HMS Dreadnought, warning of the imminent arrival of a group of Abyssinian royals. When the party of six boarded shortly afterwards, they were given a tour of the ship by its officers. Needless to say, none of the visitors was an actual dignitary, none of them came from Ethiopia, […]

Dead Poets Society

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Elegiac poetry deals primarily with mortality, so The Penguin Book of Elegy might be seen as the inevitable – if much-delayed – sequel to George MacBeth’s The Penguin Book of Sick Verse (1963). That was a quirky production, though, ranging from physical illness to sick jokes. This is a canonical one, which claims to be […]

Posted in 525 | Tagged | Comments Off on Dead Poets Society

Unlimited Dream Company

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What the hell is reality and how do we distinguish it from fiction? Who decides? Furthermore, if those who decide the allocations of the real and unreal are cruel, mad or colossally wrong, what then? These are the sorts of questions to which J G Ballard returns again and again in his fiction and non-fiction. His writing career spanned more than five decades. His work ranged from short stories published in New Worlds and

The Poet’s Burden

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In a late poem about a friend’s death, Czesław Miłosz writes of the long passage between youth and age as one of learning ‘how to bear what is borne by others’. It could be a summary of his own poetic witness. Eva Hoffman’s moving and eloquent essay traces the ways in which that simultaneously guilty, compassionate and fastidious response characterises Miłosz’s work from its earliest days. Bearing what is borne by others is, for Miłosz, close to the heart of the poetic task

They Fought to Report

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In February last year, Victoria Newton assumed the editorship of The Sun, still the UK’s most widely purchased daily. More or less simultaneously, Emma Tucker took the reins at the Sunday Times. At much the same time, Alison Phillips, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror, added the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People to her responsibilities. Not […]

A Boulevardier Writes…

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Given the wealth of eyewitness accounts, we have a clear idea of what living in the Weimar Republic was like. At one end of the literary spectrum, there are the jaded forensics of Joseph Roth; at the other, the musings of its privileged Pollyanna, Stefan Zweig. But when another witness steps forward, with eyes and […]

From the Severn to the Somme

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ivor Gurney’s name has endured remarkably well for a man who went mad at an early age and was a war poet overshadowed (in fame, at least) by other war poets and a composer overshadowed by other composers. It is perhaps the bizarreness of Gurney’s life, as much as his unquestionable talent in not one […]

A Writer’s Revenge

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the course of an extraordinarily productive career spanning six decades, Pat Rogers has written cogently, perceptively and memorably about all kinds of literature, as well as about the character and capacities of literary criticism. His powers of scrutiny and summary are often arresting and always dedicated to resisting imprecision. In his latest book, Rogers imparts

Houses in the Air

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Houses and female bodies and the interconnectedness of the two have interested Deborah Levy at least since the publication of Things I Don’t Want to Know (2013), the first book in her three-part ‘living autobiography’ series (it’s her term for personal history that is written as it is lived rather than from a retrospective distance). […]

Through a Glass, Darkly

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Although much of the biographical detail found in In Love with Hell has been published elsewhere, William Palmer re-examines the lives of the eleven writers who form the subject of his study through the lens of their alcoholism. These include Anthony Burgess, Patrick Hamilton, Malcolm Lowry and Kingsley Amis. They are studied in series rather […]

Maverick Verse

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When it was announced last October that Louise Glück had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, there was general amazement on two counts: first, that an American should win it so soon after Bob Dylan in 2016, and second, that an American poet should win it – a poet, no less, who was known for […]

Mr & Mrs Toad Revisited

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Monica Jones arrived at University College, Leicester (later the University of Leicester), as a probationary lecturer in its then two-person English literature faculty in January 1946. The young librarian Philip Larkin followed eight months later. Their relationship proper began in 1950, survived Larkin’s five-year sojourn in Belfast and his removal to Hull, and continued, with […]

Sex was a Mystery to Him

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Half a century ago Oliver Reed and Kate Millett each had a career-defining moment involving D H Lawrence: Reed when he played Gerald in Ken Russell’s 1969 film adaptation of Women in Love, with its celebrated wrestling scene, and Millett the following year, when she staged one of the great critical assassinations of Lawrence, in her Sexual Politics. Reed’s character in Women in Love feels humiliated by Gudrun’s attacks on his masculinity, tries to kill her and ends up slipping into a snowdrift, where he freezes to death. Reed had his own well-documented problems with toxic masculinity, notably when his encounter with Millett on Channel 4’s After Dark descended into a drunken assault. I wonder how much distance there is these days, in the public mind, between Reed’s brainless aggression and Lawrence’s patriarchal dogmatism, so memorably skewered

The Great American Novelist?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Among the dozen or so figures who dominated American writing in the half-century following the war, Philip Roth stands as the great defier of his times, and of time itself. Author of The Counterlife, a novel built on realising parallel possibilities, as well as the counterfactual The Plot Against America, he was a chronology scrambler, a walking

Queen of Hearts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Carson McCullers (1917–67) grew up in Columbus, Georgia, lived mainly in New York and wrote dazzling stories about misfits in the American South. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) made her famous at the age of twenty-three. She married the same violent man twice and, as Jenn Shapland several times notes, a straight narrative […]

Romancing the Novelist

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Julia Parry’s aunt died, she inherited a stash of letters that had been stored in her attic. Books that kick off with letters in attics generally contain some big revelations, but although this book is in some ways almost voyeuristically revealing of the letter writers, I think the revelations may not be entirely the […]

Unsuitable Attachments

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Twenty years ago, I introduced an American acquaintance to the novels of Barbara Pym. Last autumn, I received a letter from her executors saying that the acquaintance, with whom I’d barely communicated in the interim, had left me her edition of Pym’s collected work. I mention this to indicate the profound affection that Pym inspires […]

Aesthete of Gordon Square

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Bloomsbury industry is not as hectic as it once was, but it continues every now and then to deliver a really interesting book. This one offers a missing piece in the familiar Bloomsbury jigsaw. Today it can be assumed that readers do not need to be told that Vanessa Bell was Virginia Woolf’s sister […]

She Hated Poetry Readings

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Thank the deities, it is spring. The almost-forgotten poet Charlotte Mew wrote a beautiful poem about spring called ‘May, 1915’. It includes the devastating lines ‘Let us remember Spring will come again/To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees/Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain.’ Mew wrote many beautiful and devastating poems. She has her admirers, but

Sex, Drugs & Poetry

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A newcomer wanting the lowdown on John Cooper Clarke’s five decades under the spotlight might usefully begin by calling up the YouTube clip of our man’s appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978. Here, accompanied by a hotshot backing band, an elongated figure with a teased-out birds’-nest hairdo can be found hunched over a […]

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend