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Fated and enchanted love

Wagner’s masterpiece, Tristan, has now a considerable literature of its own, with books devoted to its harmonic structure, its baleful influence on artists of various kinds, its philosophical significance, its sources in the mediaeval literature of courtly love, its phonographic history, and plenty of other things. Roger Scruton’s impressive new book is concerned with its

A heist too far

When I first met Terry Smith ten years ago, in the library of Long Lartin top security prison in Worcestershire, he was part of a cockney criminal elite as exclusive and self-perpetuating as the Whig junta that once controlled England. Along the austere corridors in that microcosm of misanthropy and discontent, Smith and his ilk

A love of God and the ballet

There was a time when the Catholic party of the Church of England was not consumed by the latest ecclesiastical millinery. Its driving force then was a passion for social righteousness. It was also fun in the hands of perhaps the most flamboyant of Christian Socialists, Stuart Headlam. Headlam is still sometimes remembered for standing

Snapshots of the city

Six CDs, 75 minutes Lying stock-still with a bandage over your eyes for several weeks has its bonuses. In the bookshelves downstairs sit all those spines that for years have been gazing at you reproachfully, pleading ‘when are you going to take me down and read me?’ Help is at hand. You don’t have

Composing for dear life

Ever since the posthumous publication in 1979 of Testimony, his volume of memoirs, ‘as related to and edited by Solmon Volkov’, Dmitri Shostakovich has ranked not only as a great Russian composer but also as a great figure of Russian literature — sullenly truculent, cynically embittered and permanently disappointed. Some scholars, indeed, have gone so

High jinks and slaughter

Whatever else may be said of Guy Vanderhaeghe, author of The English Boy, he does at least have one serious fan. The admirer in question is Annie Proulx, who appears on the front cover of this new novel extolling ‘a feast of a book’, and on the back suggesting that ‘here are brilliant writing, picaresque

An early search for WMD

Any author who subtitles his book ‘The true story of …’ this, that or the other inspires some disquiet in the reviewer. If this is the true story, then the implication is that previous versions have been, if not untrue, then at least seriously misinformed. In his history of the British invasion of Tibet in