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Christmas Books 1

Rupert Christiansen Recently I’ve had the good fortune to review three works of magisterial scholarship in these pages — John Haffenden’s William Empson: Among the Mandarins (OUP, £30), Philip Gossett’s Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera (Chicago University Press, £22.50) and Patrick Carnegy’s Wagner and the Art of the Theatre (Yale, £29.95). Because they run

A sharp-eyed, realistic royalist

He was visited only by his children and grandchildren and one or two very old friends, complained Tommy Lascelles a few years before he died; apart from that, ‘I only see some of the young scribes, who, poor boys, think my opinion of their writing is worth getting, e.g. Philip Ziegler and C. Douglas-Home.’ Lascelles

Why it’s more than just a game

Simon Barnes, the brilliant writer about sport and nature, would never claim he has had much influence. No, he would say with a journalistic shrug, influence? Me? Of course not: I merely describe, amuse and draw attention to significant events. But his sportswriting, some of it for The Spectator, has been so original and insightful

Far from Holy Fathers

It is curious that despite Spain’s immense services to the Roman Church — expelling Islam from Western Europe over half a millennium of hard fighting, then opening up the Western hemisphere to Catholicism — only two Spaniards have become pope, and both were Borgias (Alfonso de Borja, who reigned as Pope Calixtus III, 1455-8, spelt

The poisoned olive branch

On paper, Adam LeBor boasts excellent credentials for writing about what is at best the spine- chilling failure of the United Nations to prevent modern genocide and at worst its active complicity with evil. He reported on the Yugoslav wars for both the Times and the Independent, his empathy with the victims of slaughter leaps

The pleasures of peripolitania

Were you to look up the word ‘peripolitan’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, you would not find it. Though the thing weighs three tons and preens itself on containing every word jotted in English since the language first dragged itself out of the primordial alphabet soup, peripolitan is not there. This irritates me no end,

Around the world in 80 years

Two summers ago at La Rondinaia, during one of those last evenings before he flew from his sky-high eyrie for the last time, Gore Vidal advised me to read the 19th-century memoirist Augustus Hare’s The Story of my Life, an author with whom he felt great affinity. ‘And read all six volumes, too’, he added.

A greedy, randy idealist

Rosemary Ashton has rather cornered the market in dissecting the lives of the intellectual movers and shakers of early Victorian England. She has already written well about the Carlyles, and about George Eliot and her lover G. H. Lewes. Now, all these and more have walk-on parts (rather more than that in Miss Eliot’s case)

Worshipping at the shrines

So far as Robert Craft is concerned, Stravinsky represents a mine of limitless resource. Having spent the last 23 years of the composer’s life serving him as fan, friend, conductor, associate and general reviver of spirits, virtually as a member of the family, he remains the most loyal of servants, righting every wrong, fighting every

Papa rises again

We were in a Béarnais restaurant in Montmartre and a young Canadian novelist and short story writer, Bill Prendiville, was speaking admiringly about Hemingway. This was pleasing, because you don’t often hear him being praised now. It was also appropriate, because most of the good early Hemingway was written in Paris, and the best of