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From chrysalis to butterfly

John Fowles’s diaries — or ‘disjoints’, as he calls them — are evidence of his own theory that while some writers have a genius for a specific genre, others ‘have merely a universal mind’. ‘I’m a mind-writer … I feel master of none, yet at home in all,’ he wrote in 1954, about halfway through

Politically almost too correct

Douglas Hurd’s political career ended only eight years ago, but it already seems to belong to another world. When he entered the House of Commons in 1974, at the age of 44, after a career in the diplomatic service, politics was still available as a second career. It had not yet been wholly professionalised. Overpowering

The stateliest and the starriest

This elegant synthesis (you can tell immediately that Simon Jenkins is an Oxford man and not a product of the other place) is intended to complement the author’s successful Thousand Best Churches. It could be argued that England’s houses are much better known than its churches and that this sister volume is hardly essential. ‘Not

Tidings of comfort and joy

He was born to a virgin honoured with the attentions of the most high god. He assumed human form and gathered disciples around him who were derided for their adoration. Having performed a variety of miracles and made a journey to the underworld, he ascended to heaven, where he joined his father, president of the

The sea monster that never was

It is never easy to tell a story that everyone knows and still harder to tell one that everybody thinks he knows. For more than 200 years the mutiny on the Bounty has been part of British folklore, and its main protagonists — William Bligh and Fletcher Christian — enshrined in myth as types of

Tales of the expected

Introducing the first true Dave Eggers’ McSweeney production (and it is a production — jacket, binding, illustrations, chapter headings and all) to be published here, Michael Chabon explains that the starting point for this eclectic collection is the notion that all the short genre fiction which once supported American magazines of the Fifties should be

A clump of plinths

The joke surely with Monty Python is that these trainee doctors, accountants, solicitors and bank managers, who met at college when they were reading law or medicine, never really stopped being those respect- able middle-class things. There’s an air of put-on daftness about the Pythons; this is an end-of-term cabaret by the chumps from Management

A group of noble dames

‘Lucy could have wished that Florence were not quite so ingenuous. One should not seize on a delicate implication and put a pin through it,’ writes Frances Towers in ‘The Chosen and the Rejected’, one of ten short stories published in 1949, the year after the author’s death, as Tea with Mr Rochester, here reprinted