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Stranded by the tide of fashion

Colin Wilson is a very great man, ‘the only important writer in Europe’. That is his own estimation, and I do not quarrel with it because Wilson’s self-esteem is not just vanity but necessary to his career. As he sees it, the pattern of our lives is created by ourselves through the use of imagination

Erudition without tears

There never was a ticket with the word ‘POSH’ stamped on it by the P&O shipping line, which meant a passenger to India went out on the port side and returned on the starboard and got the best of the cooling breezes. So, where did the word come from? Michael Quinion says humans fear the

When the (fish and) chips are down

There is much to commend this book. Charles Clover lays bare the depths of a neglected subject — the rape of our seas — to expose the destruction caused by modern technological fishing. This is an issue which needs populist exposure; Clover has done it admirably. I hope it will attract readers who might otherwise

Pioneer in whodunnit country

A crime novel by Chekhov? Professor John Sutherland positively chortles in the introduction at his readers’ likely surprise. Indeed, any novel by Chekhov is probably news for those readers, and Sutherland, who delights in literary mysteries, waves in front of our eyes the date of the only previous translation: 1962. It was the date of

That woman again

The meteoric rise and swift fall of Anne Boleyn, she of the thousand days, has gripped the imagination even of sober-minded academic historians, Eric Ives describing it as ‘the most romantic, the most scandalous tragedy in English history’. Much of the fascination derives from the fact that the evidence is confusing, and no explanation appears

An enemy of stuff and nonsense

Just how unhappy was Jane Welsh’s 40-year marriage to Thomas Carlyle? For decades after the publication of J. A. Froude’s scandalously revealing biography in 1883, it was widely regarded as one of the dirtier secrets of Victorian literary history. She never wanted him in the first place, he was sexually impotent, she was bitterly jealous

Axeman on the rampage

A curious volume, this, and you would be right in thinking that anyone writing a book review of someone else’s book reviews needs to justify himself. (Indeed, the first essay in this book is a review of Sven Birkerts’s book reviews, at which point we seem an unnecessarily remote distance from literature itself — I