Years ago the late ‘Brookie’ Warwick, 8th Earl, asked me to ghost his memoirs.
In what was intended as the opening line of a 1951 catalogue essay to an exhibition by the painter Leonor Fini, Jean Cocteau wrote: ‘There is always, at the margin of work by men, that luminous and capricious shadow of work by women.’ Not surprisingly, Fini excised it.
Most of us are brought up not badly, but wrongly.
I’ve always thought of fraud as a relatively attractive form of crime — not, of course, in the sense that I daydream of committing it, but in the sense that it involves intelligence, imagination and nerve, rather than violence and damage.
Freudian analysis, Soviet communism and the garment industry: what do all of these things have in common? If your answer has something to do with central and east European Jews born at the end of the 19th century, you wouldn’t be far off.
‘For my generation of Essex teenagers, Dennis Wheatley’s novels represented the essential primer in diabolism,’ Ronald Hutton, the historian and expert on paganism, recalls.
In 1975, admitted to an institution for inveterate alcoholics, John Cheever alarmed and scandalised the staff by what they called inappropriate laughter:
It might seem odd that Eric Ives, the acclaimed biographer of Anne Boleyn, should turn his attention to another executed Tudor queen, Lady Jane Grey.
‘How do we make Scott more popular?’ The question ran round the table and none of us had an answer.
Time was, back in the Renaissance, when barely a book would be published which did not feature some lavish hero-worship of Cicero.
It is entirely possible that nobody, not even perhaps Queen Elizabeth herself, has ever known what she was really like, so great the charm, the smiling gaze, the gloved arm, the almost wistful voice, the lilting politeness, yet so strong the nerve, so dogged the spirit, so determined the trajectory.
White-haired, red-faced, cheerfully garrulous, outgoing, pugnacious when nec- essary, portly: in his last years Senator Ted Kennedy strikingly resembled the Irish-American politicos of old, particularly his maternal grandfather, John Fitzgerald, ‘Honey Fitz,’ twice mayor of Boston.
The audiotape of Alan Clark’s Diaries — barely mentioned in this rather Dr Watsonish, sensible shoe of a biography — is well worth hearing.
In 1837 The Quarterly Review’s anonymous critic — actually, one Abraham Hayward — turned his attention to Charles Dickens, then in the first flaring of his popularity as the author of Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist.
Kenneth MacMillan was once described as ‘the Francis Bacon of ballet’ — not an analogy that gets one very far, but there’s something in it.
William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, by John Carey
The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome, by Roland Chambers
Making An Elephant: Writing from Within, by Graham Swift
Chaplin’s Girl, by Miranda Seymour
Love Child, by Allegra Huston
Dons don’t usually appear to much advantage in fiction.
A Fortunate Life, by Paddy Ashdown
Home to Roost and Other Peckings by Deborah Devonshire, edited by Charlotte Mosley
The Movement Reconsidered: Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and their Contemporaries, edited by Zachary Leader
Frances Partridge, by Anne Chisholm
Constable in Love, by Martin Gayford