Life & Letters
One of the weaknesses of many political biographies is that they are so often all about politics. The authors either…
It came as a bit of a shock to learn from Philip Hensher’s review of Body of Work: 40 Years…
Gordon Bottomley, Georgian poet with an unpoetic name, wrote a play called King Lear’s Wife with which he hoped to…
There was a photograph the other day of a Hemingway lookalike competition in Key West, Florida. Bizarre? Perhaps not. It’s 50 years since he put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off, but he remains the most famous and widely recognised American writer of the 20th century, indeed of all time. Sadly, however, the lookalikes all take after the bearded bust-up Papa of his last miserable years, not the handsome young author of the great short stories where every word does its work and there are never too many of them. That Hemingway created an American type — lean, rangy, debonair — last example, Gregory Peck as the journalist in Roman Holiday.
Laurence Sterne remarked rather a long time ago that they order these matters better in France, and happily this is still the case. Fifteen hundred teachers of literature recently protested about the choice of a set book for Terminale L du bac — the exam taken by 17-year-olds. Their concern is perhaps more political than literary. Nevertheless they denounced the choice of book as ‘a negation of our discipline’. ‘We are teachers of literature,’ they said; ‘is it our business to discuss a work of history?’
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For better, for worse . . .
Ermyntrude and Esmeralda, by Lytton Strachey
The Appeal of the Past
Few would look for what academics might call ‘a gay sub-text’ in the Waverley novels.
Evelyn Waugh told Nancy Mitford he was ‘surprised to find’ that Proust ‘was a mental defective. He has absolutely no sense of time.’
Not quite one of the masters
‘When young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge.’