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Vlad the Impaler

Inga Clendinnen: Hairy Humbert, 10 August 2000

Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings 
edited by Brian Boyd and Michael Pyle.
Allen Lane, 783 pp., £25, March 2000, 0 7139 9380 4
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Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius 
by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates.
Zoland, 372 pp., £18, October 1999, 1 58195 009 8
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... the lepidopterist and the writer.Nabokov’s Butterflies comes with impeccable credentials: Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s biographer, has composed it in association with the lepidopterist Robert Pyle; the translations from Russian are by Dmitri Nabokov. Nonetheless, doubt rises early. We are immediately confronted by Philippe Halsman’s photograph of ...

Darwin Won’t Help

Terry Eagleton: Evocriticism, 24 September 2009

On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction 
by Brian Boyd.
Harvard, 540 pp., £25.95, May 2009, 978 0 674 03357 3
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... evolutionary science seems to offer struggle, disruption, waste and chance in their place. Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories, which presents itself as a work of ‘evocriticism’, might well be a straw in the wind blowing contemporary criticism back from Culture to Nature. Given the rampant culturalism of much current literary work, which ...
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... States, and, post-Lolita, in Montreux. Disposing of Andrew Field, his predecessor in the field, Brian Boyd cites his insolent, perfunctory response to one of Nabokov’s factual corrections. Told an event had taken place in July and not on ‘a wet autumnal day’, Field emended the phrase to ‘a wet autumnal day in July’ – a covert imputation and ...

Dear Poochums

Michael Wood: Letters to Véra, 23 October 2014

Letters to Véra 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd.
Penguin, 798 pp., £30, September 2014, 978 0 14 119223 9
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... misfortune is a good school. Yes, true. But happiness is the best university.’ Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd offer a fuller version of the aphorism in a note. This attractive argument is severely tested by Letters to Véra, at least on an initial reading. How many instances can we take of someone else’s endearments (‘my happiness’, ‘my ...


Wystan Curnow, 19 March 2015

... Lestat a Premium Stake- holder Vampire (PSV), bloods him and then he goes into the fire.   With Brian Boyd who knows the story, Lestat makes his     Mother Gabrielle a vampire. Lestat encounters   Armand’s coven. Lestat makes a tidy sum, a killing. Lestat gives Renaud’s Theater to four vampires who, with   Nicolas Bourriaud, turn it into ...


Michael Ignatieff, 20 December 1990

Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 607 pp., £20, November 1990, 0 7011 3700 2
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... His depiction of suffering always makes cold shivers of pleasure run up my spine. What does Boyd make of this lepidopteral coldness? Given his subject’s superb contempt for the ‘Viennese Quack’ and all those who travel in the ‘third-class carriage of his thought’, psychoanalytical theories of artistic sublimation are out. On the issue of ...

Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown, 21 March 1996

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov.
Knopf, 659 pp., $35, October 1995, 0 394 58615 8
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... mortels.’ To believe that one’s soul dies is just as delusional as to believe that one is God. Brian Boyd, in his splendid two-volume biography, links this story with another, ‘Signs and Symbols’, written in 1948. An aged couple try to visit their hopelessly insane son in an asylum to give him a birthday present, but he has attempted suicide for ...


John Sutherland, 5 November 1992

Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... between Nabokov’s biographers – the publishing rascal Andrew Field and friend of the family, Brian Boyd. Should Diane Middlebrook have had access to Anne Sexton’s psychiatric records? Did Lawrence Durrell commit incest with his daughter, and if he did should the public know about it? The reluctance of his estate to authorise a biography of ...

Eat butterflies with me?

Patricia Lockwood, 5 November 2020

Think, Write, Speak: Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews and Letters to the Editor 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited by Brian Boyd and Anastasia Tolstoy.
Penguin, 576 pp., £12.99, November, 978 0 14 139838 9
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... Strong Opinions​ , a collection of Nabokov’s interviews, reviews and essays published in 1973, contains an interview with the great man so brazenly bad, so shocking in each successive clause, that as long as you’re reading it, you’re dreaming of the movie version. Picture Benedict Cumberbatch hunched over a legal pad, sweating lightly, pressing Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Jared Harris) to admit that a sentence about a character paring his fingernails was inspired by James Joyce ...

Painting the map red

William Boyd, 5 September 1985

The Randlords: The Men who made South Africa 
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
Weidenfeld, 314 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 297 78437 4
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... love of his life (Rhodes, in his second will, left his estate to Pickering), one must turn to Brian Roberts’s Cecil Rhodes and the Princess, where, for the first and only time, Pickering’s early life and background are accurately delineated. Other murky areas – Rhodes’s dealings with Lobengula and the Matabele, the formation of the British South ...

Rachel and Heather

Stephen Wall, 1 October 1987

A Friend from England 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 205 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 224 02443 4
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The New Confessions 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 241 12383 6
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The Colour of Blood 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 182 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 224 02513 9
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... adroit articulation of the question that Anita Brookner has so far produced. In William Boyd’s The New Confessions a crucial part is played by Rousseau’s old ones, and the presence of its precursor is not altogether to the novel’s advantage. The revelations are made by John James Todd, a forgotten film-director in Mediterranean exile putting ...

A Slight Dash of the Tiresome

Brian Harrison, 9 November 1989

The Blind Victorian: Henry Fawcett and British Liberalism 
edited by Lawrence Goldman.
Cambridge, 199 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 521 35032 8
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... college in 1984. After a well-balanced and informative introduction by Goldman, Collini (with Boyd Hilton as respondent) explains the relationship between Fawcett and his first biographer, and shows how integral the concept of ‘manliness’ was to their affinity and to their faith in political economy. Collini’s somewhat mannered and over-elaborate ...


Julian Barnes: Burning Letters, 7 July 1988

... even though we haven’t yet got round to it, and that Liverpool are the best club side in Europe, Brian, we can’t help being impinged upon, being made to realise that writing, alas, isn’t just a seamless embrace between writer and reader. The other day, for instance, I turned up the following harmless statement about myself: Barnes, Julian 1946- Julian ...


Daniel Finn: Ireland’s Election, 17 March 2011

... electoral pundits could barely find enough superlatives for the role played by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen in the party’s triumph. Ahern, they said, was a ‘political tsunami’, and Cowen, if anything, even more formidable. This time around, neither Ahern nor Cowen was standing, rightly fearing the vengeance of the electorate. Cowen’s awe-inspiring ...

This Sporting Life

R.W. Johnson, 8 December 1994

Iain Macleod 
by Robert Shepherd.
Hutchinson, 608 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 09 178567 7
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... NHS expenditure: the crucial brief was written by two young welfare radicals, Richard Titmuss and Brian Abel-Smith. He also set up the first committee to investigate the effects of smoking: both the Treasury and Lord Salisbury wanted to suppress its Report and Macleod, anxious to placate such powerful colleagues, chain-smoked his way through the press ...

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