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Perfectly Human

Jenny Diski: Lillie Langtry and Mrs Vladimir Nabokov, 1 July 1999

Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals 
by Laura Beatty.
Chatto, 336 pp., £20, March 1999, 1 85619 513 9
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Véra (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov): Portrait of a Marriage 
by Stacy Schiff.
Random House, 456 pp., $27.95, April 1999, 0 679 44790 3
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... Here are two beautiful, displaced, canny women with a powerful sense of their own purpose. For Stacy Schiff, the Véra Nabokov she introduces is ‘the figure in the carpet ... Hers was a life lived in the margins, but then as Nabokov teaches us – sometimes the commentary is the story.’ Laura Beatty, however (including the word ‘Morals’ in the ...

Hanged on a Venerable Elm

Colin Kidd: Samuel Adams and the Mob, 2 February 2023

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams 
by Stacy Schiff.
Little, Brown, 421 pp., £30, December 2022, 978 0 316 44111 7
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... that the public interest in the lives of dead white patriarchs is predominantly hagiographical.Stacy Schiff’s life of the revolutionary patriot Samuel Adams is an unobtrusively subversive contribution to the genre. Schiff’s Adams is, if not quite a purveyor of fake news, a master craftsman in the arts of ...

Play the game

Michael Kulikowski: Cleopatra, 31 March 2011

Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination 
by Rex Winsbury.
Duckworth, 198 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 0 7156 3853 8
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Cleopatra: A Life 
by Stacy Schiff.
Virgin, 368 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 0 7535 3955 2
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... queen to bear that name, fares much better at the hands of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stacy Schiff. Apart from Jesus of Nazareth, no historical figure of the ancient world has been as much mythologised as Cleopatra, and the supposed divinity of the former has done less to obscure his historical character than Roman enmity has done to the ...

Turtle upon Turtle

Christian Lorentzen: Nathan Englander, 22 March 2012

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank 
by Nathan Englander.
Weidenfeld, 207 pp., £12.99, February 2012, 978 0 297 86769 2
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... in the TLS that it was ‘a wonderful collection: entertaining, profound and gently powerful’; Stacy Schiff in the New York Times Book Review said, ‘a kind of hard-won wisdom spills out on every page.’ And Englander has provided a neat package to garner these positive adjectives. His stories make constant gestures towards history 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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... writer, beginning to make a name for himself, and she and her sisters are, as Véra’s biographer Stacy Schiff nicely says, ‘perfectly normal quadrilingual children’. The two are privileged in all kinds of ways, but they’re broke. When they marry, in 1925, they’re effectively homeless for many years. Page after page in the letters is filled first ...

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