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When Paris Sneezed

David Todd: The Cult of 1789, 4 January 2024

The Revolutionary Temper: Paris, 1748-89 
by Robert Darnton.
Allen Lane, 547 pp., £35, November, 978 0 7139 9656 2
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... British ambassador in Paris, couldn’t conceal his enthusiasm: ‘The greatest Revolution that we know anything of has been effected with, comparatively speaking – if the magnitude of the event is considered – the loss of very few lives. From this moment we may consider France as a free country.’ By the end of the ...

Its Rolling Furious Eyes

James Vincent: Automata, 22 February 2024

Miracles and Machines: A 16th-Century Automaton and Its Legend 
by Elizabeth King and W. David Todd.
Getty, 245 pp., £39.99, August 2023, 978 1 60606 839 7
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... Certainly he fell, received a visit from the dead monk and recovered, but as Elizabeth King and David Todd detail, the supposed origin of the machine is supported more by circumstantial evidence than positive proof; it’s an ‘elegant hypothesis’, the authors conclude. More interesting than the clockwork Diego’s uncertain provenance, however, is ...

Emily v. Mabel

Susan Eilenberg: Emily Dickinson, 30 June 2011

Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Virago, 491 pp., £9.99, April 2011, 978 1 84408 453 1
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Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 535 pp., £25.95, September 2010, 978 0 674 04867 6
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... said the entangled Antony – This, her response to the gift of a painted jug from Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin’s mistress, and later the unchosen posthumous first of her editors, is plain only about its deliberate obscurity. It is the equivalent of shutting a door in its reader’s face. As Richard Sewall, her biographer, noted, ‘She enjoyed ...

Bitchy Little Spinster

Joanne O’Leary: Queens of Amherst, 3 June 2021

After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America's Greatest Poet 
by Julie Dobrow.
Norton, 448 pp., £13.99, January 2020, 978 0 393 35749 3
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... Nobody​ has a good word to say about Mabel Loomis Todd. When she’s remembered at all, it’s as a homewrecker: the vamp who seduced Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, 27 years her senior, and destroyed his marriage to Susan Gilbert, Emily’s closest confidante. Like any good seductress, Todd was an opportunist ...

Out of the house

Dinah Birch, 30 August 1990

The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing and Fiction, 1660-1800 
by Janet Todd.
Virago, 328 pp., £12.99, April 1989, 0 86068 576 4
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Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian Britain 
by Mary Poovey.
Virago, 282 pp., £12.99, February 1989, 1 85381 035 5
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The Woman Question. Society and Literature In Britain and America, 1837-1883: Vols I-III 
edited by Elizabeth Helsinger, Robin Lauterbach Sheets and William Veeder.
Chicago, 146 pp., £7.95, February 1989, 0 226 32666 7
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Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood 
by Cynthia Eagle Russett.
Harvard, 245 pp., £15.95, June 1989, 9780674802902
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... Their argument has been that in order to analyse the identity of women as it is constructed now, we need to know how it has been constructed in the past. In literary terms, at least, this has sometimes been seen as a misplaced ambition – at best unsophisticated, at worst a collusion with the powers of oppression. Knowledge of the past was indicted as no ...

Finished Off by Chagrin

Michael Ledger-Lomas: Monarchs and Emperors, 21 July 2022

The Last Emperor of Mexico: A Disaster in the New World 
by Edward Shawcross.
Faber, 336 pp., £20, January, 978 0 571 36057 4
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King Leopold’s Ghostwriter: The Creation of Persons and States in the 19th Century 
by Andrew Fitzmaurice.
Princeton, 592 pp., £35, February, 978 0 691 14869 4
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The Kaiser and the Colonies: Monarchy in the Age of Empire 
by Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Oxford, 416 pp., £90, February, 978 0 19 289703 9
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... lies rather in his sly portrayal of the squad’s commanding officer as Napoleon. As the historian David Todd has argued, this foreign policy disaster exposed the hollowness of the emperor’s promises to promote the trade and influence of France throughout the world. After Napoleon’s overthrow in 1870 and death in exile at Chislehurst in Kent, the fate ...

Blake at work

David Bindman, 2 April 1981

William Blake, printmaker 
by Robert Essick.
Princeton, 304 pp., £27.50, August 1980, 0 691 03954 2
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... as ‘Mr Blake the engraver’ carried with it an unmistakable air of condescension. On the whole, we have tended to ignore Blake’s activity as a commercial engraver, even though he made some thousand copy plates in his long career: alternatively, we have relegated it to a necessary condition of life which enabled him to ...


Mark Ford: Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts, 19 June 2014

The Gorgeous Nothings 
by Emily Dickinson.
New Directions, 255 pp., £26.50, October 2013, 978 0 8112 2175 7
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The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping 
by Francis Nenik, translated by Katy Derbyshire.
Readux, 64 pp., £3, October 2013, 978 3 944801 00 1
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... site of the archive. The complex nature of this archive was well captured in 1945 by Millicent Todd Bingham in her introduction to Bolts of Melody, a selection of more than six hundred poems culled from the vast trove of papers then in her possession. The papers were given to Bingham’s mother, Mabel Loomis Todd, by ...

Does one flare or cling?

Alice Spawls, 5 May 2016

‘Vogue’ 100: A Century of Style 
by Robin Muir.
National Portrait Gallery, 304 pp., £40, February 2016, 978 1 85514 561 0
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‘Vogue’ 100: A Century of Style 
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... simply illustrative, and more or less equal numbers of fashion shots and celebrity portraits (do we really need Boris Johnson?). But the catalogue, the real star of the show, gives a thorough account of the magazine’s history. Condé Nast, who had bought the US version in 1909, wasn’t taking any risks by launching a British edition: American Vogue was ...

Red silk is the best blood

David Thomson: Sondheim, 16 December 2010

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81), with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes 
by Stephen Sondheim.
Virgin, 445 pp., £30, October 2010, 978 0 7535 2258 5
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... Stephen Sondheim is America’s master of musical theatre, as long as we are prepared for the work to be brilliant but not relaxed. His is a voice of solitude struggling to believe in company, and that of a lifelong game-player, so be careful about taking this book at face value as an autobiography, or as giving the whole story ...

I thought you were incredible

Bee Wilson: Elizabeth Taylor’s Magic, 16 November 2023

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit and Glamour of an Icon 
by Kate Andersen Brower.
HarperCollins, 495 pp., £25, December 2022, 978 0 00 843582 0
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... husband, a Republican senator) and her book reads like an extended feature for Vanity Fair. We learn that Bob Dylan adored her in Raintree County and that David Lynch kissed her after the 1987 Oscars (she was a fan of Blue Velvet) and that she resented Andy Warhol for making millions by turning her face into a silk ...

Dam and Blast

David Lodge, 21 October 1982

... are depicted in a montage sequence almost entirely devoid of human figures. Only once do we glimpse four civilians fleeing from a flooded factory. (There is, of course, some cosmeticisation of history involved here: according to Paul Brickhill, whose book The Dam Busters was a major source for the film, the raid caused the deaths of 1294 people by ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: The Matrix, 22 May 2003

... from, is awesome. The premise of the trilogy is that reality as we know it is a computer-generated illusion: our bodies are all lying in amniotic tanks, batteries for the machines that actually rule the world; our minds plugged into the matrix to keep us alive (no, the science doesn’t withstand much scrutiny). In the story ...


David Trotter: Bearness, 7 November 2019

... revealing contradiction in the way bearness has been marketed in Western consumer cultures. Bears, we have been led to believe, are super-cuddly – right up until the moment when they rip your throat out.For most people, the cuddles came first, in the guise of a four-legged comfort blanket with button eyes, satellite-dish ears and a blob of black velvet for a ...

Chop, Chop, Chop

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Grief Is the Thing with Feathers’, 21 January 2016

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 114 pp., £10, September 2015, 978 0 571 32376 0
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... professionals, perhaps seen instead as an indictment of their competence or an act of disloyalty. We go to our deaths asymptotically, never getting there because ‘we’ and ‘there’ can’t exist at the same moment, even in the case of those who have chosen to die, like the painter Keith Vaughan in 1977, who continued ...

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