Biography & Memoir

Sylvia Pankhurst talking to a crowd, about 1912.

Thirsting for the Vote

Susan Pedersen

4 March 2021

I would like to read a different biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, one that is less hagiographic but more humane. Surely it is possible to acknowledge this remarkable woman’s foresight, determination, convictions and courage without shying away, as Holmes does, from addressing how her culture and upbringing could drive her to assert authority through self-sacrifice, almost as if she believed that whoever suffers the most, wins.

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On the Barone

John Foot

4 March 2021

In September​ the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez turned up at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia to take an Italian test. This tough language exam, a requirement for anybody . . .

Miss Skippit

Andrew O’Hagan

18 February 2021

Mary-Kay Wilmers’s claim to the throne lay not in any divine right to rule, but in the fact that she was the sharpest editor of her generation and the funniest. However hard, high-pressured or controversial . . .

The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya

18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like . . .

I was a Child Liberationist

Lorna Finlayson

18 February 2021

When​ I was thirteen, I left school and never went back. I don’t remember much about my last day. I don’t remember what lessons I had, or what I did when I got home. I only . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

Afew weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed...

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Memoirs of a Pet Lamb

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

I cannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on boat-race day where a lady had kindly asked whether I was Oxford or Cambridge. I had answered: ‘I’m a Jew.’

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

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Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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Diary: Ethiopia’s Long War

Maaza Mengiste, 4 February 2021

What do we do with all that history – all that rage, all these memories? A young soldier with a slender face. Bruised and beaten men in the back of a truck. The site of a prison, a plaque on a wall....

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A Funny Feeling: Larkin and My Father

David Runciman, 4 February 2021

I was deeply struck by a feeling that the step from the half-life my father had been leading to no life at all was less significant than the earlier step from his full life to his bedbound one. Dying did...

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In this febrile yet curiously static environment of competing claims on our subjecthood and sympathy, we could all do with bearing in mind Wollstonecraft’s distinction between real and affected sentiment....

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Tabitha Lasley finds out more and more about the oil industry and about masculinity, while mourning one man. She is a woman looking at men looking at women dealing with men.

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Diary: At the Temple

Long Ling, 21 January 2021

Everyone around me in the temple was concentrating on their own business, so I copied them and kowtowed three times to the statue of the God of Fortune. I organ­ised my thoughts into a prayer chant,...

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The Head in the Shed: Reading Bones

Gavin Francis, 21 January 2021

When the police bring Sue Black a bag of bones and ask what she makes of them she starts out with four questions: Are they human? Are they of forensic interest? Who was this person? Do they tell us anything...

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News from No One

Jane Miller, 21 January 2021

I’ve​ had several official letters recently (including two in one week) telling me to look out because I’m a ‘clinically extremely vulnerable person’. They’re signed...

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The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack, 7 January 2021

A bright winter’s day, the journey south across the Thames on the top deck of a number 4 bus, the walk along Lower Marsh towards the great naval guns at the Imperial War Museum’s entrance....

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Diary: A Round of Applause

Alan Bennett, 7 January 2021

28 April. The most one can hope from a reader is that he or she should think: ‘Here is somebody who knows what it is like to be me.’ It’s not what E.M. Forster meant by ‘only connect,’...

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Magic Beans, Baby

David Runciman, 7 January 2021

Like Jerry Seinfeld and LeBron James, Obama exemplifies what can be done by super-talented individuals in a winner-take-all world. He won and did indeed take it all, including the $65 million he and Michelle...

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Diary: Painting in the Dark

Celia Paul, 17 December 2020

Perhaps the great women artists are noct­urnal creatures who prefer to create freely in the darkness. In this way, too, they avoid being referred to as ‘one of these neurotics’. Perhaps...

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Gosh, what am I like? The Revenge Memoir

Rosemary Hill, 17 December 2020

Sasha Swire has lived her whole life in the densely interconnected world of Conservative Party politics, and her decision to publish her diaries, as well as transcripts of private text and WhatsApp messages...

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War is noise: Letters from My Father

Jonathan Raban, 17 December 2020

Peter had just reached the top of the third page (‘poor Darling!’) when the war reasserted itself and he had to break off. The letter continues on 19 February – the beginning of the end...

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This Guilty Land: Every Possible Lincoln

Eric Foner, 17 December 2020

Today, Abraham Lincoln is widely revered, while many Americans, including some historians, consider John Brown mad. Yet it was Brown’s strategy that brought slavery to an end. In a note written shortly...

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Diary: America is a baby

Patricia Lockwood, 3 December 2020

‘You’re not the only one,’ a friend assured me, and sent me screenshots of other people who couldn’t change their dresses or remove their ties until the official call came. At best,...

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What did Kissinger do in power that has given him such an extraordinary afterlife? He was a consummate showman, a master of the on-the-record and the off-the-record briefing, a darling of the paparazzi,...

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A Regular Grey

Jonathan Parry, 3 December 2020

To​ have one brother killed by an African animal would be a misfortune. To lose two, at different times, is surely remarkable. Such was the distinction of Sir Edward Grey, who served as foreign secretary...

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The Importance of Being Ernie

Ferdinand Mount, 5 November 2020

Ernest Bevin’s vigorous scepticism and his quick understanding of what other people were actually like – a rare quality in politicians, that race of incurable solipsists – went with an...

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