A Thread of Violence, by Mark O’Connell, Granta, 288 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1783789573 They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you. Philip Larkin, ‘This Be The Verse’ In 1982 Malcolm Macarthur murdered two people who had had done him no harm, who had never met him and who had no idea who he was. Both murders were extremely violent. One victim, a farmer, had his face blown off with a shotgun, the other, a nurse, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.... The Macarthurs, who came to Catholic and stagnant Ireland in a rush of idealism and optimism, went into decline as soon as they arrived. Their money and their dream evaporated. Malcolm could not escape the family curse. He squandered his inheritance trying to escape a childhood of loneliness and neglect and, like his father and grandfather, he fabricated and fantasised. Yet he struggled to have love in his life. The ensuing conflict was to lead him to desperation and murder.
Despite a sense that they now had to defer to the US there was still a breezy self-confidence in London about the prospects for maintaining imperial grip. Official estimates for the lifespan of empire ranged from sixty years to centuries. Even the Americans acknowledged it would take time to guide backward peoples to the maturity necessary for self-rule.
Liam Lynch’s commitment to the Republican cause was an unyielding one, which viewed with hostility and suspicion anything seen as too ‘political’ or removed from the military side of the project – indeed for Lynch the republican project seems to have fundamentally amounted to military resistance alone. His death opened up a path for de Valera, enabling him to take republicanism in a democratic direction.
Why write a biography of a philosopher? The pattern of Derek Parfit’s life became increasingly fixed and ascetic from the early 1970s: he spent the vast majority of his time in hermit-like isolation, punctuated only by annual teaching stints in the US. Apart from the show taking place between Parfit’s ears, few noteworthy events took place in his life.
There have for a while now been two Milan Kunderas, characters so different as to suggest Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There is Kundera the good European, celebrated as an eminent writer, a defender of freedom of speech, a voice of remembering against the politics of forgetting, and a spokesman for a mythical entity called Central Europe which could yet save the West from decline – if only the Westerners would heed its call to return to their values. If the good Kundera has any blemish, it might be his representations of women – but for every repulsive Helena,... Kundera presents his communist past as a youthful aberration, mostly in the vaguest of terms, in metaphors and through figurative shortcuts. These metaphors fail to capture what long-term communist loyalties entailed in practice – from sitting in meetings where policies were adopted and people denounced and sacked, to skilful negotiation with censors; from enjoying privileges only granted to prominent communists, such as travel abroad and stays in subsidised writers’ resorts, to receiving exorbitant fees for poetry serving communist propaganda.
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Émile Zola was not just a minute recorder of French life through his novels. He was also an enthusiastic photographer. But he seems to have felt that when it came to close-range Naturalist realism, he had ‘done that’ with his pen, and there was no need to do it again with a camera. Here, in his evocations of the visual textures and timbres of urban life, he is trying to achieve something different.
The extreme right in France in the 1930s lacked electoral support but pursued their enemies with a constant stream of scurrilous attacks in the press. Carried to power in 1940 on the backs of the invading Germans, they harassed their opponents and were complicit in the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. After the war they had to pay, but even here some were more fortunate than others
Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age, by Daisy Hay, Vintage, 528 pp, £10.99, ISBN: 978-1784701079 The Garrick Club in the West End of London was founded in 1831, making it one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in the world; for almost two hundred years women have been allowed in only as dinner guests. But Michael Beloff KC, the lawyer who pronounced in 2011 that women could continue to be excluded by the Garrick legally, has recently changed his mind. He said that, in his opinion, the word ‘he’ in the original wording of the club’s... Johnson also published books by women, and included them socially at a time when the dining clubs, literary societies and coffee houses of the printing district excluded them. His most celebrated author and friend was Mary Wollstonecraft, whose first book he published while she was still working as a governess. He wrote to her, promising to stand by her if she wished to forge a path as a writer. This she did. He recorded that ‘Mary came from Ireland in 1787 … having determined to try to live by literary exertions & be independent’.
He is most powerful who is in his own power. Seneca The strength of our nation must be the strength of the whole people. Michael Collins i When, in 1791, Edmund Burke broke with his parliamentary colleagues in the Whig party over their diverging interpretations of the French Revolution, Burke did not rationalise his decision as an abandonment of Whig principle in favour of Tory reactionism. ‘Their liberty is not liberal,’ he remarked in his Reflections on... For classic liberals and neo-liberals, freedom is understood largely as freedom from constraint. In its active aspect it is the ability to make choices as ‘consumer’. But this ignores the myriad social constraints that conspire to inhibit various groups of nominally sovereign consumers from actualising their potential, or the circumstances whereby certain individuals, given their pre-existing disadvantages arising from legal status, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender or class, must submit to some capricious authority out of desperation and thereby forgo their rights to participate in political, social, and cultural life.