I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Writers And Artists

Clive James (1939-2019)

Clive James knew that an unintelligent intelligentsia is a permanent feature of human history. He knew that the hard-to-read would go on being worshipped, and that writers who were merely funny, informed, and scrupulously honest would have to find their way as best they could.

Regrets, he had a few

Jonathan Miller was famous as a comic actor, satirist, medical man, highbrow television presenter, theatre and opera director, and all-round intellectual. And yet he regretted having failed to concentrate on his medical career, telling many interviewers that he felt he had been a ‘flop’.

Why do fools fall in love?

The idea that because a person is beautiful, or handsome, she or he must be good is a trap that humans fall into time and time again. This causes a great deal of misery, but also provides material for thousands of popular songs and even some great novels.

The Real Susan

A recent widely reviewed biography has portrayed Susan Sontag as an imperious, vain and often cruel woman who had no real friends. The Susan I knew, writes Ed Vulliamy, was not like that at all but rather a humorous, listening person who preferred to talk of others than herself.

At rest in Zurich

James Joyce died in Zurich in January 1941 after fleeing Vichy France. There is now a proposal to have him exhumed and brought back to Dublin, but there is no reason to believe he is particularly unhappy where he lies in Fluntern cemetery, listening to the roars of the lions from the nearby zoo.

And back to England?

The words ‘England’ or ‘English’ appear 356 times in Shakespeare’s pre-Jacobean plays but only thirty-nine times after Scotland’s King James took power in London. Conversely, ‘Britain’ appears only twice in the Elizabethan plays but twenty-nine times in those written under James.

Orwell’s glimmer, Winston’s arithmetic

Back in 2003, Margaret Atwood suggested that the dating of the Appendix on Newspeak in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four clearly indicated that the message of the book was not entirely pessimistic. But was she the first to come to this conclusion?

Who do you think you are?

Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, published in 1947, and his much later ‘The Drowned and the Saved’ are for many the most compelling literary treatments of the Holocaust. Yet some people, particularly in America, felt that a person whose Jewish identity seemed so off-centre was not a suitable standardbearer.

What’s your problem?

There are characters, George Eliot wrote, who continually create collisions for themselves in dramas of their own imagination which no one is prepared to act with them: ‘their susceptibilities will clash against objects that remain innocently quiet.’ It’s called unrequited love.

War is peace, freedom is slavery … left is right?

Seventy years ago Fred Warburg published 'Nineteen Eighty-four', which he saw as a deliberate attack on socialism and socialist parties generally and 'worth a cool million votes to the Conservative Party'. He can't have known George Orwell all that well.

Why the long face?

He was one of the richest men in Venice. His ships were everywhere on the seas, bringing silks and spices from the east home and then on to the markets of northern Europe. He had money, he had respect, he had friends. So why wasn’t he happy?

A Timely Death

The great Austrian writer Joseph Roth fled Germany in 1933 to take refuge in Paris, from which haven he never tired of attacking the Nazis. He was fortunate enough to die, eighty years ago today, before German forces and their repressive apparatus entered the city.