Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines has written the entries on Jack the Ripper and other serial killers for the New Dictionary of National Biography. The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics 1500-2000 was published in 2001.

When Tennyson and Jowett sat up late together, it was to talk of murders. The Victorians took a ghoulish pleasure in every phase of their more ghastly homicides; from the moment a corpse was found the hunt for morbid thrills was intense. After seven members of the Marshall family were hacked to death at Denham in 1870, ‘pleasure vans’ brought hordes of day-trippers from London to...

Doing Some Measuring ahead of Time: Sade in Prison

Richard Davenport-Hines, 9 August 2001

‘I learned to ski in prison,’ Gregory Corso wrote, having discovered that there’s nothing much for prisoners to do except imagine, fantasise and, what often follows, masturbate. Although the chief interest in Sade’s Letters from Prison lies in tracing the stimulus incarceration gave to his literary imagination, one should honour in passing his phenomenal achievements...

Spliffing: drugs

Richard Davenport-Hines, 2 November 2000

‘Marijuana has no therapeutic value, and its use is therefore always an abuse and a vice,’ trumpeted Harry Anslinger, the implacable Commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics in 1953:

While opium can be a blessing or a curse, depending on its use, marijuana is only and always a scourge which undermines its victims and degrades them mentally, morally and physically...

Suffocating Suspense

Richard Davenport-Hines, 16 March 2000

While other Victorian novelists rested comfortably in the routines that had brought them success in the past, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-73) was always committed to experimentation. He was his own pitiless taskmaster, working for money as strenuously as a starveling, and received £30,000 from Routledge for a 15-year option on his novels. He wrote successful silver-fork novels like Pelham (1828); historical romances such as Rienzi (1835); an occult novel, Zanoni (1842); a domestic realist novel, The Caxtons (1849); detective thrillers; a science-fiction novel, The Coming Race (1871); a pioneering sociological study, England and the English (1833); 11 volumes of poetry; a history of Athens and translations of Horace and Schiller. He published ten plays: some bombed, but three remained stockpieces throughout the 19th century. The best of these, Money (1840), was revived last June at the Olivier Theatre, where it seemed a curious hybrid of Restoration comedy and Victorian meliorism.


Bye Bye Britain

24 September 2020

One thought on Neal Ascherson’s splendid piece (LRB, 24 September). Countries can only be heaved off their permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council if their frontiers change. When the Russian Federation relinquished its hold on the colonised republics of the Soviet Union in 1991, its seat was briefly forfeit but swiftly restored in recognition of its global status. No one can...
British Library users such as James Obelkevich, who deplore the current accessibility of the library to the young and eager and pine for the days of narrow exclusivity when tickets were limited to what he calls ‘core users’ need to be reminded how unpleasant the old regime was, and how improved the new management is in most ways (Letters, 23 May). When my first reader’s ticket expired...

Odd Men Out

9 October 2008

Alan Hollinghurst in his essay on Howard Overing Sturgis’s Belchamber notes that three gay novelists – Sturgis, Forster in The Longest Journey and Maugham in Of Human Bondage – each have a limping hero (LRB, 9 October). The various meanings of ‘limp’ made it an irresistible and increasingly prevalent 20th-century metaphor for sexual difference. Lord Arran, in the historic...

Blame Namier

22 May 2008

Salah el Serafy is wrong to suggest that A.J.P. Taylor was cheated of the Regius chair in modern history at Oxford because – unlike his rival Hugh Trevor-Roper – he had been ‘ a wise and eloquent critic’ of the Israeli and British invasion of Egypt (Letters, 5 June). Adam Sisman, in his biography A.J.P. Taylor (1994), and Trevor-Roper in Letters from Oxford (2006), which I edited,...
I don’t know why Mary Beard (LRB, 18 August) and Humphrey Cooper (Letters, 1 September) bother to write for, or read, the LRB if all they can say about the story of Patrick Leigh Fermor exchanging lines from Horace with a German general whom he had kidnapped in wartime Crete is that it is objectionably ‘blokeish’ or ‘distasteful’ for implying that ‘if we go high...

11 September

4 October 2001

Marjorie Perloff notes that ‘the man who takes care of our garden in Pacific Palisades’, a Latino from Mexico, calls her ‘Marjorie’: ‘yes, in California, one only has a first name.’ This informality, she boasts, is part of a class structure that ‘makes the US unique’. Perloff’s combination of the folksy, the smug and the reactionary is unbeatable....


7 September 2000

Linda Colley in her review of John Campbell's Margaret Thatcher (LRB, 7 September) suggests that Thatcher's omission from her Who's Who entry of any mention of her mother suggests emotional or social repudiation. But four other postwar Prime Ministers – Attlee, Churchill, Eden and Macmillan – similarly omitted their mother. Of these, all but Eden cherished the memory of their mother most...

Only in the Balkans

29 April 1999

In his superb article on Western attitudes to the Balkans, Misha Glenny (LRB, 29 April) declares that Bram Stoker’s Dracula ‘unwittingly reveals an English paranoia’ about invasive foreigners. But in an essay in Signs Taken for Wonders (1988), Franco Moretti has shown that the revelation was far from unwitting. In my cultural history Gothic, published last year, I bolstered Moretti’s...

My dear, the noise

15 October 1998

Surely every schoolboy knows – certainly I was told as a schoolboy – that Lord Sefton was the Guards officer who, having escaped from Dunkirk, and being quizzed about his experiences while drinking at his club, replied: ‘My dear, the noise, and the people.’ Sefton had kept a fixed pose of nonchalance since boyhood, when his sister went mad in front of his eyes in the nursery....

Take a bullet for the team: The Profumo Affair

David Runciman, 21 February 2013

Britain in the early 1960s was a divided country, torn by conflicting impulses, towards the past and the future, tradition and experimentation, dignity and fun.

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Even before the ship sank the century of progress was pregnant with the Titanic’s fate.

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Allergic to Depths: gothic

Terry Eagleton, 18 March 1999

All over the world, postgraduate students of English who might once have written on Wordsworth or Mrs Gaskell are now turning out theses on vampires, monsters, sado-masochism and mutilation. Most...

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John Lanchester, 16 November 1995

Pound died in 1972; Auden, who was 22 years younger, in 1973. Both writers underwent the usual posthumous dip in attention and reputation. This familar dégringolade is a mysterious process, and...

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Baring his teeth

Peter Clarke, 25 June 1992

On 10 January 1957 the momentous news reached the family publishing house in St Martin’s Lane. ‘Mr Macmillan has just been made prime minister,’ his elder brother Daniel was...

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