Saturday, March 7, 2015

as if she is giving brisk lectures to students with the memory span of goldfish

The art of the harsh review is, well, a real art.

Here's a recent example, from Richard Davenport-Hines's take on:

The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth and Lamb 
Stanley Plumly
W. W. Norton, pp.336, £18.99, ISBN: 9780393080995

Poets and the Peacock Dinner: The Literary History of a Meal 
Lucy McDiarmid
Oxford University Press, pp.212, £20, ISBN: 9780198722786

. . .
Stanley Plumly, the Poet Laureate of Maryland, has used Haydon and his guests as the launch-pad for his own ruminations on the mainsprings, ambitions and insecurities of poets and painters. It is low-cholesterol fare compared with the delectable, richly buttered concoction published 14 years ago by Penelope Hughes-Hallett on the same subject with an almost identical title. . . .
Similar infelicities spoil Lucy McDiarmid’s book, which bustles with reiterative summaries, as if she is giving brisk lectures to students with the memory span of goldfish. . . .
These two books are assiduous and assertive, but keep striking wrong notes, like a nervous guest at a dinner who tries too hard to impress. Both had a desperate need to be checked in manuscript by English readers, who could have forestalled the blunders of etiquette, nuance and fact. The parties described by Plumly and McDiarmid still sound amusing, but both authors are didactic people, whose opinions on genius, tortoises, the English class system and vaginas are not much cop.

"The table talk of the poets: dining with Keats, Yeats, Blunt and Lamb, Flint, Pound and Moore"
In a review of The Immortal Evening by Stanley Plumly and Poets and the Peacock Dinner by Lucy McDiarmid, Richard Davenport-Hines relives two feasts of literary legend, The Spectator, 3 January 2015

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