Outrages by Naomi Wolf review – sex and censorship


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Repressive laws overshadowing the bedroom and the bookshop ... a study of gay Victorians and ‘obscenity’

In the summer of 1892 the poet John Addington Symonds took his lover, a Venetian gondolier called Angelo Fusato, on a tour of Britain, including visits to country houses where Fusato posed as Symonds’s manservant. Symonds’s wife Catherine and his daughter were living safely in Davos at the time. After his first meeting with Fusato, Symonds wrote: “He was tall and wiry, but very slender … he was rarely in repose but moved with singular brusque grace … Great fiery eyes, gazing intensely, with compulsive effluence of electricity … He fixed and fascinated me.”

Love, however, did not transform itself automatically into art. Symonds wrote a bad sonnet in Fusato’s honour. (“Till, mother-naked, white as lilies, laid / There on the counterpane, he bade me use / Even as I willed, his body.”)

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‘The streets are haunted’ – Colm Tóibín explores literary Dublin


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The house where Oscar Wilde grew up and where James Joyce was let down, the library where WB Yeats studied … the Irish capital is full with the ghosts of great writers

There is a peculiar intensity about some streets in Dublin that gets more layered the longer you live in the city and the more stray memories and associations you build up. With time, thoughts thicken and become richer, connect more.

On a busy day, nonetheless, it is possible to go into the General Post Office on O’Connell Street to post a letter or buy a TV licence and not think at all at first about the 1916 Rebellion, which used the post office as its headquarters, or about MacDonagh and MacBride, Connolly and Pearse, the men who led the Rebellion, or about Yeats’s lines:

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Colm Tóibín: ‘I couldn’t read until I was nine – my first book was an Agatha Christie’


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The author on the books that make him laugh, the gay novel that changed his life, and why he wishes he were TS Eliot

The book I am currently reading
Learning What Love Means by Mathieu Lindon, a coming-of-age book set in Paris, including an account of Lindon’s friendship with Michel Foucault and Hervé Guibert. Also, Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman, a beautiful meditation on photography. And Martin Gayford’s Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.

The book that changed my life
First, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, about a religious upbringing, and then Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, with all gay characters, and then Baldwin’s essays, raw and personal and wise.

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Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years and Oscar’s Ghost review – Wilde after prison


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Nicholas Frankel’s book together with Laura Lee’s study of Alfred Douglas and Wilde’s legacy chart a tragic relationship that is also one of the most fascinating gay love stories

Three months before Oscar Wilde was released from prison, in February 1897, his wife Constance obtained a legal separation and a formal end of his responsibility for his two sons. After much rancorous discussion, she agreed to offer him an annual allowance of £150 a year on condition that he did not get in touch with her or the children without her permission. The other condition, as Nicholas Frankel writes in his detailed and finely judged account of Wilde’s life after prison, was “that he not associate in future with any person deemed disreputable in the eyes of his own lawyer”. This was an indirect reference to Lord Alfred Douglas, who had been Wilde’s lover.

It was arranged that Wilde, on release, once he had ...

Colm Tóibín: ‘Why shouldn’t Catalonia be an independent state within Europe?’


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The author, who has observed Catalan politics for 40 years, calls for Madrid to soften its stance

Late on Friday 27 October Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalan government, having declared Catalan independence, made his way from the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, the seat of power, to the city of Girona, close to where he was born, where he served as mayor for five years. The next afternoon, he was seen eating in a restaurant and seemed very relaxed. Sometime that night or the next day, with seven members of his cabinet, he travelled by car to Marseille and from there by plane to Brussels where, at the time of writing, he remains, even though a number of his colleagues have returned to Barcelona.

In his absence, the Spanish authorities are preparing a case against him for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of funds. If found guilty, he could ...

Joyce in Court and The Ulysses Trials review – the law, murder and obscenity


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Two books, one by Adrian Hardiman and one by Joseph M Hassett, consider famous legal cases, either within or involving James Joyce’s celebrated novelIn October 1899, James Joyce, aged 17, attended all three days of the trial in Dublin of Samuel Childs for the brutal murder of his brother. This allowed him later to stitch references to the case throughout his novel Ulysses, including a moment when his protagonist Leopold Bloom and others are on their way to Paddy Dignam’s funeral in Glasnevin cemetery and pass Bengal Terrace, where the murder occurred: “Gloomy gardens then went by: one by one: gloomy houses.” When one man says: “That is where Childs was murdered … The last house,” Simon Dedalus replies: “So it is … A gruesome case. Seymour Bushe got him off. Murdered his brother. Or so they said.” This, as Adrian Hardiman writes in his fascinating, ...

Colm Tóibín: rewriting Greek tragedy


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Drawing on his memories of Northern Ireland, and images of violence from the Middle East, the author returns to the violent story of Clytemnestra and her childrenIn September 1986 I sat on a bench in the village green in Bessbrook, County Armagh, in Northern Ireland trying to pluck up the courage to knock on the door of Alan Black, who was the single Protestant survivor of what was known as the Kingsmill massacre – which had happened in January 1976. I was writing a book about the border. I had walked its length west-east from Derry and was now researching what would become the book’s last chapter. I was almost relieved when the woman who answered my knock informed me that her husband was out, but he might be back later. I had, however, another address, and now began to walk across the village to knock on a second door. ...

Anthony Cronin obituary


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Poet, critic and columnist who was Ireland’s most prominent man of letters for more than half a centuryWhen Charles Haughey became Taoiseach in 1979, one of his priorities was to repair the fraught relationship between the Irish state and its artists. He appointed the poet and critic Anthony Cronin, who has died aged 92, to be his artistic adviser. Cronin had, over the previous five years, written a trenchant column in the Irish Times on the theme of the relationship between the artist and the world. He also had produced a brilliant memoir, Dead as Doornails (1976), about the lives of six artists, including Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien, all of them friends of his, who had died of drink. Cronin was, for more than half a century, Ireland’s most prominent man of letters. Although he was called to the bar, he never practised. A true ...

Colm Tóibín​​: James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist​, 100 years on​


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Published a century ago, Joyce’s debut gave voice to common Irish Catholic experience – and courage to generations of later writers James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man begins with the confidence, ease and innocence of a story told to a child and ends with a tone that is hesitant, suspicious, fragmented and estranged. Between the two comes the education of one Stephen Dedalus, as the nets of race, religion and family attempt to ensnare his tender soul and complex imagination. Stephen is a born noticer and an attentive listener. He is also someone who can take himself and his experiences with immense seriousness and then, a few pages later, put on an ironic disposition, as though his own very thoughts and the sufferings he endured were made to be fictionalised. (The earlier version of the book was called “Stephen Hero”.) In A Portrait, ...

Colm Tóibín: The nightmare before Christmas


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Forget seasonal cheer, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol takes greater pleasure in Scrooge’s ghostly visions than in his redemption A Christmas Carol takes the form of a dark journey of the soul from wilfulness, selfishness, and miserliness towards redemption, generosity and happiness. The figure of Scrooge is initially presented as a man locked into unhappy solitude and petty cruelty, someone whose ungiving, unyielding and resolute nature causes him no joy, but rather a grim satisfaction at having power over others, a power which he will wield in the darkest days of winter with particular determination, a power which goes against the very idea of what became known as the Christmas spirit. This idea of Christmas, which the story itself did much to popularise, was already being preached about and written about in newspaper editorials when A Christmas Carol appeared in 1843. Christmas, in its new manifestation, would include the idea of ...

Colm Tóibín: how Henry James’s family tried to keep him in the closet


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After Henry James’s death 100 years ago, his relatives were at pains to remove any hints of his sexuality from his letters and biography Towards the end of 1915, as he became increasingly unwell, Henry James revised his will. He left Singer Sargent’s portrait of him, made two years earlier for his 70th birthday, to the National Portrait Gallery. He cut one nephew out of his will – the son of his brother Bob had published an anti-war pamphlet of which he disapproved. Although he had become a British citizen, he directed that his ashes should be buried in the family grave in Cambridge in Massachusetts. He left most of his estate to the family of his brother William. William had died in 1910. On 4 December 1915 Singer Sargent wrote to Edmund Gosse: “Henry James has had two slight strokes within the past 48 hours. He is paralysed ...

Colm Tóibín: how I wrote Nora Webster


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The novelist on thinking about the book every day for a decade and how listening to Beethoven helped him capture a widow’s loss I wrote the first chapter of my novel Nora Webster in the spring of 2000, in the same season as I wrote the first chapter of The Master, my novel about Henry James. Both books dealt with a protagonist over four or five years. Alone in the world, both James and Nora Webster attempted to find a way out of failure or grief or loss. Although The Master required a great deal of research and Nora Webster almost none, I found The Master easier to work on, and easier to finish. In Nora Webster, I was dealing with memory. The novel is set in Enniscorthy, in the south-east of Ireland, where I am from. Nora’s husband Maurice died in the same year as my father ...

Colm Tóibín on filming his novel Brooklyn: ‘Everyone in my home town wanted to be an extra’


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John Crowley’s new film gives Enniscorthy more glamour, but also perfectly captures the place that Colm Tóibín grew up in

The town of Enniscorthy in the south east of Ireland, where I was born and where the heroine of my novel Brooklyn also comes from, still carries signs of a former prosperity. The cathedral, for example, was designed by Pugin, the great English church architect of the mid-19th century. The castle, built first by the Wallop family in 1590s, was restored as a family home at the end of the 19th century by the Roches, grain merchants in the town. Along the west bank of river Slaney are beautiful old stone warehouses used for the storing of grain. And in the streets that radiate from the market square in the centre of the town are some fine merchant houses.

In Castle Street, which runs between the market square and the ...