Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement

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9780007114498: Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement

A comprehensive, colourful and highly entertaining history of 100 years of that great British institution: the Times Literary Supplement; published for its centenary year

Critical Times is a dramatic and entertaining history of one of the great literary journals of the world, the Times Literary Supplement. Derwent May unfolds a hundred years of controversy and wit, from the paper's first appearance in the great epoch of Edwardian journalism in 1902, to its role as the voice of contemporary thought in the new millennium.

Revealed here for the first time also are the identities of the hundreds of the anonymous, powerful figures who reviewed for the paper, from T.S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley to George Orwell, Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell. We see the tentative first writings of Miss V. A. Stephen evolve into the dashing and magisterial essays of Virginia Woolf; venomous spats between historians; the emergence of new novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, the mocking reviews with which the first poems of Ezra Pound were greeted, and the review of Evelyn Waugh's first book in which he was described throughout as 'she'. There are hoaxes and rows, contributions from poets ranging from Rudyard Kipling to Philip Larki n, and rich evocations of the changing atmosphere of life in Britain. Through the words of its columnists, we see the nation agonising morally in the First World War, and united in anger in the Second World War. We also watch the paper's battle to survive and the gallant defence of the paper's independence by one editor after another.

Critical Times is not only a biography of an institution but it is an amazing reflection of the changes in British literature and culture throughout the twentieth century.The book will form the centrepiece to the centenary celebrations of the paper’s foundation (17 January 1902) which in itself will attract widespread media and press attention.

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Review:

Derwent May's centenary history of the Times Literary Supplement: Critical Times: The History of The Times Literary Supplement signifies its importance (and its self-importance). For a hundred years the Times Literary Supplement has enjoyed a pre-eminent status among highbrow writers and reviewers in the UK. For 75 years of its history, the TLS published mostly anonymous reviews, "coming out", as May puts it, only when the pressure for transparency became impossible to resist. However, a database of all the paper's reviewers--anonymous and signed--has now been created, although May has used the paper's own records of contributors for his chronological study of the paper. The result is somewhat disappointing. Instead of a behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of one of the most influential papers around, we get a year-by-year resumé of who said what about whom. Readers wondering about how books were selected for review, or about the relationship between the TLS and commercial publishers, or readers simply wanting a quantitative survey of the changing subject-matter of the review, will have to look elsewhere or do the research themselves, via the database. Although the great and the good of the literary scene are all here-"Q", Woolf, Eliot, Amis major and minor, Berlin, etc--and most of the famous academic skirmishes get good coverage (communism, science vs. culture, post-structuralism), the book is too list-like a treatment. This is very much a history of the TLS by the TLS and for the TLS, and the main joy for many in reading it will be to see whether they get a mention. -- Miles Taylor.

Review:

An entertaining and at times riveting history of a peculiar British institution. -- Sunday Telegraph

An entertaining and at times riveting history... an indispensable addition to our literary history... -- PAUL JOHNSON, Sunday Telegraph

‘A remarkable work of compression... displaying the same qualities of scholarship, eccentricity and humour that characterise the TLS itself.' -- ANDREW ROBERTS, The Times

‘The ultimate review of reviews... on every page May salvages marvellous lines from the files’ -- DAVID SEXTON, Evening Standard

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