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Oxford University Press

The Oxford Handbook of W.B. Yeats edited by Lauren Arrington and Matthew Campbell

by
November 2023, no. 459

'What then? sang Plato’s ghost.’ Editors Lauren Arrington and Matthew Campbell begin their Preface to the massive Oxford Handbook of W.B. Yeats with the poet’s own injunction to old age. And what a life it was: seventy-three years lived over two world wars; a mammoth literary oeuvre criss-crossing Victorian melancholy, Romantic sublimity, and Modernist apocalypse. At different times and sometimes simultaneously, Yeats was a bohemian raconteur in the Cheshire Cheese pub, a radical nationalist leader of the Irish Revival, a cosmopolitan disciple of the occult, and a waspish senator enraged by the philistinism of the Irish Free State.

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Recently, mining giant Rio Tinto disturbed another ancient rock shelter in Australia’s Pilbara during a routine blast designed to ‘mimic’ the natural environment. This time, the company announced its transgression before it hit the headlines, presumably to avoid the kind of public outrage it faced after the Juukan Gorge incident in May 2020. What compelled Rio Tinto to admit wrongdoing, and to what effect? Does this pre-emptive mea culpa signal a new corporate sensitivity to Aboriginal culture and heritage, or is it a strategy to placate the Australian public so mining can continue? Analysing the factors that both enable and constrain mining on Indigenous peoples’ lands is the focus of Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh’s book Indigenous Peoples and Mining: A global perspective.

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In 1981, Terence Kilmartin’s revision of C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s 1920s English translation of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu was published. Against Kilmartin’s wishes, the new edition retained the unfortunate title of Remembrance of Things Past, but in all other respects the Kilmartin version significantly corrected and enhanced the Moncrieff translation.1 This became my Proust, and I have remained loyal to it. 

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Kado Muir – a Ngalia man – will never be able to have another conversation in his mother tongue. He tells the story of witnessing each of his elders dying and, in the process, his language. Successively, he had fewer and fewer people to communicate with. In the case of his language community, younger contemporaries shifted to English as the language exerted its colonial power – until at last Kado Muir became the last speaker of Ngalia.

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In this week’s ABR Podcast, Sarah Ogilvie explores the mystery behind the Oxford English Dictionary’s (1928) Australian lexicon. Ogilvie, a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, tells us about the Melbourne Dictionary People, a group of nineteenth and early-twentieth century Melburnians who contributed Australianisms for the OED project. Listen to Sarah Ogilvie’s ‘The Melbourne Dictionary People: Active service to the mother tongue’, published in the September issue of ABR.

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'It is too early to say’ was the legendary response of Zhou Enlai when Dr Henry Kissinger asked him about the effects of the French Revolution – proof, if needed, of an ancient culture acknowledging the long cycle of history. Except Zhou misheard. As Chas Freeman, the retired foreign service adviser at that historic meeting revealed many years later, Zhou assumed that Kissinger was talking about the 1968 student protests in Paris, not the storming of the Bastille. It was, said Freeman, a mistake ‘too delicious to invite correction’.

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It is a rare year that goes by without the publication of yet another new biography of William Shakespeare in response to the seemingly insatiable desire for insights into the life and mind of the great writer. The proliferation of life studies isn’t exactly unwarranted: among the most exciting recent discoveries shedding light on how Shakespeare lived is Geoffrey Marsh’s pinpointing of the address at which Shakespeare lived in Saint Helen’s parish in 1598, and Glyn Parry and Catheryn Enis’s identification of numerous writs against John Shakespeare until as late as 1583, when Shakespeare was still a teenager.

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Ask anybody to name a philosopher and, chances are, if they can name one, it will be a man. Ask them to name a nineteenth-century British philosopher and they may be stumped, but if they can name one, it will be a man. This book on nineteenth-century women philosophers thus delves into the intersection of two areas of general ignorance.

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A key argument deployed by those in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union concerned the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. One of the ironies of Brexit is that some of the leading figures who argued for parliamentary sovereignty during the 2016 referendum tried to shut down Parliament three years later so that they could ‘get Brexit done’. This attack on a representative institution was part of an international pattern of democratic backsliding during the 2010s. For the authors of this new book, understanding the internal dynamics of Parliament during the Brexit years forms part of an effort to ‘defend democracy and its institutions’. 

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In the history of the American musical, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960) presents us with what his Siamese king would have described as a puzzlement. Lacking the sophistication of Cole Porter, the verbal dexterity of Lorenz Hart, and the sly wit of Ira Gershwin, his lyrics, taken out of context, can seem hokey and sentimental. Will he ever be forgiven for The Sound of Music’s ‘lark who is learning to pray’? And yet it is his works, written in collaboration with Richard Rodgers, that are constantly revived rather than the flimsier concoctions of his more favoured contemporaries. 

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