LRB chortles

The latest edition of the London Review of Books contains an unprecedented number of chortles. By which, I mean two.

The first chortle came in Adam Mars-Jones's review of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter:

A letter to the Guardian from Rab MacWilliam, 6 October 2007:

Further to David McKie’s piece on famous last words, I remember reading about the last words of the US writer O. Henry. He was lying motionless on his deathbed and nobody around knew if he was still alive. ‘I know,’ said one of the group, ‘touch his feet—no one ever died with warm feet.’ O. Henry slowly raised his head from the pillow, commented ‘Joan of Arc did,’ and promptly expired.

Unfortunately, Mars-Jones goes on to debunk these splendid last words, although he does concede they might actually have been spoken by somebody else, namely Samuel Upham, a professor at Drew Theological Seminary.

The second chortle came in Rosemary Hill's review (subscribers-only link) of Osbert Lancaster’s Cartoons, Columns and Curlicues: ‘Pillar to Post’, ‘Homes Sweet Homes’, ‘Drayneflete Revealed’ by Osbert Lancaster. The ‘her’ in the following quote is Osbert Lancaster’s first wife, the artist Karen Harris:

Her father, who was a vice-chairman of Lloyds Bank, suffered from numerous delusions, including a belief that he had crossed the Channel with Blériot, while her mother painted what [artist John] Piper called ‘terrible chi-chi’ pictures under the name of Rognon de la Flèche.

It's nice to see the London Review of Books taking itself a tad less seriously once in a while. I shall continue to renew my subscription.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. Yes, I agree on the lack of humour in the LRB, but it's more than compensated for by the wit. Some excellent letters, too. I particularly like the in-depth coverage of current, political events like Syria and the Ukraine, too.

    Perhaps, Richard, you could advise me on the copyright position. If we quote from the LRB, is that OK or do we need the dispensation of the publication. Like you I am a subscriber and I can see really good arguments for extolling the merits of the LRB to a wider audience, but I am not sure its permissible.

    1. I have to admit, the in-depth coverage of current political events like Syria and the Ukraine are the bits I almost invariably skip in the LRB. I'm after book reviews. I agree that the letters section can often be excellent—especially when it includes my own (1, 2, 3).

      I understand it's generally OK to quote small sections of articles from publications. It's definitely OK to do this for the purpose of ‘review’—otherwise the LRB would itself be frequently in breach of copyright law. I'm sure my legal advisers would argue that this post constitutes a review of the LRB, in that it comments on the magazine's style.

      (Incidentally, you might be interested to learn that yours was the 5,000th comment on this website.)

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