The Current Issue

May 2024, Issue 529 Antony Spawforth on Cleopatra * Margaret Reynolds on ancient women * Dennis Duncan on jigsaws * Miranda Seymour on early feminists * Rosamund Bartlett on Wassily Kandinsky * Georgina Adam on art world fraud * Daisy Syme-Taylor on ancient poetry * Richard Vinen on labour’s lefties * Richard Davenport-Hines on queer London * Felicity Brown on Shakespeare and war * Morten Høi Jensen on Franz Kafka * Fergus Butler-Gallie on Salman Rushdie * Andrew Martin on Paris * Carl Miller on AI * James Le Fanu on diet pill dangers * Zoe Guttenplan on musical Dickens * Stevie Davies on Claire Messud * David Anderson on Hari Kunzru * Rhodri Lewis on Shakespearian fiction * Ed Cumming on Kaliane Bradley *  and much, much more…

Margaret Reynolds

The Face That Felled a Tyrant King

From Chaucer’s Wife of Bath to Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot, women have known that men tell their own stories. As Anne (or Austen) puts it, ‘the pen has been in their hands’. But very often, men are also the ones who come to tell the stories that, strictly, belong to women.  In The Missing Thread, Daisy Dunn tries to address this problem with respect to the women of classical antiquity. To be sure, she knows that a modern-day historian is still forced to rely on older, prejudicial narratives. Here is the Central Asian ruler Tomyris in around 530 BC speaking out against the advance on her kingdom by – and the marital advances of – Cyrus II of Persia: ‘King of the Medes, stop striving after what you’re striving after... read more

More Articles from this Issue

Antony Spawforth

The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt

By Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

In 1983, the BBC broadcast an eight-part dramatisation called The Cleopatras. I dimly remember the actor Richard Griffiths commanding the small screen as a shaven-headed Ptolemy VIII (‘Potbelly’). The series posed as a palace drama akin to the BBC’s earlier I, Claudius. Despite focusing, like that series, on what has been labelled ‘a tribe of fairly repellent people’, it did not meet with the same critical acclaim and has not been reshown. If it were, muses the website, would today’s... read more

Felicity Brown

Once More unto the Bard

Oleksii Hnatkovskyi stands alone as Hamlet, spotlit and swathed in blue and yellow. The scene is from a Ukrainian-­language production of Hamlet, directed by Rostyslav Derzypilskyi, performed in the basement-turned-shelter of the Ivan Franko Theatre in Kyiv on the sixteenth day after Russia’s invasion. One week earlier, in his address to the British Parliament, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky had paraphrased Hamlet to sum up the existential threat faced by his people. ‘The question for us now’, he said, ‘is to be or not to be.’  There is no end to war... read more

Andrew Martin

Impossible City: Paris in the Twenty-First Century

By Simon Kuper

Those of us who romanticise France are familiar with books in which a British person attempts to ‘live the dream’ there. They’re essentially travel books, evocations of sunsets and cosy bistros offset with the social comedy of dealing with the less cosy French. Impossible City is almost that sort of book, but perhaps a bit more like a portrait of Parisian society with autobiographical elements.  The style is elegant and flinty, the humour dry. Kuper quotes his wife’s response to gaining French nationality: ‘I was hoping I’d become... read more

Dennis Duncan

The W Factor

Rain is general all over Cornwall. I am in St Ives, on holiday with my family. Outside may be miserable, but inside we have a jigsaw. I think of ‘Pangur Bán’, the ninth-century Irish poem about a clerk and his cat both at work, one writing and the other mousing, the contentment of companied exertion. ‘Day and night, my own hard work/Solves the cruxes,’ the poet wrote, in Heaney’s translation. Three generations – children, grandparents, siblings – come and go, criss-crossing and reconstellating at the puzzle table, an hour here... read more

Richard Davenport-Hines

Some Men in London: Queer Life, 1945–1959

By Peter Parker (ed)

The Diaries of Mr Lucas: Notes from a Lost Gay Life

By Hugo Greenhalgh

Two cognate books depict London’s gay scene in the years before the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. Peter Parker paints a wide historical canvas while Hugo Greenhalgh is a miniaturist. Both books have a provocative and mordant humour. Yet even when they celebrate irrepressible spirits, they dismay... read more

Miranda Seymour

Bluestockings: The First Women’s Movement

By Susannah Gibson

To be a ‘bluestocking’ is nowadays considered the pits. Yet in their heyday, the second half of the 18th century, the original bluestockings were respected and even admired. The trashing of this lively, intelligent, spirited group of women began in around 1800. It culminated in Thomas Rowlandson’s 1815 caricature of a group of harridans tearing each other’s hair out and clothes off over – connecting them to dangerously radical politics – a puddle of French cream. The Victorians... read more

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