The Current Issue

December 2020, Issue 492 H Kumarasingham on British slavery * Karina Urbach on Nazis & nobles * William Boyd on meeting Billy Wilder * Elizabeth Lowry on Vivien Eliot * Lawrence Freedman on Barack Obama * Joanna Kavenna on writers & the weather * Henry Gee on fungi * Andrew Adonis on merit * David Anderson on GCHQ * Richard Vinen on wine in Algeria * David Wheatley on John Berryman's letters * Tom Stern on the Vienna Circle * Susan Owens on Ruskin's art * Salley Vickers on midlife * Andrew Hussey on Jacques Derrida * Anthony Cummins on Richard Owain Roberts * Patricia T O'Conner on Angela Thirkell * James Purdon on Don DeLillo *  and much, much more…

William Boyd

My Evening With Marilyn

Reading Jonathan Coe’s fascinating new novel, Mr Wilder and Me, I was reminded of my one and only meeting with Billy Wilder. It was in London in 1993, at the house of a friend. Wilder and his wife, Audrey, were among the guests at the small dinner party. Wilder was eighty-six by then and was on genial good form. We were encouraged to get him to anecdotalise about his years in Hollywood. Thus prompted, I asked him a no doubt familiar question: what was Marilyn Monroe like? Some Like It Hot is a near-perfect comic film and has taken up permanent residence in my pantheon of top-ten films of all time. But Wilder’s face abruptly hardened at my enquiry and all his geniality left him as he embarked on a bitter riff about what an appalling, ghastly person Monroe had been and how her erratic ... read more

More Articles from this Issue

H Kumarasingham

The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery

By Michael Taylor

Do you think a human life is worth £5,800? That was the upper end of the value placed on an individual African’s life (in today’s money) when compensation for slave ‘property’ was being negotiated in 1833. When emancipation came the year after in the British West Indies, it did not mean freedom. Instead, existing slaves became ‘apprentices’ and in many cases... read more

Elizabeth Lowry

The Fall of a Sparrow: Vivien Eliot’s Life & Writings

By Ann Pasternak Slater

‘Oh – Vivienne! Was there ever such a torture since life began!’ a dazed Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary in 1930 after a typically miserable visit from T S Eliot and his wife. Vivien had been paranoid and cryptic, rambling about hornets under her bed as Tom tried to cover up with ‘longwinded and facetious’ stories, as she wrote to Vanessa Bell. What agony ‘to bear her on ones shoulders,’ Woolf marvelled, ‘biting... read more

Andrew Adonis

The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

By Michael J Sandel

There is something inherently ridiculous about a Harvard professor writing a book on the ‘tyranny of merit’. Yet Michael Sandel apparently revels in his trahison des clercs. ‘His lecture tours have taken him across five continents and packed such venues as St Paul’s Cathedral (London), the Sydney Opera House (Australia), and an outdoor stadium in Seoul (S Korea), where 14,000 people came to hear... read more

David Anderson

The Spy Who Taught Me

British officialdom was not always attracted to eavesdropping. Viscount Falkland, Charles I’s secretary of state at the start of the Civil War, thought the opening of the letters of the king’s enemies ‘such a violation of the law of nature that no qualification by office could justify a single person in the trespass’ (though, as his friend the Earl of Clarendon recorded, he ‘found means to shift it from himself’). In the late Victorian period, secret intelligence... read more

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