The Current Issue

September 2021, Issue 500 Claudia FitzHerbert on Dickens's breakthrough year * Sarah Watling on Josiah Wedgwood * Michael White on prime ministers we never had * Allan Massie on G K Chesterton * Richard V Reeves on generations * Andrew Hussey on Louis-Ferdinand Céline * Adam Sisman on art & thought in the Cold War * Thomas Blaikie on WASPs * Norma Clarke on Billie Jean King * Nick Holdstock on the Amur River * Joanna Kavenna on freedom * Frances Cairncross on the John Lewis partnership * Kate Kirkpatrick on a lost Simone de Beauvoir novella * James Purdon on Tom McCarthy * Ian Critchley on Colm Tóibín *  and much, much more…

Sarah Watling

The Radical Potter: Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain

By Tristram Hunt

‘The politicians tell me that as a manufacturer I shall be ruined if France has her liberty,’ Josiah Wedgwood wrote to Erasmus Darwin in 1789, ‘but I am willing to take my chance in that respect.’ A year earlier he had written with similar equanimity, indeed enthusiasm, about the campaign to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, from which much of the prosperity that fuelled sales of his famous creamware, queensware and jasperware derived. ‘Even if our commerce was likely to suffer from the abolition,’ he insisted to a sceptical friend, ‘I persuade myself that when this traffic comes to be discussed and fully known, there will be but few advocates for the continuance... read more

More Articles from this Issue

Joanna Kavenna

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint

By Maggie Nelson

The last book I read with ‘Freedom’ in the title was a novel by Jonathan Franzen. I read it because I’d been jolted by one of Franzen’s previous novels, The Corrections, in which the protagonist nips out just before lunch, leaving his parents with a poached salmon. Then he gets distracted for a hundred pages, which made me very worried. What about his parents, waiting to eat the fish? His freedom was clearly not theirs; at least, his freedom to wander the streets of New York was... read more

Leo Robson

Beautiful World, Where Are You

By Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s new novel, her third in four years, is a passionate, earnest, vulnerable, often affecting and above all dysfunctional piece of work. It’s at once another instalment in her serial portrait of the bookish, fidgety, sexually avid Irishwoman born circa 1990 and a reckoning of sorts with doubts about Rooney-mania – her own as well as those expressed in what the narrator, describing the reception handed out to the not un-Rooney-like heroine, a superstar novelist... read more

Michael White

The Prime Ministers We Never Had: Success and Failure from Butler to Corbyn

By Steve Richards

You have to say right away that Steve Richards is very fair to politicians. It is an admirably unfashionable habit among political commentators. Some scribblers nowadays would concoct an affair between David Attenborough and the Queen if either secular saint were to show an inclination to vote Labour. All the same, a writer can go too far. In his ten essays on prime ministers we never had, Richards devotes ... read more

Allan Massie

The Sins of G K Chesterton

By Richard Ingrams

The title of this book is a surprise. Chesterton’s admirers have regarded him as a saintly figure; indeed he has been proposed for canonisation. Even those, like Bernard Shaw and H G Wells, who engaged in fierce argument with him regarded him with affection. He was a master of paradox whose sincerity was nevertheless rarely questioned. Orwell’s complaint that everything Chesterton wrote was intended to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic Church was nonsense, and not... read more

Thomas Blaikie

WASPs: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy

By Michael Knox Beran

I always thought WASPs were young women called Missy who dressed in little pink cardigans and pearls and preppie young men called Lowell or Carter, fashion items really. Well, this gigantic volume, conceived on a scale of grandeur to rival the US Capitol itself, has put me right. Rooted in Puritan New England, the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) emerged in the 1860s as a would-be moneyed ruling class pitted against the brutish, vulgar... read more

Kate Kirkpatrick

The Inseparables

By Simone de Beauvoir (Translated from French by Lauren Elkin)

Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘lost’ novella Les inséparables is one of four known novelistic attempts to tell the tragic story of the life and death of her fiercely beloved friend Elisabeth Lacoin, who died in 1929, when both she and Beauvoir were twenty-one. Lacoin – better known to literary history as ‘Zaza’ – features centrally in Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), which concludes with a raw confession of survivor’s guilt: ‘for a long time I believed... read more

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