But is the Universe Flat?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  In 1981 Stephen Hawking had a nervous experience at the Vatican. He was among several cosmologists to be invited by the Jesuits to report their latest findings on the origin of the universe. He remembered what had happened to Galileo at the hands of the Catholic establishment, threatened with the stake and sentenced to […]

Reasons to be Cheerful

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Taken collectively, the ‘pronouncements of the wise and near-wise on happiness make for rather a welter. Locke held that all men seek happiness, but Nietzsche insisted that only the English do. The Stoics taught that the happy life was characterised by the exercise of moral virtue, whereas Pater felt it was a matter of bunging […]

Barbie Doll With Brains

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  ‘My heart aches / And a drowsy numb-ness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk / Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains…’ wrote Keats, in lines which seem eerily prescient of the effect of Critical Heritage volumes. Indeed, ‘Heritage’ is now a word to freeze the blood. Though […]

He Delivered a Pair of Old Shoes to James Joyce

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Don’t think that I find it easy to live over here. It is damned hard work to live with a foreign nation and cope with them – one is always coming up against differences of feeling that make one feel humiliated and lonely. One remains always a foreigner…It is like being on dress parade – […]

Conspiracy of Chaos

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  Lee Harvey Oswald is the patron saint of American paranoia. His strangely benevolent face blesses all those who believe power in the United States to be wielded furtively by dark forces. His death is viewed by the suspicious as martyrdom at the hands of the keepers of the secrets. Only the unbeliever would suggest […]

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Charlotte as a Feminist

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Over the past decade Charlotte Brontë’s status as a writer has been undergoing something of a sea-change. There has been a sharp move away from the purely biographical interest which has always bedevilled serious consideration of her work towards critical studies which emphasise the rich symbolism and poetic imagery of her novels. Feminist scholars have […]

Full of Love and Sunlight

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Marina Warner, whose knowledge of art and history combines so happily in many fields, has poured into her third novel a glittering stream of knowledge. There is so much scholarship here, so much lived experience, such light and colour and feeling, that it cannot but be enriching. Indigestion, too, is a result of such concentrated […]

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A Hooded Eagle Among Blinking Owls

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I confess I started this book in an uneasy temper. Richard Holmes’s first major work, his 1974 biography of Shelley, had a more profound effect on me than anything I have ever read except Shelley himself, to whom, anyway, I was led by Richard Holmes. Though it merged my revolutionary opinions with Shelley’s majestic poetry, […]

Pineapple of Politeness?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Eating a hundred golden pippins in a single afternoon was the act of self-indulgence and dubious taste to which Jonathan Swift attributed the madness of his latest years. Sexing the Cherry is ripe with Swiftian tropes, from the Brobdingnagian heroine who makes men seem like Lilliputians, to the setting of the tale-within-a-tale on a flying […]

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Posthumous Convert to the Sisterhood

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost, Pioneers! O pioneers. Thus wrote Walt Whitman, 1865, on how the West was won. The women came behind with the pack animals. The romantic notion has it that it is […]

Let the Fools Rage

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1925 Yeats made a speech in the Irish Senate attacking what he saw as the narrowness of the new Free State in opposing divorce. When he exalted the Anglo-Irish thinkers of the eighteenth century (‘We are the people of Swift…’) he was interrupted by the Chairman, ‘Do you think we might leave the dead […]

Slicing a Fruitcake

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘One feels terribly sorry for Charlie,’ Aldous Huxley wrote of Chaplin: ‘such talents, such a mess, in art no less than in life’. In David King Dunaway’s Huxley in Hollywood one feels terribly sorry for Aldous. ‘There was no telling what he might try next: flying saucers or hashish,’ Dunaway writes of the increasingly cranky […]

Some Of Them Painted

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Art history, among other histories, is being rewritten from a feminist perspective, for better and, sometimes, for worse. In Women Artists and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn develop the themes of their earlier individual books, The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and Victorian Women Artists, respectively. Their worthy aim is to rescue a number […]

Six of the Best

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Apart from his talents as biographer and novelist, A N Wilson is the best literary interpreter now writing. I may have got the knack of generalisation from his own book: The Diary of a Nobody he calls ‘the best comic novel in the language’, Cardinal Newman is ‘incomparably the most flawless English stylist’ and Branwell […]

Pressure of a Cork

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Now if it had been Michel Foucault’s pendulum…but the Foucault in this case is Jean Bernard Léon (1819–68), and it is beside his pendulum, a copper sphere on a long thin wire suspended and swinging from the vault of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris, that the narrator Casaubon waits patiently through six […]

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Beyond his Blindness

Posted on by David Gelber

Ved Mehta has now completed an extraordinary and grand achievement: the series of eleven books, written (between other books) over many years, called ‘Continents of Exile’. It is the history of his remarkable life, told in a way that illuminates much of life in general. Ved was struck blind just before he was four, at […]

Byron Tells All

Posted on by David Gelber

Scholars still regret the lost plays of the Athenian dramatists; feminists and other critics may deplore the lost poems of Sappho; for many of us however the memoirs of Byron remain the most grievous of literary losses, all the more because their destruction was not the work of time, but of stupidity, prudery and malice. […]

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Antichrist or Angel?

Posted on by David Gelber

If novels are going to be as rich in reference as Hilary Mantel’s Fludd, I do think the publishers should be encouraged to add optional reading lists at the end. Fludd is a funny, exquisitely written story of priests and nuns in Fifties England, but it is also a questioning, intellectual book that applies a […]

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Dame Iris at Seventy: An American Examines Her Feminist Record

Posted on by David Gelber

In addition to bringing joy to us with her humour and irony, and breathing life into the novel form for three and a half decades, Iris Murdoch’s great strength has been to force us too observe our frenetic behaviour, our selfish fantasies, and our inability to pay attention to other people. If we are to […]

Lovable Black Prince

Posted on by David Gelber

With much editing here and there, Graham Robb has produced a fine and eminently readable translation of Claude Pichois’s comprehensive life of Charles Baudelaire. Only for a fleeting moment when the young Charles ‘does’ his first communion did I raise my eyebrow. In England people ‘make’ their first Communion. In fact I have a copy […]

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