Monks Before Women

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘What do we know about love in twelfth-century France?’ asks Georges Duby. Indeed, what do we know about love? Until quite recently in the history of the world, we’ve only heard one side of the story – the male version. And even that is partial; we’ve only heard from those men who were literate. Duby’s greatest problem is […]

The Flat-Footed Nihilism of Contemporary British Art

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

No-one who has had any prolonged contact with the visual arts in this country could have failed to be aware of a profound anti-intellectualism and professional xenophobia which distinguishes the British artist from his European and American counterparts. This insistence on an inalienable distinction between the practice of art and any ideas which might be […]

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Creative Writing in Universities

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are two distinct ways of teaching creative writing at the tertiary level of education, though various compromises between them are possible. One type of course (let us call it type “A”) is designed for students with a serious personal commitment to imaginative writing and perhaps aspirations to be professional writers. It is usually run […]

Sex Mad Soap Opera

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1663, the cleric Henry Glover preached a sermon of reconciliation to the traumatised people of Dorchester: the war that ‘begins in the pulpit’, Glover warned them, ‘must be ended in the field’. But Dorchester didn’t need to be told that. The turbulent half-century through which they had lived had begun with a terrifying fire […]

Hugh Gaitskell

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hugh Gaitskell’s words to the October 1960 Conference stimulated me to be an active member of the Labour Party and shook me out of the complacency of armchair socialism. I can still remember watching his speech on television while a medical student at St Thomas’ Hospital. The words personify the man and give some sense […]

Red in Banker’s Bed

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Sting me (but only with honey, please) to keep me buzzing,’ Christina Stead appealed late in her life. She was at last beginning to gain recognition for her innovative fiction, her novels were being reprinted and reviewers were appreciative of her new writing. It is typical that, at this moment of fresh fame, she started […]

Jolly Spiffing

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One Morning in 1911, when Edwardian England waited in breathless suspense to discover how the House of Lords had voted on the Liberal budget, Lord Ripon came down to breakfast at Southleigh and demanded: ‘What are the numbers?’ Lord Knutsford replied: ‘Two thousand six hundred and fourteen partridges.’ For once, Knutsford had answered the wrong […]

Is this Review to be the End of Foster Bayley?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What has made Naipaul so wholly original a writer and stylist is hard to define, because whatever it is it seems to lack positive substance, to be an omnipresent but wholly negative power. He is the master of the undefined, the uncertain and the contingent. Strong feelings, like disgust or envy, become colourless and subdued; […]

Nuclear Blackmail

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At the height of the referendum campaign on Britain and the Common Market, one of the Labour Cabinet ministers who was leading the Keep Britain Out group, confessed to a private gathering that he was fighting with his hands tied behind his back. ‘The real reason to stay out is that we simply cannot compete’, […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Membership of the Common Market seems only to have hardened the traditional British hostility towards ‘foreign’ authors. The great storytellers – Tolstoy, Balzac, Dostoevsky and so on – have always been welcomed and their work has now been hallowed by serialisation on television; but the mass of contemporary European writing has remained, in this country, […]

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But Why did his Buttery Bills Suddenly Increase?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Christopher Marlowe died on the evening of 30th May 1593. He had been stabbed to a depth of two inches just above the right eyeball and had succumbed to either an embolism or a brain haemorrhage. The incident took place in a respectable lodging house in Deptford belonging to the widow Eleanor Bull. Three other […]

Only Half Cock

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Henry Miller will probably be remembered as the only major writer of the twentieth century who had absolutely nothing to say. He wrote as a compulsive talker talks: because he liked the sound of his own voice. As far as Miller was concerned, it didn’t matter what he said. What he enjoyed was fixing the […]

Not to be Taken Too Seriously

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Derrida’s rise to fame was as romantic and abrupt as that of any pop star. In 1966, at the age of 36, he attended a conference at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and read a paper on ‘deconstruction’. It was a period when American literary criticism had run out of steam, and deconstruction seemed to […]

A Right Way to Remember?

Posted on by David Gelber

In Nothing Ever Dies, his unusually thoughtful consideration of war, self-deception and forgiveness, Viet Thanh Nguyen penetrates deeply into memories of the Vietnamese war. Nguyen, who teaches English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, was brought to the US as a small boy after the war by his parents, Vietnamese […]

The Shining

Posted on by David Gelber

Ann Wroe has become a daredevil writer. The obituaries editor of The Economist, she is by education a historian; she followed her first book, a journalistic inquest into the Iran-Contra Affair, with a study of life in a medieval French village. Such conventional approaches began to fall away in her third work, the biography of […]

Gaddafi’s Long Shadow

Posted on by David Gelber

To an outsider, Gaddafi’s Libya was a weird, disturbing but ludicrous conundrum: a country where ‘the people’ were said to be in charge and one man had absolute power; where public transport was abolished as ‘anti-democratic’ and the police force was one day replaced with children in uniform to deter crime; and where abundant oil revenues

Getting into Character

Posted on by David Gelber

I met Saul Bellow several times, as he spent a fair part of his last years in Vermont and we had several friends in common. Once, at a dinner party in the 1980s, he arrived in high spirits, having just finished The Dean’s December. He talked rapidly and passionately about the ‘younger generation’, the Boomers (like […]

Critical Sensation

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Mediocrity weighing mediocrity in the balance, and incompetence applauding its brother – that is the spectacle which the artistic activity of England affords us from time to time,’ says Gilbert the aesthete in Wilde’s ‘The Critic as Artist’ (1891). The Nineties – the 1990s, that is, not the 1890s – were one of those times. […]

Ruins Sublime

Posted on by David Gelber

In Tokyo’s National Museum of Western Art there is a circular ceramic plate, twenty-three centimetres in diameter and painted black. Look into the pool of black and – like a reflection in an eye – you notice a window. And leading to the window is a corridor in which figures wrapped in coats shuffle along slowly. This is Saint-Lazare, a hospital converted

Doing the Charleston

Posted on by David Gelber

There can be few people who enjoy dreaming about history who have not remembered Gone with the Wind and Stonewall Jackson and imagined the Southerners winning the war. There is even a book (written by a Yankee of course) entitled If the South had Won, and musing with sentimental fondness on Lincoln’s honourable captivity after […]

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