Interview with Iris Murdoch

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Born in Dublin, Iris Murdoch was brought up in England and took a degree in classics at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1942. After two years as an Assistant Principal at the Treasury, she worked for a further two years (1944-46) with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Belgium and Austria. She held the […]

Sophisticated Innocence

Posted on by Tom Fleming

What do we mean by calling an artist ‘a primitive’? Leonard Adam, writing on the subject in 1940, quotes G A Stevens: Primitive art is the most pure, most sincere form of art there can be, partly because it is deeply inspired by religious ideas and spiritual experience, and partly because it is entirely unselfconscious […]

A Childish Hand

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The Tidy House is an elaborate and absorbing account of the way three eight-year-old working-class girls wrote a story in the long hot summer of 1976; why they wrote it, how they wrote it and what it meant to them. Carolyn Steedman was their class teacher. Although she tries hard to keep her book as […]

Faith and Hope in the United Nations

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Shortly before Christmas 1996, six people working for the International Committee of the Red Cross were shot dead in their beds in Chechnya. The turnout at their funeral in Geneva’s St-Pierre Cathedral was vast; and so was the sense of shock. For almost the first time in the history of the Red Cross its delegates, […]

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An Archer Could Beat the Knight in Armour

Posted on by David Gelber

This is a series of thirteen essays designed to bring before the general reader the fruits of the latest research on medieval warfare. After half a dozen chapters, laid out chronologically from the Carolingians in France to the end of the Hundred Years War (with a brief coda on the years 1453–1526), the book switches […]

Proud to be White, Even If They are Lost

Posted on by Tom Fleming

At the end of the long history of European imperialism a strange flotsam of white survivors remains in small forgotten communities throughout the globe. Some, like the Baasters of Namibia and the Burghers of Sri Lanka, are descendants of the first conquerors; others, like the Poles of Haiti or the Germans of Jamaica, are relics […]

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Nation and War

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In America, at least as yet, there is nothing to match the bitter controversy that has developed in Britain between town and country. New York or San Francisco are impossibly remote from the vast tracts of Midwestern corn belt or Texan ranch country. The countryside – in so far as one can use the word […]

The Women’s Studies Course at Boulder

Posted on by David Gelber

French philosophical culture is saturated with the idea of le néant, not-being or nullity, conceived not as mere absence or failure to exist but as a positive force of nothingness on which other things can be predicated. We can see it in Sartre’s famous remark that, if Pierre is not present, ‘the absence of Pierre […]

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It All Began in Africa

Posted on by David Gelber

There is a kind of television documentary that relies heavily on invented dialogue to convey information without the use of a narrator. This can work well for that medium. But there is also a kind of book that uses the same device when dealing with historical figures, without any justification at all. The Man Who […]

An Enchanted World

Posted on by David Gelber

The march of mind discredited magic, and even the study of its history was long thought rather infra dig. The grand systematising works produced by Victorian polymaths — notably Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which first appeared in 1890 — became embarrassing dinosaurs. They were exposed by modern anthropologists as naively over-ambitious, bent on reducing […]

They Mistook Kenya for the Home Counties

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Empires are usually travesties of home. On every frontier you can sense the tension: on the one hand, the ‘frontier effect’ draws restless spirits, rebels, outcasts and escapees to open a new kind of society, unfenced or utopian. On the other, cultural baggage piles up: people crave the comforts and recreate the ways of home. […]

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The Nose with a Luminous Dong

Posted on by David Gelber

THOUGH ESSENTIALLY un homme sérieux, I have, as is widely known, from time to time engaged myself in the act of humorous composition. The light-hearted essay containing the jocular (and occasionally waspish!) aperçu has long been a forte of mine, and the list of my contributions to Punch magazine in my Who’s Who entry – […]

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For He was an Englishman

Posted on by David Gelber

It is difficult not to feel that he was a bit of an old rogue,’ Alan Judd confesses about his impressions of Ford Madox Ford. Given the material in this biography one can only agree. Ford was an incorrigible philanderer who charmed a succession of women by his urbanity and humour, and his eccentric yet […]

Up to the Oxters

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Some novels are hard to review, some are easy. Some are so difficult you don’t know where to begin…but, then, a gift: the author saves you the trouble by more or less reviewing the book for you. So here’s how Iain Sinclair (via one of the peripheral characters, to his narrator) sums up Landor’s Tower: […]

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Posted on by David Gelber

It is over fifty years now since Eliot saw in literary criticism ‘a place for quiet, cooperative labour’. In the course of the last year 14 people from the University of Kent, interested in the Victorian novel, sought to put Eliot’s precept into practice by writing a book which, though containing chapters by individuals, would […]

Loathsome Collection

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Simple, uncomplicated loathing, like fine wine and expensive cigars, is one of the unexpected pleasures of middle age. It is often purely visceral — an instinctive and unreasoning dislike of a gesture, a turn of phrase, or a point of view — but it is rare to feel such confidence in your dislike as you […]

Once So Great

Posted on by David Gelber

Hyland’s journey begins and ends in ‘crumbly old layer-cake Lisbon’, and in between he follows the Tagus, lingering over whatever real or metaphorical tributary takes his fancy. When he crosses the river, to Cacilhas, it is a literal rite of passage.

Take it Rafting

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Traditional university teaching in the United States used to include a compulsory course on the history of Western civilisation, starting with the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and proceeding by weekly instalments to the most recent technological triumphs of American genius. This was the staple food of first–year students. Felipe Fernández–Armesto, an Oxford academic with an appetite […]

Ee Bah Gum

Posted on by David Gelber

Yorkshiremen fall into two categories. There are those who, like myself, were born in God’s own county, live in it and intend to die in it; we know who and what we are and do not feel the need to unburden ourselves on the subject to the wider world. Then there are Yorkshiremen in exile. […]

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The Decline and Fall of a Friendship

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Just occasionally, a book is published that transports the reader through time and space to another world. The world in question here is that of Habsburg Mitteleuropa: a place of duels and balls, opera and cafés. It is a rickety, multinational empire of ten languages, and at least twice as many minorities, all ruled over […]

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