Sense & Sisterhood

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1843, two years before her death at the age of seventy-two, Cassandra Austen told her brother Charles that she had been ‘looking over & destroying some of my Papers’, but was keeping ‘a few letters & a few Manuscripts of our dear Jane, which I have set apart for those parties to whom I […]

From Barter to Barclays

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Why bother trying to summarise the whole economic history of the world, from the earliest commerce in ancient Mesopotamia to Donald Trump’s trade wars, in a single middleweight volume? The point, I suppose, is to establish, taking the longest possible perspective, what works and what doesn’t: which natural advantages, inventions, political structures and events have […]

Woman of Many Parts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

From her second novel, What Are You Like? (2000), about twin girls separated at birth in Dublin, up to 2007’s Booker-winning The Gathering, in which historical sexual abuse within an Irish family comes to light, Anne Enright’s fictions tended to turn on a buried secret, with a first-person narrator’s thoughts washing over a lifetime’s memories […]

A Fishy Tale

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Wouldn’t married life be dull if spouses couldn’t surprise one another sometimes? Over breakfast one morning, Chen Hang suggests to his wife, Jia Jia, that they take an impromptu holiday, then, with her excitedly packing in the next room, promptly drowns himself in the bath. She peers in, hoping that he might ‘open up to […]

Master Criminals of the Universe

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Sitting in a white leather armchair at a hustings event in June last year, Boris Johnson bragged that he had, more than any other politician, ‘stuck up for the bankers’ in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Earlier, while mayor of London, he described himself as ‘the champion

The Heat is On

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I’ve always had an obsession with lost books, all the ones half written or recovered in pieces,’ says Jenny Offill’s narrator in Weather. That narrator is very like, but not the same as, the narrator of Offill’s previous novel, Dept. of Speculation: she’s a New Yorker, writerly, academic-ish, married with one child, and preoccupied with […]

Rooms with a View

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘The present is more and more the day of the hotel,’ declared Henry James in The American Scene. It still is. We are all hoteliers now, at least potentially. The private two-bed flat competes for custom with James’s Waldorf-Astoria, and the ‘hotel spirit’ – James’s name for the combination of superficial bustle and intense loneliness

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Does She Wear One to Bed?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hats are important. You only have to look at old photographs – say, of visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show in the 1930s: everybody in hats, men and women. Before the war, my grandmother spied Nancy Astor’s daughter in Bond Street without a hat. She agonised over whether to inform Lady Astor of this outrage. […]

About Suffering He Was Never Wrong

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In an earlier life, Toby Ferris was employed as a developer of an immersive video game. He became comfortable working at the intersection of data and imaginative worlds. The game he was trying to create eventually proved too complicated, the alternative, manufactured world’s possibilities being simply too multifarious. Ferris drifted off but took his skills […]

Play It Again, Vlad

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

At the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, Mr Bean famously played a single note repeatedly on an electric keyboard, to the staged fury of the conductor Sir Simon Rattle. Scroll forward two years to the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and you encounter a rather different attempt to capture national […]

Riddle Me This

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Who ordered that?’ Isidor Rabi asked upon the discovery of the muon, a heavyweight cousin to the electron, in 1936. Physicists, still reeling from the twin blows delivered by Einstein’s theory of relativity and the rise of quantum mechanics, had dared to hope they had at least got a handle on the basic building blocks […]

Kids These Days…

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Every month in a small room in central London, I and other members of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) make life-changing decisions that deal with the ethics, legality and treatment of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). These decisions can be agonising, even though, as the UK fertility regulator, we work within a strict set […]

Ladies Who Punch

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Helen Lewis doesn’t come across as a ‘difficult’ woman. She is thoughtful and hard-working, describing here how she sifted through many biographies, letters and archives to write this history of feminist pioneers. Some of this material, such as the memoirs of working-class suffragettes, proved immensely rewarding. Some of it didn’t: Married Love, the magnum opus […]

Jail Broke

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The filmmaker Chris Atkins often steered close to the wind in making documentaries, criticising politicians and the media, and using undercover sting operations to expose the dark side of celebrity culture and tabloid reporting. When he himself got caught and sent to jail for taking part in a tax evasion scheme, perhaps the obvious thing […]

Life Support

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Imagine arriving at an airport to see young pilots slumped in chairs or asleep on the floor, then being jolted awake and having to race through the terminal to take control of their next flight. Far fewer people would contemplate flying. Yet our hospitals are staffed in large part by junior doctors, some only days […]

Out of Lanarkshire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The late journalist Deborah Orr’s moving memoir of her Lanarkshire childhood is about many things but, unwittingly perhaps, it does demonstrate how extremely difficult it is to describe one’s parents. Our perspective is skewed by the very intimacy that should make their personalities reveal themselves clearly to us; unshiftable patterns get in the way as […]

Artists for Hire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The term ‘Company painting’ has been widely used to describe works commissioned from Indian artists by members of the East India Company from the 1770s until 1857. There are all kinds of problems with this label, most notably that it gives priority to the patrons rather than the artists. Not only is this self-evidently


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Among Graham Norton’s guests on his final show of 2019 were the actors Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys and Florence Pugh. Hanks and Rhys were promoting their new film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in which Hanks stars as Fred McFeely Rogers, host of the long-running American children’s show Mister Rogers’

Hutch Ado About Nothing

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In October 1726 some ‘strange, but well attested’ news emerged from Godalming near Guildford. An ‘eminent’ surgeon, a male midwife, had delivered a poor woman called Mary Toft not of a child but of rabbits – a number of them, over a period of several weeks. None of the rabbits, not even a ‘perfect’

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