Author Archives: Frank Brinkley

Priests on the Run

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The past offers many examples of men and women who used impersonation to exploit a power they were otherwise denied. In the 1620s, the Spanish soldier Antonio de Erauso was revealed to be a woman who for decades had enjoyed the freedoms accorded to men. Three centuries later, Stanley Clifford Weyman passed himself off as […]

The View from Across the Channel

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

History tends not to come with serving suggestions, but it does make a lot of difference where you choose to slice it. In the case of early modern England, the knife usually falls around 1603, between the flamboyance of the Tudor era and the dysfunction and disaster of the Stuarts. Clare Jackson, however, has served […]

How Philology Changed the World

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Historians sometimes have an infuriating tendency to write as if only a single thing can be happening at once. In my field, the intellectual history of the early modern age, this has manifested itself as a tripartite separation of the period into Renaissance (15th–16th centuries), scientific revolution or Cartesian age of reason (17th century) and […]

Paradise Reimagined

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Making Darkness Light is not a conventional biography, though it begins with John Milton’s birth in December 1608 and ends with his death in November 1674. Joe Moshenska is a professor of English literature at Oxford University and he acknowledges early on in the book the long hours he has spent, as he puts it, […]

The Eternal Emigrant

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the two decades since he died, at the wheel of his car, in December 2001, W G Sebald has grown into one of the most influential writers of our times. His presence has proliferated in extraordinary ways. Not just in literature but also in photography, cinema and visual art, the Sebaldian approach to looking […]

Man of Lettrisme

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In one sense, Isidore Isou had been predicting the events of May 1968 for nearly two decades. The Romanian-French artist and poet, founder of the avant-garde lettriste movement, had been calling for an uprising of the youth since 1949, when he and his followers plastered the Left Bank with posters declaring, ‘12,000,000 YOUTHS WILL TAKE THE STREETS TO MAKE THE LETTRISTE REVOLUTION

Letting Go of God

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Are you religious?’ and ‘Do you believe in God?’ are notoriously difficult questions to answer. The problem, of course, is that one is not sure what is being asked, and especially what is meant by ‘religious’ and ‘God’. Must one even believe in God, in whatever sense of the term, in order to be religious? Could not an atheist-, someone who is not merely agnostic about the existence of a deity but who positively denies that there is any such thing, nonetheless sincerely and legitimately claim to be a religious person? In her wonderful new book, Spinoza’s Religion, Clare Carlisle addresses these questions from the perspective of

When the Saints Went Marching In

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Many of the most famous old masters in our museums were once altarpieces, or parts of dismembered and partially destroyed altarpieces. The National Gallery owns the second version of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, along with two flanking panels painted by workshop assistants showing angels. The narrative relief sculptures that completely surrounded Leonardo’s panel were […]

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From Swinish Luxury to Socialism?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Twenty-five years ago, the V&A marked the centenary of William Morris’s death with a major exhibition of his work. It was accompanied by an exquisite catalogue, expertly edited by Linda Parry, the doyenne of William Morris studies. Equally revealing on Morris the pioneering designer, popular poet, businessman and radical political activist, the exhibition was a […]

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Winter in Bohemia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One of the most stunning paintings on display at Hampton Court Palace is the Embarkation at Margate of the Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth by Adam Willaerts (1623). It depicts a resplendent crowd of courtiers bidding farewell in 1613 to James VI and I’s daughter Elizabeth and her new husband, Frederick V, Elector Palatine, as […]

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Queen

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Throughout history, the royal family has used spies to gather intelligence. During the 20th century, the intelligence services grew and their relationship with the monarchy became close. The royal family and the intelligence services have much in common. Both are small and secretive, and both are frequently the subjects of conspiracy theories. In their new […]

The King Who Lost America

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If George III is Britain’s most misunderstood monarch, he is also one of the best known, thanks to Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III, which served as the basis for Nicholas Hytner’s much better film adaptation (titled The Madness of King George, allegedly to reassure any Americans fearing they might have missed two prequels). A smash hit with

Caught Between Two Empires

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Events in Hong Kong over recent years have given rise to a flurry of books examining politics in the former British colony. Michael Sheridan’s highly readable The Gate to China offers a substantial history of Hong Kong from its early days as a colony to the aftermath of the violent and widely reported unrest in […]

Actium in the Age of Plastic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Armchair travellers, be warned. You’ll find that you’ve come to the end of the road before your journey’s even begun, and if you expected a feast of beauty, you’ll find the harpies have swooped in and dropped their shit all over it. This book is a lament for a poisoned planet. On Metamorfosi beach, Peter […]

Fear & Loathing in the Himalayas

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the summer of 2020, soldiers from China and India engaged in unarmed combat in an icy Himalayan river. Some of the men used rocks to crush their opponents’ heads and, according to one version, the Chinese pushed Indian captives off a cliff. At least twenty Indian soldiers and four Chinese were killed. For a couple of reasons, this highly newsworthy clash between two nuclear powers received scant

He’s Probably Not Going to Be Your Pal

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Who is Peter Thiel and why does he matter? The answer, according to this book’s blurb, is that he’s a US-based technology investor and political-campaign funder who wields behind-the-scenes influence on ‘countless aspects of contemporary life’. While some American readers may know what Thiel looks like and even think of him as a role model, […]

1921: A Space Odyssey

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

John von Neumann is widely regarded by scientists as the greatest genius born in the 20th century. A combination of his intellect and his Hungarian origins (he started life, in 1903, as Neumann János Lajos) led colleagues jokingly to refer to him as a Martian or a time traveller from the future. He made seminal […]

Fashion & Fascism

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Miss Dior is a follow-up to Justine Picardie’s fine biography of the celebrated French couturier, Coco Chanel. Near the beginning of the book, Picardie, a former editor of Harper’s Bazaar UK, explains that she was invited to write a life of Christian Dior (a designer once memorably described by Cecil Beaton as resembling a bashful […]

Unquiet American

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The release of Chips Channon’s unexpurgated diaries is one of the great joys of 2021. They are diffuse, sometimes repetitive, with moments of banality. Passages of fine writing are juxtaposed with occasional drunken scrawls. Yet their editor, Simon Heffer, is right to reproduce the text in near-entirety. This is an unmatched source for mid-20th-century Westminster […]

How the Red Wall Turned Blue

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Broken Heartlands, Sebastian Payne, Whitehall editor of the Financial Times, takes a road trip around ten constituencies in the north and the Midlands to work out why traditionally Labour-voting areas switched to supporting the Old Etonian, Oxford-educated Boris Johnson en masse in the December 2019 election (‘beats me’, is the prime minister’s characteristically complacent […]

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