To the Farmhouse

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

Even today, a move from the city to the country demands more than just practical plans. One must also picture a different kind of life. How might one cope with dark winter evenings? Or adapt to heating with oil and logs in the absence of mains gas? Or fit in with the locals? In 1930, […]

For King & Suffrage

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Had Wendy Moore been writing a novel, she could hardly have invented more fabulous leading characters than Vera ‘Jack’ Holme and Evelina ‘Eve’ Haverfield or have set her narrative in a time of greater drama. It was ‘grand living in the midst of history like this’, one of Jack and Eve’s colleagues wrote in Petrograd […]

Traitor or Humanitarian?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What people remember about Roger Casement is his terrible end. Accused of trying to raise a brigade among Irish prisoners of war with the help of Germany to fight the British in Ireland, he was hanged on 3 August 1916 as a traitor. But the man described by T E Lawrence as having ‘the appeal […]

Who Says Things Can Only Get Duller?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When it comes to Labour leaders of the opposition, Tom Baldwin knows what he’s talking about. For five gruelling and ultimately fruitless years between 2010 and 2015, he was head of communications for the Labour Party and a senior adviser to its leader, Ed Miliband. As a veteran journalist – he has been deputy political […]

Tear Off Those Corsets

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Social historian Jane Robinson is a champion of the hard, unglamorous work of campaigning women. In Hearts and Minds, she drew a vividly exciting picture of the petitions, marches, oratory, passion and steady perseverance that won women the vote. Less interested in the flashy antics of the suffragettes, who have tended to hog the historical […]

Escape to Mecca

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1576, Emperor Akbar’s 52-year-old aunt Gulbadan Begum led a group of royal Mughal ladies from Agra to Mecca, three thousand miles away. It was the only time in the Mughal era that women made an expedition like this. Their journey was eventful, from an unexpected year-long pause in Surat as they waited for travel […]

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There are, I have long suspected, two types of cinephiles: those who think Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a masterpiece and those who think it’s a relentless bore. Early in their new biography of the film director, Kubrick: An Odyssey, Robert P Kolker and Nathan Abrams make clear which camp they belong […]

Her Family & Other Animals

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Barbara Comyns (1907–92) was a true original. The word ‘unique’ was often applied to her writing, along with ‘bizarre’, ‘comic’ and ‘macabre’. Her characteristic tone of faux-naïf innocence was established in her first novel, Sisters by a River (1947), which, as the Chicago Tribune observed in 2015, mixed ‘dispassion, levity and veiled ferocity’. Her friend

Author in Love

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The story of Vivien Leigh and her marriage to Laurence Olivier is already well known from numerous books, not least those written by Olivier himself. Vickers’s account – predictably elegant and stylish – is written very much from Vivien Leigh’s side. Lord Olivier is unlikely to enjoy it at all. Indeed, Vickers makes a point […]

Art of the Personal

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Unless the Autumn smites us with a study of his mother by John Osborne, Ackroyd’s book must be the finest piece of imaginative biography of the year. I use the word imaginative in a cautionary sense because Peter Ackroyd, in order to achieve this book, has perforce had to tackle some unusual obstructions which no […]

Tower of Song

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

For those of us who still start the magazine by scanning the contents for David Remnick’s name, this collection of New Yorker essays on the later years of the great popular musicians may seem a redundant addition to the nightstand. However, the time-distorting accelerations of one’s own later years mean that the New Yorker now […]

He Discovered Who the Conservatives Are

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is possible to appreciate the unique contribution of the third Marquess of Salisbury to English, British (a word he did not use) and world history, without sharing his ‘principles’, as he judged them to be, principles which were often no more than opinions, sometimes no more than prejudices. Some of the opinions were cast […]

A Decent Man, but Fate Bit Him in the Leg

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When R D Laing was thirty-six, he wrote in his diary: ‘I feel I am going to become famous, and receive recognition. Most of my work has not “hit” the public yet. Eventually it will, like the light of a dead star.’ Within a year of that entry, the light of the dead star had […]

A Camera of One’s Own

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I do love you as much as I’m capable of loving anyone,’ the photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905–93) told her most enduring lover, the American-Guyanese sculptor Barbara Roett. Despite there being a 22-year age gap between them, Ker-Seymer spent the last forty years of her long life in a happy relationship with Roett. Somewhat improbably, Ker-Seymer […]

Symphonic Accumulations

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Because the hands of great pianists have tough work to do, their fingers tend to be unalluringly thick and stubby with muscle. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s were an exception, much admired for their slender elegance. Nor did Rachmaninoff cultivate the idiosyncrasies of the virtuoso – the keyboard histrionics and electrified hair of a Liszt or a Paderewski. […]

An Unsociable Socialist

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Few writers have been more hard-working or prolific than George Orwell: alongside six novels and three books of reportage, he bashed out almost four thousand pages of prose for various print media. When he was perilously ill in hospital in 1947, staff had to confiscate his typewriter to prevent him from working. D J Taylor, […]

The Unassuming Despot

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1992, residents of Belgravia found they had a new neighbour: a tall young medical student with a pronounced lisp. He did not socialise a great deal, rarely leaving his spacious apartment, and his interests appeared limited: computer science, listening to Phil Collins and Whitney Houston, ophthalmology. The bodyguards and the large chauffeur-driven black BMW […]

In God He Trusted

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Martin Luther King Jr is today so venerated in America that even conservatives claim him as a fellow traveller. He was a meritocrat, they argue, not a socialist. Were he alive, he would disavow reparations and denounce violent protest. Wary of such claims, Jonathan Eig seeks to set the record straight by expanding it, giving […]

How Pleasant to Know the Old Rip

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Reading these reminiscences one can’t help admiring Sir John Gielgud for still being so stage-struck after all these years. A glittering pageant of hugely individual personalities process across the pages. Gielgud just cannot believe his luck to have met them all. ‘I was lucky enough…’ is his constant refrain. Gielgud was lucky enough to see […]

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A Good Bottle Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The substantial figure of Sir Robert Walpole in Hans Hysing’s famous portrait looks out from the cover of this new biography. His barrel chest is adorned with the badge and ribbon of a Knight of the Garter and he wears the black and gold robes of the First Lord of the Treasury. The face framed […]

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