Writers with a Cause

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The most obvious problem in writing a history of poison pen letters is that only half the story can be told. Whodunnit and why must often remain a matter of speculation. Even if the culprit is identified, their motive for writing tends to be clouded. What, for example, persuaded the eminently respectable Winifred Simner to […]

Never Lost for Words

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Browsing in the basement archives of Oxford University Press one day in 2015, lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie struck gold – well, lexicographer’s gold. Outwardly, it was only a battered black book tied with a cream ribbon, but it contained the names and addresses of some three thousand volunteers who had contributed to the making of the […]

It’s Not Porn, It’s Literature

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As all authors know, writing about the sex act is a perilous task. This much is, of course, very familiar to readers of Literary Review, the former editor of which, Auberon Waugh, co-founded the magazine’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award in 1993. Waugh aimed to lambast the kind of ‘ham-fisted, otiose, coy, mind-blowingly awful’ sex scenes that were rife in fiction at the

Written in Blood

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Edward Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Library begins with a question. ‘Which books’, he wonders, ‘would inhabit the shelves of the greatest library of literary curiosities, put together by a collector unhindered by space, time and budget?’ It’s a rather flimsy peg on which to hang this ragbag of bibliographical oddities, but no matter. There are enough […]

True to Type

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One day in the summer of 1705, a woman in a black velvet mask knocked on the door of a printer’s shop off London’s Fetter Lane. She brought with her a manuscript entitled The Memorial of the Church of England, Humbly Offer’d to the Consideration of all True Lovers of our Church and Constitution, and […]

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