James Hall

High Minds, Low Lives

The Ugly Renaissance


Hutchinson 592pp £25 order from our bookshop

The purported motive for Alexander Lee’s spasmodically impressive and frequently pantomimic Ugly Renaissance is his conviction that historians and tour guides are serving up an idealised Apollonian image of the Renaissance, and that the seething Dionysian underbelly has been airbrushed and repressed.

It is certainly true that there have been saccharine, soft-focus versions of the Renaissance, but the bowdlerisers have generally been in the minority. The Reformation saw to that, for Protestants, with tireless glee, excoriated the debauchery, nepotism and greed of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, and the warmongering Pope Julius II, whose European-wide sale of indulgences to finance the new St Peter’s inspired Martin Luther’s ‘theses’ (and Erasmus’s dialogue Julius Excluded from Heaven). In the late 16th century we get the birth of Machiavellian man, a secular version of the godless prelates, and ‘Machiavel’ has never gone away. Even in the heyday of the grand tour, with the English upper classes descending on Italy in droves to complete their cultural (and erotic) education, cowled Italian priests – the first hoodies –

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,