Alberto Manguel

Simply Hideous

Ugliness: A Cultural History

By

Reaktion Books 240pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Sometime in the 1930s, a wealthy Argentinian matron was strolling in the park of Palermo, in downtown Buenos Aires, when she suddenly noticed an old beggar woman. A notable feature of the park is its rose garden, and the lady delighted in walking there every morning, admiring the colours and the scent of the flowers. The sight of the beggar, with her warty face, yellow teeth and bulbous nose, offended her; therefore, in order not to be forced to see the ugly beggar ever again, she offered her a weekly fee to keep out of the elegant garden. Proud of her action, the curious philanthropist said in the press that she had done it ‘in defence of beauty’. This should not surprise us: in the late 19th century, so-called ‘ugly laws’ in the United States prohibited individuals with physical deformities from visiting public spaces; in a number of American cities, these laws remained in force until the 1970s. However enlightened we might think ourselves, privately or publicly we have deemed ugliness a crime.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,