There’s nowt so hard as fops

spectators-print-shop
© Trustees of the British Museum. (This version cropped.)

We tend to think of fops as weak, coddled, over-groomed, and lacking in mettle. A man wearing make-up, a powdered wig and silks, speaking with an affected drawl and striking artful poses; a woman with towering hair and a lapdog, fanning herself with infinite boredom and leisure. The 18th-century gentry must have been be soft, lacking in grit, surely? Continue reading

The Inheritors by William Golding

Golding-InheritorsThe Inheritors by William Golding. My review for Nudge.

A chewy but fascinating and impressive prehistorical novel by the author of Lord of the Flies. Golding himself thought it his best.

Read the full review on Nudge


‘The people’ are returning from their winter quarters by the sea. They are troubled by a sense of ‘other’. The familiar landscape has changed and there are signs and shadows that worry them. One by one they meet the new thing, something beyond their understanding.

A reasonable amount of healthy dirt

Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position.

Robertson Davies 1951 Tempest-Tost (part one of the Salterton Trilogy)


Davies’ work is published by Penguin. Read an interview with him in Paris Review here. See what he has to say about gulls here.

Return to yesterday: an historical perspective on terrorism

In the late 19th century terrorism and unrest were commonplace in parts of Europe and the United States. Anarchists were the main bogeymen, though there were numerous violently progressive movements, each hating the others. Anarchists were a mysterious and little understood underground, haunting the popular imagination, much written about in the newspapers and in novels and stories, both feared and fascinating. There was a certain dark glamour and they terrified beyond any rational danger. There were many, many more likely causes of death, but there is something intimidating about someone desiring your death impersonally, and apparently not fearing their own. We feel this now as much as then, and it’s as well to get some perspective. Continue reading

A strange Hitlerian interlude

young hitler
He’s in the middle. No one at his school liked him. He met his first and only friend at the opera in his late teens.

Hitler once had a friend, of sorts: August ‘Gustl’ Kubizek. In the 1950s Kubizek wrote a memoir of young Adolf, a careful but somewhat sentimental and admiring one.

For a vital phase during the early years of his life, his late teenage years in Linz and Vienna, when we otherwise have tantalisingly little to go on, Hitler had a personal—and exclusive —friend, who later composed a striking account of the four years of their close companionship. This friend was August Kubizek. His account is unique in that it stands alone in offering insights into Hitler’s character and mentality for the four years between 1904 and 1908. It is unique, too, in that it is the only description from any period of Hitler’s life provided by an undoubted personal friend—even if that friendship was both relatively brief and almost certainly one-sided. For, like everyone else who came into contact with Hitler, Kubizek would soon learn that friends, like others, would be dropped as soon as they had served their purpose.

Ian Kershaw, Preface, The Young Hitler I Knew

Continue reading

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov (translated Bryan Karetnyk)

The Spectre of Alexander WolfThe Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov (translated Bryan Karetnyk). My review for Nudge. When is someone you killed dead? Mystery, guilt, love, philosophy, and death in a very Russian thriller. Read the full review on Nudge


The opening is an almost conventional attention-grabbing shocker: ‘Of all my memories, of all my life’s innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed.’ From then on it’s quite different. Not immediately, urgently, collar-shakingly different, but different from the opening, and different from other books.

School, war, and disaffection

CSLewis
C S Lewis, scholar and author of the Narnian children’s stories, served in the Royal Artillery 1917–18, and was seriously wounded. He joined the Home Guard in 1940 as a middle-aged man.

It’s natural for us to assume that the Great War was not just a formative experience, but the formative experience for anyone who fought in it. We also tend to assume that the experience was disillusioning at best, and psychologically ruinous at worst. The truth is, unsurprisingly, more subtle and varied. Continue reading

Partners in the hazard of life

Otago_bark_1869-2The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad’s book about people, ships and the sea, is full of good things, even if you’re only really interested in people. For Conrad, the sea was a mirror in which we could see ourselves. Here he discusses handling ships and dealing with people — this passage is what I used to think about when being trained in communication and the like on work courses. Continue reading