"I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.” Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall
Author Archive
Cloak and dagger à la Russe

Cloak and dagger à la Russe

The family of Governor Yegor von Rasimkara, we are told early in Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer, have only one defect all told: that of “belonging to an era that must pass” – in order to make room for the one impatiently keen to take its place. A generally endearing walrus of a father in...
A total portrait of the artist as an absence

A total portrait of the artist as an absence

Elena Ferrante is traditional in the most radical, boundary-dissolving ways; conventional with subversive fervour and delicately powerful talent. In Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey she proves above all the invincible strength of her authorial translucence, the rock-solid presence of her so-called anonymity, which she invariably corrects as being a determined gesture of absence. The word frantumaglia,...
Steven Uhly: A life of encounters

Steven Uhly: A life of encounters

The chance to converse with Steven Uhly is not just a meeting but a real and even formative encounter, a moment of wisdom, laughter, serious and relaxed humanity. He is someone with a very distinct presence, ineradicable and self-effacing at the same time, poetic and materially concrete. He exudes indomitable strength and very serene, reflective...
An unfailing life

An unfailing life

On 29 April 1937 Virginia Woolf read one of her texts on the radio, the only recording of her voice known to have survived from a total of three BBC radio broadcasts. This highly introspective essay on the craftsmanship of writing was entitled ‘Words Fail Me’; four years later, almost to the day, Woolf would...
Vagrant tales

Vagrant tales

Before Greece embraced modernity and its marvels, it was a nation of stark realities and pernickety sprites. Lore and legend held as much validity as did hard facts in the popular imagination, but also in the synthesis of what was no less than a national soul. Sprites, trolls, crones, harridans and ogres, with innumerable names,...
Wraiths of neither good nor evil

Wraiths of neither good nor evil

With the hindsight of history, with the raw, stinging feeling on the skin of one’s conscience of the viciousness and harrowing desolation that was spawned by Nazi rule and WWII, it may seem that there was for Germany a distinct separation between a brutal, all-obliterating moment of total guilt and a redeeming ‘moment after’ of...
The hydra of memory and forgetting

The hydra of memory and forgetting

“If you have no wounds, how can you know you are alive?” wrote Edward Albee in 1998’s The Play About the Baby. Steven Uhly’s Kingdom of Twilight could be said to be all about physical, psychological and historical wounds and about the true meaning of knowing oneself to be alive – the true worth of...
Timely and timeless books

Timely and timeless books

Book browsing in a bookshop is as much an art as it is a way of life. Here is my trawl through some rather beautiful children’s books, with delighted thanks to Hatchards and Waterstones Piccadilly, for being not only shops but especially worlds of books, with wonderfully rich departments dedicated specifically to children.   Seasonal...
Reclaiming both past and future

Reclaiming both past and future

Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch – it is barbaric to write verses after Auschwitz – is Theodor Adorno’s famous, massively quoted and frequently misunderstood 1951 declaration about the state, the potential and the responsibility of a life of the mind, of the voice of any spirit and intellect, after what Joseph Roth...
Berlin by twilight

Berlin by twilight

“Who in all the world goes to Berlin voluntarily?” wrote Joseph Roth in The Wandering Jews in 1926–27. For him, as for so many others who were acutely attuned to the particular dissonances of a global order in turmoil, Berlin represented the metaphorical and real space of a harrowing existential predicament: the new paradigm for...