Singing while they worked

The history of Irish women’s writing is one of successive forgettings and retrievals. A notable flashpoint came in 1991, with the publication of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, whose first three volumes, edited by Seamus Deane, attracted criticism for their meager representation of writing by women. Another two volumes were published with the … Read more

Persian versions

“There are certain areas of scholarship”, wrote Iris Murdoch in The Nice and the Good, “early Greek history is one and Roman law is another, where the scantiness of evidence sets a special challenge to the disciplined mind. It is a game with very few pieces, where the skill of the player lies in complicating … Read more

A moat defensive to a house

A teacher once warned me, always trust geography, never history. Geography was truth, history a pack of distortions. Yet geography has long been an academic underdog. To the Greeks of Ptolemy and Strabo’s day it was the queen of sciences, the study of reality, only to be suppressed by a thousand years of theology. The … Read more

In concert, in conflict

Daniil Trifonov’s walk to the piano on the concert platform of the Maison Symphonique in Montreal was the most expressive I’ve seen. Averted from the audience, not acknowledging our applause, he seemed to convey an air of suffering. His current appearance intensified the effect: a slender young man, he is heavily bearded, with long, straight … Read more

It ought to have been happy

“Poguemahone” is the anglicized form of the Gaelic phrasepóg mo thóin, meaning “kiss my ass”. Choosing it as the title of his latest book may be Patrick McCabe’s way of pre-empting his critics although, with fourteen other books to his name and a solid reputation, he surely has little left to prove. Thirty years ago … Read more

Songes and sonnettes

In The Merry Wives of Windsor the uninspiring suitor Slender is planning his courtship of Anne Page. He calls for a particular book: “I had rather than forty shillings I had my book of Songs and Sonnets here”. He refers to the book most often known now as “Tottel’s Miscellany”. While its invocation here allows … Read more

Keeping it real

Modern times are, for medievalists, difficult times. A few months ago, a book was published called The Bright Ages: A new history of medieval Europe. Its authors, Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry, set out their stall at once: “Our story is one that escapes the myth of the ‘Dark Ages’ … Shifting our perspective … Read more

The rest of the iceberg

There are many myths about writing. One is that the main challenge is to put words together in a way that is both beautiful and grammatically correct. A variation of this myth is that writing is primarily about plot, or argument, or form, or some easily discernible element of the final work. Focusing on the … Read more

Bennett and Woolf

Margaret Drabble says that “the question of class is at the heart of the opposition of [Virginia] Woolf and [Arnold] Bennett, and it has little to do with feminism” (May 13), and this might well seem so to any reader of the well-known essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”, with its certainly “embarrassing” portrait of … Read more