History taken on trust

Colditz castle, the wartime PoW camp, is enduringly linked to stories of plucky British prisoners attempting to escape. These tales, Ben Macintyre claims in the preface to his new book, comprise the Colditz “myth”, which “has stood unchallenged for more than seventy years”. Colditz: Prisoners of the castle, we are told, is “the real Colditz … Read more

Be careful what you wish for

George Miller is known as one of the supreme action directors, thanks to the Mad Max series, but his new film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, isn’t his first detour from the hyperkinetic road movie. There was Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), an unusual family drama with a medical theme involving a painful combination of triumph and … Read more

Engaging with the enemy

Twenty years ago, in 2002, The Times published a report headlined “Famous family, ignoble secret”. In it, the journalist Maureen Paton described “ambushing”, in her word, the octogenarian Duke of Wellington and quizzing him about his uncle Charles, the fifth Duke, who had died sixty years earlier. The dead Duke had been a member of … Read more

Their becoming careful

In “The Lives of the Obscure”, Virginia Woolf imagines entering a hushed, remote country library and pulling a volume at random from the dusty shelves – the Life of a seventeenth-century woman poet, say, or a Victorian woman of science, some such “stranded ghost” of history. The series of short essays, published in the first … Read more

Imperial ambitions

In June of this year, news services reported that a Chinese housewife named Zhemao had published more than 200 largely fictional articles about Russian history on Wikipedia. She had invented entire battles and a fabulous silver mine located in the (actually existing) town of Kashin. Some contributors to the resulting buzz on social media asked … Read more

Mapping the mayhem

In the Eliad, Priam, the last king of Troy, sneaks into Achilles’ camp to plead for the body of his son Hector, who has been slain in battle. The legend foreshadows one of the core principles of the US Marine Corps: leave no man behind. It also informs Elliot Ackerman’s The Fifth Act, which – … Read more

Beyond Game of Thrones

People in the Middle Ages may not have used the word sex to refer to intercourse, but they had plenty of other terms at their disposal. From Middle English euphemisms such as knowing to the blunt French word footre, medieval people spoke, joked and fretted about sex, using language that ranged from the colourful to … Read more

Colette in translation

I am grateful to Michèle Roberts for having pointed out two small errors in my translation of Colette’s Cheri and The End of Cheri (June 17). Fortunately, such minor errors can and will be easily corrected in future printings. Immeasurably harder to correct would have been deviations from Colette’s famously economical style; But since a … Read more

Get to work

A word in the ear for the aspirant literary journalist: don’t panic, 2022 still has a few good literary anniversaries left in it. Such anniversaries are a perennial source of material for the would-be hack, serving as opportunities for outbursts of iconoclasm, pious reassessments, thinkpieces, long reads – whatever you or your editor wants to … Read more

Elizabeth II in history

Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning sovereign, was a leader of exceptional skill. As a young queen she was cautious and conservative. Her deft handling of the crises that assailed the monarchy in the 1990s strengthened the Crown and her leadership ensured that it remained at the center of national life. As the daughter of the Duke … Read more