After #MeToo

Virginie Despentes, whose books have sold upwards of a million and a half copies in France, prefers dramatic landscapes to the flatness of the everyday. Her pseudonym (she was born Virginie Daget), literally means “of the slopes”, reflecting a vertiginous literary sensibility, displayed throughout an oeuvre strewn with breakdowns, relapses, murders and other forms of … Read more

Boswell to Johnson

At the heart of Darryl Pinckney’s memoir is a portrait of the essayist and novelist Elizabeth Hardwick, by whom Pinckney was taught at Columbia in the 1970s – or “Professor Hardwick”, as he still calls her, long after she has become a friend. The result is almost a biography by stealth of Hardwick as mentor, … Read more

Audible cheesecake?

Music puzzled by Charles Darwin. “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary habits of life”, he wrote in The Descent of Man (1871), “they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.” He … Read more

Through a Burmese lens

Was George Orwell, as commonly held and as he usually portrayed himself, a staunch anti-imperialist? And are the sources of that attitude best found in his experience as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma? That is the main claim of this short but sharp and perceptive book by Douglas Kerr. “The five … Read more

Limits to liberalism

Vernon Bogdanor’s The Strange Survival of Liberal Britain explores the roots of the modern British political system in what the author considers to be the foundational period of modern politics, the years between 1895 and 1914. The result is an epic narrative, but not an entirely coherent one. There is much to admire here, such … Read more

The jewel in James II’s crown

Max Beerbohm cheekily divided Henry James’s development as a writer into three dynastic periods: James the First, James the Second and the Old Pretender. Containing nine stories written and published after James had achieved success with Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Ladythis new volume in the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fictions of … Read more

What Catherine knew

I have tried to read over Washington Square& I can’tand I fear it must go!”, Henry James wrote to his friend Robert Herrick in 1905. James was preparing the New York Edition of his novels and tales, from which Washington Square was excluded, along with some other novels largely from the same period of his … Read more

You must write it

The pioneering BBC World Service programme Caribbean Voices, which ran from 1943 to 1958, enabled figures such as Derek Walcott, Sam Selvon and Sylvia Wynter to share early work. For the writer Colin Grant, the website WritersMosaic – of which he is the director – in some ways resembles a Caribbean Voices for a digital … Read more

Omar Pound

Austin Briggs (Letters, November 18) writes that Omar Shakespear Pound (1926-2010) was not Ezra Pound’s “biological” son, although Pound signed his birth certificate in Paris and declared him to be a US citizen. In a letter to Hugh Kenner on April 3, 1969 (Questioning Minds: The letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, 2018: II, … Read more

Easy does it

In 1986 McDonald’s opened in Rome. The decision to plant its golden arches on Piazza di Spagna met with fierce opposition. Among the most eloquent protesters was Carlo Petrini, a culinary journalist and sometime activist in Italy’s Proletarian Unity Party, who denounced the way big business was impinging on his fellow citizens’ appreciation of the … Read more