Alison Light

Alison Light’s essay collection Inside History will come out in the autumn.

In the summer​ of 1934, after finishing her English degree at Oxford, Barbara Pym drafted a comic novel. Sending up her closest friends, she cast the arrogant fellow graduate she was in love with as a self-centred cleric, Archdeacon Hoccleve, given to complaining loudly about his wife and numbing his congregation with abstruse sermons. Pym and her sister, Hilary, became Belinda and Harriet...

Afront page story​ for the Sunday Pictorial in February 1938 was headlined: ‘“Ghost” Wrecks Home. Family Terrorised.’ A recent series in the Sunday Pic, as it was known, had invited readers to share their supernatural experiences. Almost a thousand of them wrote in. Alma Fielding, a 34-year-old housewife from the South London suburb of Thornton Heath, rang the paper...

CharlesBooth’s survey of London poverty was an epic Victorian undertaking. Beginning in the late 1880s with East London, Booth and his army of investigators launched a systematic study which went on to cover nearly all of the metropolis, then the largest in the world with around four million inhabitants. The accounts of their walks around London filled 450 notebooks. They visited...

Thevast majority of those who worked in service never set foot in a stately home. The country house, with its uniformed staff and rigid hierarchy, looms large in the British imagination, but the experience of service in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was far more mundane and far more various. Most servant-keeping households employed only a cook and a maid or a single...

Diary: Raphael Samuel

Alison Light, 2 February 2017

In his basement kitchen​ Raphael Samuel had a cabinet of curiosities, a glass-fronted corner cupboard filled with dusty objects. Among them, a lump of coal from the Durham coalfields and a plastic National Coal Board mug; a yellow and black theatre programme for a 1956 performance of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, with Mack the Knife sketched on the cover as a predatory city...

The Iron Way: Family History

Dinah Birch, 19 February 2015

Children​ often envy orphans. But the appeal of stories of parentless heroes who are free to make their own luck fades as the fluid possibilities of youth harden into adulthood. The quirks and...

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Ann Fleming once remarked that she was so depressed that ‘last night I would have put my head in the gas oven, if I wasn’t too frightened of the cook to go into the kitchen.’...

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Lever-Arch Inquisitor

John Barrell, 29 October 1998

When Raphael Samuel died, the second volume of his projected trilogy Theatres of Memory was left unfinished. Some of the longer essays it was intended to contain were unwritten or unannotated or...

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