Alison Light

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

Oh those Lotharios: Jean Lucey Pratt

Alison Light, 17 March 2016

The​ early entries in Jean Lucey Pratt’s journals brought to mind Cecily’s diary in The Importance of Being Earnest, where Wilde sends up, among other things, the predictable script of boy meets girl. Long before she knows Algernon, Cecily has charted the progress of their romance in her diary, but when they meet, and Algernon falls instantly in love as planned, Cecily...

Unruly Sweet Peas: Working-Class Gardens

Alison Light, 18 December 2014

Lampy​, just a couple of inches tall, is the last of his tribe, and is now immured in a glass cabinet a long way from his German homeland. He was one of the porcelain Gnomen-Figuren brought to Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire in the 1840s to populate the huge rockery, fissured with crevices and ravines, which Sir Charles Isham created in front of his bedroom window. The rockery reflected...

Diary: Wiltshire Baptists

Alison Light, 8 April 2010

The village of Shrewton lies in the valley of the River Till, overshadowed by chalk escarpments, about four miles from Stonehenge. One of my ancestors, Charles Light, was the pastor of the Zion Chapel, a Baptist church there, in the second half of the 19th century. Charles’s younger brother, Henry, was also a Baptist minister, preaching in Chitterne, the next village. His son, another...

Lady Talky: Lydia Lopokova

Alison Light, 18 December 2008

Why does she want the red shoes? She wants to be special and she wants to be looked at. In Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale, Karen, a peasant girl, goes barefoot in summer and in winter wears wooden clogs that rub her feet raw, but the mirror tells her she’s lovely and she thinks that wearing the red shoes will make her feel like a princess. Like selfish Heidi and tomboy Katy, Karen is a mid-19th century girl crippled by egotism. The shoes force her to dance non-stop and to display herself ‘wherever proud and vain children live’. Though it seems simply a punitive response to female narcissism, this is a Christian morality tale intended to warn against the sin of self-love. Karen is cast out of her community and her church; she has her feet hacked off, and the story ends with her repentance. What we remember, though, is not the final image of her blissful reunion with God but the red shoes, with the little feet still in them, going on dancing. Shoes were a homely and powerful symbol of status for Andersen, the son of a cobbler, a lonely, ungainly outsider. He was greedy for fame yet tormented by guilt at his success; ‘The Red Shoes’ inflicts a cruel comeuppance on exhibitionists and social climbers like himself.

Diary: In Portsmouth

Alison Light, 7 February 2008

Fortitude Cottage in Old Portsmouth, so the publicity tells me, is named after HMS Fortitude, a 74-gun ‘ship of the line’ that was part of the fleet which took on the French in the Napoleonic Wars. A tall bow-fronted house, it’s a bed and breakfast done out ‘boutique-style’, with white duvets, chocolate suede furnishings and modern ceramics. It was built on the...

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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