Dinah Birch

Dinah Birch is a pro-vice chancellor and professor of English at the University of Liverpool. She has written extensively on John Ruskin, as well as Dickens, Tennyson and the Brontës, and is the general editor of the Oxford Companion to English Literature.

Proper Ghosts: ‘The Monk’

Dinah Birch, 16 June 2016

In the early 1980s​, before hitch-hikers disappeared from the roads, I gave a lift to a couple of teenage Goths on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon. Their cheerful conversation was reassuringly at odds with their get-up (black hair, white faces, silver skulls dangling from their ears). I wondered whether they might see a connection between Hamlet’s nighted colour and their own style,...

Janet Davey​’s books scrutinise contemporary lives, but are reluctant to claim a guiding theme. They are more interested in the failures of intention. The tales they begin to tell meander and lose direction, refusing to crystallise into plot. Her central characters seem baffled by their own histories and motives, and unsettled by those of others. Their misadventures result in no...

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 prejudices of family life start to seem fascinating, or admirable. We hanker after a clearer picture of the vanished men and women who gave rise to our parents’ lives, and our own. As she grows...

Sisters come second: Siblings

Dinah Birch, 26 April 2012

You can’t choose whether or not to have siblings. Many children would change their situation, if they could. Some long for company, others are bent on ridding themselves of rivals. But the connection is often the most enduring of all social relationships. Friends, lovers and spouses come and go. Parents die: children arrive when we’re adults, if at all. But siblings can never be...

‘My father was a wicked man – a very wicked man,’ Charles Dickens’s daughter Kate Perugini wrote. ‘My father did not understand women.’ Yet he was never simply a chauvinist. Though he would not acknowledge women’s independence, he recognised their ambitions outside the home. He admired his musical sister Fanny, and was drawn to Nelly Ternan, who...

Seeing through Fuller

Nicholas Penny, 30 March 1989

It has been respectable for some while now to admit to being bored by the huge, flat, ‘pure’ abstracts on the white walls of the museums of modern art. And yet non-representational...

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