Biography & Memoir

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s Allure

Lucy Wooding

8 February 2024

There’s a voyeuristic quality to so many of the discussions of Anne’s rise and fall, since it was allegedly her sexual allure that made her queen and her sexual licence that led to her death. The compulsion to clothe the bare facts of historical evidence in sumptuous layers of invented emotion frequently brings the descriptions close to caricature.

Read more about Whip with Six Strings: Anne Boleyn’s Allure

Morality without the Metaphysics

Jonathan Rée

8 February 2024

None of us can fully disengage from morality: even if we think of ourselves as free spirits we still want our lives to make a good story. But many are foolish enough to be impressed by the cynical bravado . . .

Watching the Snooker

Jon Day

8 February 2024

It​ wasn’t immediately obvious, arriving at Alexandra Palace, that there was a sporting event taking place. The men (they were nearly all men) queuing up outside looked as if they might be there for . . .

On the poet Molly Brodak

Patricia Lockwood

25 January 2024

Molly Brodak​ stood at the side of my bed, unscrolling her long life like a nightgown. Nearly forty years was long. She had died on 8 March 2020, and now her husband, the novelist Blake Butler, had . . .

Hilda Matheson’s Voice

Rosemary Hill

25 January 2024

The catastrophe​ of the First World War was, for many women, ‘pure liberation’. The words are those of the novelist E.M. Delafield, whose Diary of a Provincial Lady was the ancestor of Bridget Jones . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

At its best, our relationship was rather like the one between Dame Edna and her feeble sidekick Madge – or possibly Stalin and Malenkov. Sontag was the Supremo and I the obsequious gofer. Whenever she came to San Francisco, usually once or twice a year, I instantly became her female aide-de-camp.

Read more about Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Memoirs of a Pet Lamb

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

I cannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on boat-race day where a lady had kindly asked whether I was Oxford or Cambridge. I had answered: ‘I’m a Jew.’

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

Read more about The Old Devil and his wife

Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

Read more about Too Close to the Bone

Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

Read more about Paul de Man’s Abyss

The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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Hooted from the Stage: Living with Keats

Susan Eilenberg, 25 January 2024

Keats was deeply interested in suffering. He came by it naturally and also medically; sometimes it appeared as an impulse towards poetic tragedy. He wants what he has always wanted, to soothe pain. If...

Read more about Hooted from the Stage: Living with Keats

Wheatley’s writing was the supposed product of her leisure time rather than her enslaved labour. She imitated white aesthetics while drawing attention to her Blackness in ways that mixed humility with...

Read more about Victory by Simile: Phillis Wheatley’s Evolution

Teachers, classmates, relatives would remember Mansfield as ‘completely self-centred’, ‘careless’, ‘lazy’, ‘impatient’, ‘the last child in the world they ever expected to become a writer’,...

Read more about I behave like a fiend: Katherine Mansfield’s Lies

Mainly Puddling: Thomas Carlyle’s Excesses

Stefan Collini, 14 December 2023

By​ 1875 the eighty-year-old Thomas Carlyle was ready to die. In fact, he was rather looking forward to death, at least officially, more than once referring to it as ‘release’. To...

Read more about Mainly Puddling: Thomas Carlyle’s Excesses

In the crisis-ridden 1930s, Hughes was happy to combine the roles of activist, foreign correspondent and purveyor of agitprop verse. His most inventive and original poetry, however, had other sources,...

Read more about Daddy, ain’t you heard? Langston Hughes’s Journeys

Diary: David’s Presence

Gale Walden, 2 November 2023

Even before he died, I avoided telling people I knew David Foster Wallace. If they knew who he was, they wanted to know details about him. I became a secondary character, as women often are. 

Read more about Diary: David’s Presence

Go to Immirica: Hate Mail

Dinah Birch, 21 September 2023

Sending venom through the post, rather than using email or social media, today appears an old-fashioned gesture. The laptop provides easier options. Yet abusive letters haven’t altogether gone away,...

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Disappearing Ink: Life of a Diplomat

Tom Stevenson, 10 August 2023

Diplomats are often quite isolated from the societies to which they are posted. Their central task is not statecraft but the promotion of their country’s ‘interests’ – reducible to the arms industry...

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Russian Podunks

Michael Hofmann, 29 June 2023

Konstantin Paustovsky’s fiction tends to be set in public and among strangers, so that one is tempted to think: ‘Aha, the great frieze of society,’ or ‘Is this perhaps social realism?’ But that’s...

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Fill in the Blanks: On Army Forms

Jonathan Sawday, 29 June 2023

A. 2042 was designed to be sent to family or friends at home by those on active service. It began by warning that ‘nothing is to be written on this side’ other than the sender’s signature and the...

Read more about Fill in the Blanks: On Army Forms

María Gainza’s idea is that absorption is only one kind of attention: becoming distracted in the course of looking at something might be a sign of meaningful engagement. It’s when María’s mind...

Read more about Renée kept a crocodile: ‘Portrait of an Unknown Lady’

Derek Parfit’s approach isn’t designed to get us to appreciate the mysterious, awe-inspiring significance of procreation and death in human life; it is simply the springboard for a new puzzle in moral...

Read more about Non-Identity Crisis: Parfit’s Trolley Problem

Into Oblivion: The Biafra Conflict

Adéwálé Májà-Pearce, 1 June 2023

History was expunged from the national school curriculum more than a decade ago because, it was claimed, there was no interest in it. Evidently, the political establishment continues to fear that knowledge...

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Belonging to No Nation

Abigail Green, 2 March 2023

As Jessica Marglin argues, the Shamama case offers an ‘insight into the way legal belonging was proved – not only in the Shamama lawsuit but in countless cases both before and since: as a narrative’....

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On Tom Nairn

Neal Ascherson, 16 February 2023

Unlike Althusser’s, Tom Nairn’s Marxism would grow almost unrecognisably open and eclectic. Many on the left never forgave him for writing that ‘the theory of nationalism represents Marxism’s great...

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Opium of the Elite: Hayek in England

Jonathan Rée, 2 February 2023

Markets were, as Friedrich Hayek put it with uncharacteristic exuberance, a ‘marvel’, co-ordinating economic decisions in ‘a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully...

Read more about Opium of the Elite: Hayek in England

Isaac Deutscher’s contributions to Workers’ Fight in 1940 fall short of an unambiguous rejection of revolutionary defeatism; it is possible that Tamara Deutscher altered her husband’s words, but...

Read more about I must start completely alone: Isaac Deutscher runs into trouble

Not Even a Might-Have Been: Chips’s Adventures

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 19 January 2023

To accuse Henry ‘Chips’ Channon of snobbery or social climbing is almost absurd: society was what gave his life meaning, and it’s thanks to his fascination with the rich and the grand that he left...

Read more about Not Even a Might-Have Been: Chips’s Adventures

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