I read the first volume of James Lees-Milne's edited diaries, Ancestral Voices, which cover the years 1942-43, and was both repelled by his spiky and judgemental personality, and intrigued by his account of social history and the Blitz experience. But the diaries were very edited, and JLM assumed that his readers would understand his allusions … Continue reading Michael Bloch, James Lees-Milne. The Life
This is an early book by Mary Beard, from 2002. It costs a LOT for a slow print on demand order from an online bookshop which doesn’t begin with A, ultimately from Harvard University Press. But it’s worth it, I think, and here are the reasons. If you’re interested in Jane Ellen Harrison, one of … Continue reading Mary Beard, The Invention of Jane Harrison
I went to the Royal Academy's tiny one-room exhibition of Laura Knight a few weeks ago, and was alerted to the fact that she had written a couple of autobiographies, Oil Paint and Grease Paint (1936) and The Magic of a Line (1965). Laura Knight was made a Dame in 1929, and was the first … Continue reading Laura Knight, Oil Paint and Grease Paint
This is a tremendous crime thriller from 1961, that won the Crime Writers' Association Critics' Award for that year. Mary Kelly went on to write more detective novels, but somehow her name has disappeared from sight. Crime fiction historian Martin Edwards says that she stopped writing fiction in her forties, because she chose when and what … Continue reading Mary Kelly, The Spoilt Kill
I must be one of the last people among the middlebrow fanciers to have read Beverley Nichols. He is perfect bedtime reading: light, frivolous, witty, of an earlier period so there won't be anything nasty in the woodshed, and unexpectedly moving. I first noticed his existence in a delightfully poisonous parody in Leonard Russell's immortal … Continue reading The shrine of Beverley Nichols: should one worship?
We’re well past the Labour victory in the post-war general election now, heading towards a Conservative revival in 1951. Notable Conservative novelist Angela Thirkell wrote about this period of British history with loathing and resentment. John Lehmann writes about it in his Foreword to this issue in terms of a strong desire to earn a … Continue reading Penguin New Writing 34: Life in 1948
Some time ago in Penguin New Writing John Lehmann asked for funny stories to print. He also suggested that both women and men would be leaping to their desks at the end of war to write the fiction they’d been bottling up during the war years. None of this is showing in what he’s publishing … Continue reading Penguin New Writing 33: Getting over the war