The former bishop of Edinburgh considers old age an opportunity for self-examination, in a book enriched by its breadth of cultural reference
Richard Holloway had his first taste of mortality in his 20s, when he started going bald. Though no narcissist, he hated the hair loss, and tried to reverse it with pills, then disguise it with an artful comb-over, before cropping the whole lot off. As he says, baldness is not a terminal disease but he thinks of it as “good preparation for ageing and death, the skeleton being the ultimate baldy”. Just as he grew to accept his baldness then, so now, at 80, he has come to accept that he won’t be around for ever.
For most of us, such acceptance doesn’t come easy. Humankind cannot bear very much reality: don’t ask for whom the bell tolls and maybe it won’t. What Holloway acronymises as AAPD – ...
Harper Lee never wanted Go Set a Watchman brought out, Sylvia Plath’s diary was burned by Ted Hughes – the controversial world of literary legacies
When a writer is born into a family, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz said, that family is finished. Yes, but when a writer dies that family’s troubles have only just begun. Wills may be contradictory and instructions to literary executors confused. Works left behind on computers or in desk drawers may be of uncertain status: were they intended for publication or not? And if the writer is famous enough, there’ll be biographers to deal with: can they be trusted to paint a kindly portrait? In their lifetime, authors have a measure of control. Once they’re gone, it’s left to others to guard their reputations.
The vigilance can be fierce, with the appointed custodians (whether spouses, children, lawyers, agents, editors or friends) not so much keepers ...
This fragmented history contains a wealth of fascinating information and is at its best when the author gets personal
Is Yorkshire England’s greatest county? With an area of nearly 12,000 sq km, much greater than Sussex, Surrey and Kent combined, it’s certainly the largest. Thanks to conurbations such as Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford, it’s also the most populous outside Greater London. And none can match its claim to heavenly dispensation (“God’s own country”). But other aspects of Yorkshire are less great. The proverbial wisdom associated with Tykes – “’Ear all, see all, say nowt; / Eat all, sup all, pay nowt. / An’ if ivver tha does owt fer nowt – / Allus do it for thissen” – celebrates parsimony, narrow-mindedness and self-interest. And then, if you are a remainer, there was Brexit. In June 2016, only three out of 21 Yorkshire districts voted remain; Hull, for instance – once famous as ...
In this fascinating, demanding book, a famous Church of Scotland case from the 1980s takes the literary critic up various personal and intellectual paths
Should a murderer be allowed to serve as a minister of the church? Is such a person suitable to conduct marriages, open coffee mornings and suffer little children to come to them? Such were the questions facing the Church of Scotland in 1984, when a licence was sought by James Nelson, who after his release from prison on parole, having served a 10-year sentence, had studied divinity at St Andrews and taken up preaching. With the tabloids closely following the story (Nelson, not averse to publicity, had given an interview to the Glasgow Herald the year before), the Kirk’s General Assembly knew it would be criticised, whatever its decision. But after a three-hour debate, by 622 votes to 425, with a courage it’s hard to imagine ...
Flamboyant, illegitimate and self taught, he was unreliable and an unashamed self-publicist. He was also one of the most gifted and inventive men in history
In 1501, desperate for Leonardo to paint her portrait, the immensely rich Isabella d’Este employed a friar to act as go-between. The friar met Leonardo in Florence but found his lifestyle “irregular and uncertain” and couldn’t pin him down. “Mathematical experiments have absorbed his thoughts so entirely that he cannot bear the sight of a paintbrush,” Isabella was told. With promises he’d get round to it eventually, Leonardo kept her dangling for another three years. Pushy to the end, she changed tack and asked him for a painting of Jesus instead. Even then, he didn’t come up with the goods.
The story encapsulates contrasting versions of Leonardo that have been in play ever since Vasari extolled him in his Lives of the Artists. On the one ...
An organic farmer identifies empathy, happiness and eccentricity in her cattle. Despite the seeming naivety of her narrative voice, she is well aware of what she’s up to
What is it like to be a cow? If Rosamond Young is to be believed, it’s pretty much like being human. Cows are “besotted” by and “dote on” their newborns, and nurture and counsel them as they grow up. They form “devoted and inseparable” friendships with their peers. They talk to each other, discuss the weather, pass on wisdom, introduce themselves to newcomers, go for walks, kiss, babysit, love to be stroked, play hide-and-seek, have running races, take offence, hold grudges, lose their temper, get stressed, and grieve over the death of a parent or child. They also tease, pressurise, question, retaliate against and “show baffled gratitude” towards their keepers. In short, they are the same as we are, though perhaps morally ...
Radio 4’s discussion programme has been reprieved. The arts need professional critics more than ever in the age of Twitter
When the Observer film critic Philip French
died two years ago, many tributes were paid to the qualities that made him an outstanding reviewer: his breadth of reference, incisive opinions and talent (or weakness) for terrible puns. Less remarked on was his contribution to the BBC
’s review coverage of the arts: from the 1960s till his early retirement in 1990, he worked on the weekly radio arts programme The Critics
and its successor, Critics’ Forum
. The highbrow tone of participants was parodied by Peter Sellers. But the programme’s simple premise – that when three or four people are gathered together in the name of criticism, something informative and entertaining can ensue – guaranteed its longevity.
Since 1998 Radio 4
’s Saturday Review
has ably filled the void left by ...