Judith Flanders rss

A group of boys riding in an army tank on the roundabout at the Hampstead Heath Fairground in 1944.  (Photo by Harry Shepherd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Beer and skittles and Lucian Freud and Quentin Crisp – a Hampstead misery memoir

20 September 2014
Slideshow: Memories of a Wartime Childhood Marjorie Ann Watts

Quartet, pp.192, £15.99, ISBN: 9780704373594

The rise of the ‘misery memoir’ describing abusive childhoods, followed by the I-was-a-teenage-druggie-alkie-gangbanger-tick-as-appropriate memoir, pushed into the shadows an older tradition, the memoir of childhood pleasure, of charm and humour.… Read more


The pen was mightier than the brush

2 June 2012
Joanna, George and Henry: A Pre-Raphaelite Tale of Art, Love and Friendship Sue Bradbury

Boydell, pp.336, £25

Of the making of books about the Pre-Raphaelites, it appears, there is no end. Like the Bloomsberries, most of the PRB are more interesting to read about than the study… Read more


Making sense of a cruel world

4 February 2012
Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World Simon Callow

Harper Press, pp.220, 16.99

Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

Harvard University Press, pp.390, 20

The actor-biographer Simon Callow has played Dickens, and has created Dickensian characters, in monologues and in a solo bravura rendition of A Christmas Carol. Now he suggests that the theatricality… Read more


The odd couple

24 September 2011
Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait Carola Hicks

Chatto, pp.270, 16.99

Carola Hicks was an acclaimed art historian, and, as she phrased it, a biographer of objects, exploring the ‘lives’ of art-historical subjects from the Bayeux tapestry to the stained-glass windows… Read more

An upside-down world

10 September 2011
The Bloody Meadow William Ryan

Mantle, pp.320, 16.99

Last year, with William Ryan’s The Holy Thief, detective-fiction aficionados welcomed the thrillingly horrific first instalment in a new series set in 1930s Moscow. Last year, with William Ryan’s The… Read more

Pearls before swine

4 June 2011
The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel Thief Duncan Hamilton

Century, pp.318, 14.99

The story of Harry the Valet is the stuff of fiction. He was a dazzlingly adept, smooth, glamorous jewel thief, who never stooped to petty crime but carried off the… Read more


Massacre of the innocents

12 March 2011
The Killer of Little Shepherds: The Case of the French Ripper and the Birth of Forensic Science Douglas Starr

Simon & Schuster, pp.312, 16.99

‘La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite’ — Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminals it deserves. ‘La justice flétrit, la… Read more


A palace in miniature

13 November 2010
The Queen's Dolls House Lucinda Lambton

Royal Collection Publications, pp.131, 12.95

There’s nothing like a really good wallow in nostalgia. There’s nothing like a really good wallow in nostalgia. And if it can be arranged so that the nostalgia is for… Read more


Lurking beneath the surface

12 May 2010
Tony and Susan Austin Wright

Atlantic, pp.352, 14.99

One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. Susan Morrow’s first husband, Edward, is so firmly in her past that his second wife even… Read more


Life beyond the canvas

24 February 2010
Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown Angela Thirlwell

Chatto, pp.328, 25

Angela Thirlwell’s previous book was a double biography of William Rossetti (brother to the more famous Dante Gabriel) and his wife Lucy (daughter of the more famous Ford Madox Brown).… Read more


Riding for a fall

17 February 2010
The Thirties: An Intimate History Juliet Gardiner

Harper Press, pp.974, 30

Many attempts have been made to portray the ‘Roaring Twenties’, or the ‘Gilded Nineties’, or the something-or-other sometime-else, but in truth the 1930s is one of the few decades that… Read more

Not perfect freedom

30 December 2009
Up and Down Stairs Jeremy Musson

John Murray, pp.374, 25

‘Servants’ and ‘service’ have not always meant ‘servility’. ‘Servants’ and ‘service’ have not always meant ‘servility’. From the Middle Ages right through to the 16th century, everyone was servant to… Read more

Ten minutes that shook Europe

5 November 2008
Wrath of God: the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 Edward Paice

Quercus, pp.304, 20

Wrath of God: the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, by Edward Paice Portugal in the 18th century was at once a mystery and deeply familiar to the British. Deeply familiar,… Read more


Out of the frying pan . . .

24 September 2008
Stranger in the House: Women’s Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War Julie Summers

Simon & Schuster, pp.363, 18.99

Stranger in the House: Women’s Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War, by Julie Summers The second world war is big business. Television, film, novels — whole industries… Read more

A dying fall

28 May 2008
The Cellist of Sarajevo Steven Galloway

Atlantic, pp.278, 12.99

Judith Flanders reviews Stephen Galloway’s novel about the siege of Sarajevo  Many novels about war deal with the horrors of the front line, of the terrors of battle. Steven Galloway, in… Read more

When pink was far from rosy

23 January 2008
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

Atlantic, pp.736, 25

J. Robert Oppenheimer, ‘the father of the atomic bomb’, remembered that when he saw the first mushroom cloud rise in its terrifying beauty above the test site in New Mexico,… Read more

Beautiful Victorian behemoth

1 February 2007
St Pancras Station Simon Bradley

Profile, pp.193, 14.99

It would take a heart of stone to contemplate St Pancras station and its appended Midland Grand Hotel without laughing, such is the brio, the swagger, the sheer in-your-faceness of… Read more

Pea-soupers and telegraphic paralysis

9 November 2006
A Dictionary of Victorian London: An A-Z of the Great Metropolis Lee Jackson

Anthem Press, pp.180, 12.99

Lee Jackson is the creator of that cornucopia of Victorian delight, the Victorian London website (www.victorianlondon.org). From Mogg’s Strangers’ Guide to London, Exhibiting All The Various Alterations & Improvements Complete… Read more

The bad old East End

26 October 2006
The Good Old Days: Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Victorian London Gilda O’Neill

Viking, pp.320, 16.99

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ L. P. Hartley’s famous opening is used by Gilda O’Neill as an epigraph to her delightful foray through 19th-century… Read more

The Boogie and Ginnie double act

14 September 2006
Shared Histories: Transatlantic Letters Between Virginia Dickinson Reynolds and her Daughter Virginia Potter, 1929–1966 edited by Angela Potter

University of Georgia Press, pp.406, 17.50

Relationships between mothers and daughters are sometimes harmonious, often troubled, and always contradictory. Daughters want to break away, be independent, yet have the approval and advice of their mothers; their… Read more


The master and the loyal retainer

10 May 2006
Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Ronald Penrose Elizabeth Cowling

Thames & Hudson, pp.408, 25

Listing page content here It was not easy to be an attendant at the court of King Pablo, for Picasso, ‘with his fringe of white hair round the back of… Read more

The Goddams and the snail-eaters

25 March 2006
That Sweet Enemy Robert and Isabelle Tombs

Heinemann, pp.624, 25

A French journalist writing in 1999 was succinct: ‘The English hate the French. Who reciprocate … A purée of prejudice on a bed of inherited loathing. The French consider the… Read more

Lust for life

4 March 2006
Maggi Hambling: The Works and Conversations with Andrew Lambirth Maggi Hambling

Unicorn Press, pp.240, 40

I must declare an interest. At my solitary meeting with Maggi Hambling, she suddenly barked, ‘Would you like to see my hysterectomy scar?’ (She was dissuaded by the rather nervous… Read more

Dogged does it

15 October 2005
Bamboo William Boyd

Hamish Hamilton, pp.672, 17.99

William Boyd has written a dozen novels and short stories in the past quarter-century. That makes him a fairly prolific author. Factor in a dozen screenplays realised (and another couple… Read more

New technology, component costs and product placement

13 November 2004
Josiah Wedgwood: Entrepreneur to the Enlightenment Brian Dolan

HarperCollins, pp.492, 25

The fashion for novelty is scarcely, well, novel. In the 18th century Dr Johnson warned that the frenzy for the new had reached such a pitch that men would even… Read more