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Straitened circumstances

There are more lesbians in fiction than you could shake a stick at, of course. Graham Robb, writing about late 19th-century fict- ional lesbians, has observed that the fin-de-siècle lesbian was educated at a boarding school or a convent. She was frighteningly self-possessed, wore dark colours, read novels, smoked cigars, injected morphine or inhaled ether,

Paradise lost

‘Jamaican history’, wrote Karl Marx, ‘is characteristic of the beastliness of a true Englishman’. In The Dead Yard, Ian Thomson laments the consequences, with the grim conclusion that the British planters cast Jamaica aside like a sucked orange once they had exploited their estates. Having shaped Jamaica’s past for good or ill, Britain has not

Capital crimes

Rennie Airth’s first John Madden mystery, River of Darkness, published ten years ago, was set in 1921. His second, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, was set in 1932 and this, the third and reputedly the last, takes place in the closing months of 1944. The series spans, therefore, more than 20 years. In the first, Inspector Madden

Familiar and unfamiliar

Gillian Tindall has had the ingenious and sympathetic idea of combining biography and topography in an overview of British visitors to Paris from 1814 to the present day — an enterprise of formidable research and enviable lightness of touch. Selecting various members of her own extended family, she traces their temporary residence in Paris and

Success at last

A couple of years ago, Adam Zamoyski — who is, yes, a friend — told me that he was revising The Polish Way, a history of Poland he had published back in 1987. At first he had thought merely to shorten a few over-long paragraphs and check facts. But as he re-read his work, he

Depression and dictators

For Professor Overy Britain between the two world wars was, as his title proclaims, a morbid age. There was a general view among intellectuals that civilisation — itself a creation of intellectuals — was in crisis, and society in danger of collapse. There was an ‘institutionalised pessimism’ that became ‘an overriding intellectual fashion’ that spread