The death of royalty

The cohorts of Hamas have invaded my neighbourhood. I was walking my dog, Maxi, in the afterglow of a shower that had lit the pavements with a pearlescence you normally see only in the piazzas of Syracuse, when I paused to look at the posters of kidnapped Israelis that someone had hung opposite Gail’s. I was thinking that I should have brought flowers, when they were upon us. Two women, their faces slack with the stupidity of hate, started tearing at the sad tributes with their carmine fingernails, screaming obscenities about Israel and the Jews. I didn’t know what the etiquette was on occasions like these, so I picked up

Set in a silver sea: the glory of Britain’s islands

Islands always intrigue, hovering on the horizons of our imaginations – seen, according to your lights, as territories to be taken, ancient redoubts, repositories of secrets, even loci of lands of youth. Where there are no islands, we often imagine them – Plato’s Atlantis, the Celts’ Avalon, the Irish Hy-Brasil, Zeno’s Friseland, Columbus’s Antillia – and occasionally find them, like Terra Australis Incognita, postulated long before Europeans made landfall. Orkney was a trading station long before London, and Iona was the epicentre of Celtic Christianity Britain was once itself an imagined island – or rather islands plurally, called by Pliny Britanniae, one archipelago among others in the great geographer’s speculative

The glory of Paris has long past

Gstaad A reader’s inquiry as to why I think Paris belongs to yesterday (12 August) has me remembering times past. When did the party end? According to many night owls it was when the ‘Queen of the Night’, Regine, shut down her club New Jimmy’z and moved to London in the 1970s, where she flopped. Others believe it was ‘les événements de soixante-huit’, the student-worker revolt against De Gaulle that did Paris in. Certainly, any way one looks at it, the events of 1968 did signal that the party was over; and it has stayed over ever since. Mind you, the high jinks had been waning for some time. I

Dear Mary: how can I make my untidy twin look better? 

Q. I have a public profile and have always looked after my personal presentation, but my identical twin has never bothered with hers. She wouldn’t dream of covering up the broken veins on her cheeks and her hair is quite grey and frizzy. Now I’m getting married and worry that my sister’s appearance could cause some of the clients I’ve invited to rethink my ‘relevance’. What should I do, Mary? – Name and address withheld A. Explain to your twin that after you had paid for a hair and make-up artist for the wedding, you came under pressure from a colleague whose hair and make-up-artist daughter could get urgently needed publicity

Dear Mary: should I ever pay for dinner on a date with a feminist? 

Q. I took a girl out for dinner last week to a rather expensive restaurant. At first we got on well but then the conversation went on to politics and I spent the next 45 minutes listening to a fourth-wave man-hating feminist. Despite her stance that women should share every opportunity that men have (which I agree with incidentally), when the bill came she didn’t even gesture to put her hand in her pocket. Was I right to be so annoyed? – N.F., London SW7 A. I ran this past another fourth-wave feminist. Her view was that the girl’s ideology was not incompatible with your paying for her dinner on

A feminist finds fulfilment in derided ‘women’s work’

Marina Benjamin writes with a frankness, depth and wisdom that recalls the self-exploratory but world-revealing essays of Michel de Montaigne. In A Little Give, she turns her exacting philosopher’s mind, and opens her capacious heart to, her own life. Her essays, Tardis-like in their complexity, depth and range, scrutinise what has made and unmade her feminism, and then enabled her to make anew the feminism that has given her life both its personal and political trajectory: While I’ve never stopped identifying as a feminist, I am less and less certain what it means to live as one. I don’t mean how to organise and mobilise collectively. I mean simply how

The shock of the new in feminist art

Lauren Elkin begins her book about bodily art with a charming ode to the punctuation mark that she in American English calls a ‘slash’ and we in British English call a ‘stroke’. She likes the way it expresses ‘division yet relation’. Brings disparate things together. Makes space for ambiguity. Blends and blurs. And/or. She writes: The slash is the first person tipped over: the first person joining me to the person beside me, or me to you. Across the slash we can find each other. Across the slash I think we can do some work. That work begins in Art Monsters with a lively and vibrant account of feminist art

Who needed who most? The complex bond between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby

These letters between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby cover 15 years of a remarkable friendship that began at Somerville College, Oxford in 1919 and ended only with Holtby’s premature death from kidney failure in 1935. Brittain went up to Oxford in 1914, but left to serve as a nurse in the first world war. She returned freighted with tragic experience, having lost both her lover and her brother and tended the wounds of horribly injured soldiers close to the front. She disconcerted younger undergraduates with her fiercely competitive and forthright views combined with fragile looks and a general air of suppressed trauma. Holtby, five years her junior, had also interrupted

Don’t Worry Darling’s flawed feminism

Don’t Worry Darling, the highly anticipated psychological thriller directed by Olivia Wilde, has arrived in cinemas after months of online gossip and speculation about its production. The controversies include: an alleged affair between the director and main actor, Harry Styles, who also happens to be one of the most famous pop stars on Earth; the firing – no, sorry, ‘replacing’ – of the originally cast main character (Shia LaBeouf was switched for Styles); a reported fall-out between lead actress Florence Pugh and Wilde, which led to Pugh not doing any publicity for the film; and a bizarre TikTok theory that Kiki Layne and Ari’el Stachel were hired to meet the

Rivals Wagatha Christie for its lowbrow twists: FT’s Hot Money – Who Rules Porn? reviewed

It was recently reported that almost 8 per cent of global internet traffic is to pornographic websites. The rise of working from home may make this statistic less startling than it might have been three years ago, but still, that’s an awful lot of procrastination and, well, not much WFH. Given the dominance of the porn industry, it’s a wonder there hasn’t been an exposé of the kind produced by the Financial Times before now. The newspaper’s investigation into who lurks behind the webcams and controls this business took more than six months to complete and has now been turned into a riveting eight-part podcast series. Hot Money: Who Rules

It’s time for feminists to say #MenToo

Let me be clear: I am a committed feminist and a passionate supporter of the Enlightenment and its ideals. Indeed, I have been the beneficiary of those ideals in ways unimaginable to most people in the western world. I travelled from a genuinely patriarchal society poisoned by Islamism to a free, secular society where women, whatever issues we might still have, were equal to men under the law and able to pursue opportunities I could scarcely have dreamed of growing up. As I have written before, however imperfect western civilisation might be, we haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else in human history. The progress we have made is dizzying.

Why should advocating sexual restraint be ridiculed?

Louise Perry is on a mission: ‘It wasn’t enough just to point out the problems with our new sexual culture,’ she declares at the start of her punchy first book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. So she offers advice as well to the young women she believes have been ‘utterly failed by liberal feminism’. That’s because contemporary sexual mores have exposed them to risks, the most serious of which are linked to some men’s propensity for violence. Women, Perry argues, have in recent decades been conditioned to repress their desire for attachment. They have learned instead to behave in ways more typical of men, with their greater (on average)

If you see this show you’ll want to see it again – directed properly: The Glass Menagerie, at the Duke of York’s Theatre, reviewed

The Glass Menagerie directed by Jeremy Herrin is a bit of an eyeball-scrambler. The action takes place on a huge black platform flanked by 1930s antiques: a typewriter, a broken piano, a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a smattering of Anglepoise lamps. This cryptic setting suggests that the play is being developed in a Museum of the Great Depression, and the show we are seeing is the latest rehearsal. It’s not clear what purpose is served by this fiddly imposture. And although the act of sabotage doesn’t quite destroy the show, it’s touch and go during the opening 20 minutes. Herrin has shared the role of Tom between two actors. Tom

No genre of storytelling is more formulaic or more exhausted than true crime

Nothing new under the sun. Or at least it feels that way these days, doesn’t it? The movies are TV shows are comic books are children’s toys. The TV series are podcasts are non-fiction books are magazine articles. The radio shows are real-life stories are Twitter threads are TV series. Even the interesting movies are remakes now. Intellectual property is king, franchises rule the entertainment world and audiences are left to chew the cud from a hundred-stomached cow. Sunrise, sunset and nothing new to offer. So it is with radio, and especially with true crime, the staple crop of narrative radio. No genre of storytelling is more formulaic or more

The feminist case for marriage

I regret to inform you that your kitten heels and morning suits will probably not be seeing service this wedding season: once again, marriage rates are down. In fact, this year the rate for heterosexual marriages is the lowest on record. What’s more, fewer than one in five of these marriage ceremonies are religious, in keeping with a downward trend of several decades standing. As a wedding guest, I slightly regret this turn towards the civil ceremony, only because the secular liturgy is so oddly anaemic. Seeing someone from the local council officiate on this most solemn of occasions, I can’t help but be reminded of the Simpsons episode in

Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe

For many years, Michel Houellebecq was patronised by the French literary establishment as an upstart, what with his background in agronomy rather than literature, his miserable demeanour, his predilection for science fiction and his gift for unyieldingly saying the unsayable, especially about relations between the sexes. That’s all changed now. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2010 for The Map and the Territory and in 2019 was elevated to the Légion d’Honneur. The Nobel cannot be long delayed, the committee after all having honoured the equally ornery V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee. Houellebecq’s new novel Anéantir, published in January in a luxury edition of 300,000 copies, was a quasi-official event

Fatherhood is a risk men aren’t willing to take

Recent reports that half of women in England and Wales are now childless by their 30th birthday reveal a worrying new attitude amongst Gen Z. Parenthood, to the younger generation, is the enemy of unfettered frivolity. Young women, we are told, would rather live for the moment than plan for the future. ‘Being present’ has become the mantra of the ‘mindful’ generation who see autonomy as the ultimate expression of a life well lived. But how complicit are men in this myopic ‘me-only’ utopia we have created for ourselves? Are women actively rejecting the sort of men who would like to settle down or have the sort of men who once

Julie Burchill has found a new way to provoke: she’s turned sincere

The greatest ever social media spat took place before the first tweet was sent, and was conducted via fax, which was like email but with the satisfyingly tangible tear of a fresh missive just arrived from across the planet. It was early 1993 and Julie Burchill, then of the Modern Review, was locked in a war with Camille Paglia, then of any US talk show you cared to tune into. The conflict began with a disobliging review Burchill filed of Paglia’s Sexual Personae, before shifting to the Xerox front, where Paglia made the mistake of questioning her interlocutor’s working-class credentials. Burchill brought hostilities to an abrupt close with her final

Margaret Atwood seems embarrassed by the sheer volume of her output

Margaret Atwood is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. This is a very boring way to start a review, but it is true. Atwood, now 82, is prize-winning, popular and prolific. She’s won two Bookers. Several of her books have attained totemic status with readers, most obviously the reproductive dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale, but also Cat’s Eye, for its steely portrayal of girlhood cruelty, and The Blind Assassin, which combines feminist grit with genre-straddling swagger. And there are so many books. Seventeen novels, more than a dozen collections of poetry, sundry shorter fictions and children’s stories, and multiple works of non-fiction, of which Burning Questions

Is it an exaggeration to talk of a ‘gender war’?

According to Nina Power’s forceful and rather unusual What Do Men Want?, we in the West are currently engaged in a ‘battle over sex’. And while that has been going on, ‘another war is being waged. This one is against men, the whole damn lot of them!’ To back up this ‘war on men’ idea, Power cites, among other examples, I Hate Men, a book by the French writer Pauline Harmange in which she damns men as ‘violent, selfish, lazy and cowardly… men beat, rape and murder us’. Power’s argument is that the all-out assault on men has gone too far. The mistake, she says, is in ‘treating people as