George eliot

A tale of cruelty and imposture: The Fraud, by Zadie Smith, reviewed

‘Is this all that these modern ladies’ novels are to be about? People?’ So asks the bewildered author of Old St Paul’s, The Lancashire Witches, The Tower of London and three dozen other forgotten blockbusters stacked with costumed folderol. In Zadie Smith’s sixth novel, William Harrison Ainsworth disapproves, in 1871, of hiscousin-housekeeper, Eliza Touchet, reading a nameless story of dull village folk with ‘no adventure, no drama, no murder’. It can only be George Eliot’s Middlemarch. The Fraud alights briefly on this quarrel, as it does on many Victorian topics. Yet Smith’s triple-pronged tale of imposture and masquerade, public lies and secret truths, often reverts to fiction’s role either as

The melancholy of Middlemarch (1872)

George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch was released in eight instalments, or ‘books’, throughout 1871 and 1872. A century and a half later, it is heralded as one of the greatest works in the English language. The following piece was written 150 years ago, in anticipation of the release of the fifth book. The author is Richard Holt Hutton, who edited the Economist from 1857 to 1861, as well as The Spectator alongside Meredith Townsend from 1861 until his death in 1897. He oversaw the magazine’s books coverage, during a period in which they and he became one of the most celebrated sources of literary criticism in the country. You can explore

The case for travelling abroad

I’m off. In the week when you may read this, my partner and I will be winging our way to the European mainland, exploring, visiting friends, and immersing ourselves in new places, among new people who speak languages other than our own. Even as I write this, I can anticipate a sour response from some who read it. Over the past year I’ve learned that any mention of travelling abroad draws from certain quarters three types of disgruntlement. Three, in fact, of the Seven Deadly Sins. The first is Envy. ‘Oh, bully for you!’, ‘It’s all right for some’, etc. This I disregard. Between youth and old age I’ve made

The Literary Disco podcast made me want to throw my laptop at the wall

One of the stranger things that happened in the period just before lockdown was the sudden disappearance of audiences from TV and radio shows. Late-night hosts told jokes to silent rooms in front of a white background, dutifully pausing for a laugh that never came; panel shows were broadcast without so much as the sound of tumbleweed. Punchlines flopped, charisma evaporated. It was as if Earth’s comedians had been banished to some purgatorial realm, where they would be forced to tell jokes to no one as a form of penance. Comedy needs an audience. It’s not clear that the same is true of short stories. In Selected Shorts, well-known actors

From Middlemarch to Mickey Mouse: a short history of The Spectator’s books and arts pages

The old masters: how well they understood. John Betjeman’s architecture column ran for just over three years in the mid-1950s. Yet during that short run he experienced the moment that comes, sooner or later, to every regular writer in The Spectator’s arts pages. ‘It is maddening the way people corner one and make one discuss politics at the moment,’ he wrote on 23 November 1956, clearly as bored of the Suez crisis as the rest of us were, until recently, by Brexit: Because I write in this paper, people assume that I share its Editor’s views about Suez… But I don’t know what the views of this paper about Suez