Hampton Court: an architectural symbol of royal lust

The Dowager Countess of Deloraine, who was governess to the children of George II at Hampton Court and other royal homes, was a notorious bore – so much so that her ‘every word’ made one ‘sick’, according to the courtier Lord Hervey. When she naively asked him why everyone was avoiding her, he replied with exquisite irony that ‘envy kept the women at a distance, despair the men’. This kind of witty, skittish anecdote is scattered throughout Gareth Russell’s scintillating hybrid of a book, which is partly a biography of a place and partly something stranger: an episodic history of England from Tudor times to the present, illustrated by lightning

Horribly described sex: The Last Chairlift, by John Irving, reviewed

Some time ago I was a guest at a book festival in France where we were invited to dinner in the town hall with local dignitaries. I was asked if I liked asparagus. I do, I said, thinking of delicious green spears. Good, said the woman in charge, as it was the asparagus season. I was then presented with an enormous plate of leek-sized white asparagus with a tiny dab of hollandaise on the side, and then expected to eat my way through essentially a fibrous albino python as the dignitaries looked on expectantly. It was a long evening. I mention this because that’s basically what the experience of reading

#MeTooInceste: has France’s code of silence finally been broken?

Montpellier Accusations of child abuse against Olivier Duhamel, now 70, ex-vice-president of Sciences Po university and of the secretive Siècle (Century) club of Parisian movers and shakers, have cast a dark shadow on the legacy of the soixante-huitards, the baby boomers who occupied the Sorbonne in 1968 and went on to rule (and ruin) France. Duhamel’s disgrace is long delayed. Only now has his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, published a book accusing him of sexually abusing her twin brother 30 years ago — and doing so within a culture in which his fashionable friends knew about the abuse but kept quiet. It’s an accusation Duhamel characterises as a ‘personal attack’ but

Excess and incest were meat and drink to the Byrons

‘Some curse hangs over me and mine,’ wrote Lord Byron, and thanks to Emily Brand, who is a genealogist, it is now possible to see why Byron was so darned Byronic: excess, incest and marital misery flowed in the bloodstream. The gloom that looked like a Regency pose was entirely pre-programmed; George Gordon Byron’s script was handed to him at birth. Being mad, bad and dangerous to know was as instinctive to the Byrons as howling at the moon for a pack of wolves. When he compared his family to ‘whole woods of withered pines’, the poet was not exaggerating. Every branch was rotten. The son of a sociopath known