Snobbery

Must Paris reinvent itself?

In this odd book, the Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper narrates his experience as an expatriate ‘uptight northern European’ living in Paris with his family. His American wife, Pamela Duckerman, also a journalist, is the author of Bringing Up Bébé, a culture-shock memoir about having children in Paris and discovering French child-rearing ways, which are often radically at odds with American ideas and habits. Impossible City touches on some of the same territory (Kuper’s French acculturation through his children’s schooling and socialising), but it aims at a more comprehensive portrayal of rapidly evolving 21st-century Paris, warts and all; or, as he puts it, in a phrase that some may find

The astonishing truth about 007

The novel as a form is a fundamentally capitalist enterprise. It was invented at the same time as capitalism – Robinson Crusoe tots up his situation in the form of double-entry bookkeeping. Its interests dwell on the disparate and unequal natures of human beings and feed off rivalry, social transformation, moneymaking, profit and loss. No rigid feudal society has managed to create an effective school of novelists; and having once struggled through Cement, Fyodor Gladkov’s classic of socialist Soviet literature, I would say that systems dedicated to forcible equality also struggle.   Evident, astonishingly, is just how much in the novels is based on events Fleming had witnessed or engineered

In praise of burning pianos

How are non-conformists assimilated within the cloistered walls of tradition? Richard Wagner supplied the best answer to the age-old question in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, when Hans Sachs, the cobbler-poet, reconciles youthful ardour with the wisdom bestowed by experience. Learn from the masters, he tells the townsfolk, if you want to start afresh. It was a lesson absorbed by all the great modernists. Stravinsky, Joyce, Eliot, Picasso, Kandinsky and the rest of the gang understood thoroughly what had come before. Alas, it is a lesson as yet unlearned by Kate Molleson, whose pleading on behalf of ten musical misfits is unlikely to ‘open our ears’, despite her best intentions. For

From ‘little Cockney’ to playing Queen Mary: the remarkable career of Eileen Atkins

Eileen Atkins belongs to a singular generation of British actresses, among them Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Sian Phillips and Vanessa Redgrave, who not only continue to perform on stage and screen in their late eighties but all of whom, apart from Smith, have written their memoirs. Atkins already has a proven literary track record. Having wisely abandoned her first effort, a three-act, 17-minute play, containing ‘murder, incest and sodomy’, written during an early period of unemployment, she went on to co-create the hugely successful TV series Upstairs, Downstairs and The House of Eliott, write the play Vita and Virginia and put together a selection of Ellen Terry’s lectures. Will She

Arthur Bryant: monstrous chronicler of Merrie England

If you want to judge how much society has changed, you might do worse than visit a few secondhand bookshops. Obsolete volumes rest undisturbed on their shelves. The more popular they once were, the more unwanted copies accumulate. An almost inevitable presence nowadays is Sir Arthur Bryant, in his time a bestselling writer on historical subjects but now slumbering among the Great Unread. To browse in one of his books is a nostalgic experience. Their very titles — English Saga, for example, or Set in a Silver Sea — are evocative. They tell ‘our island story’, of an idealised agrarian past populated by merry monarchs, honest yeomen farmers, sturdy John

Chips Channon’s diaries can read like a drunken round of Consequences

Most of the grander 20th-century diarists had a sniffy air about them, looking down their noses at everyone, particularly each other. Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, so snippety in his own diaries, was sniped at in others’. James Lees-Milne thought him ‘a flibbertigibbet’; to Nancy Mitford, he was ‘vain and spiteful and silly’. Kenneth Rose confided to his diary that Channon was ‘a rather stupid man’. When the bowdlerised Channon diaries were first published in 1967, edited by Robert Rhodes James, Rose could not disguise his thrill at how badly they had gone down in his own smart set. At a ‘luncheon party given by Raine Dartmouth at her pretty house in