Thomas more

Searching for the best of all possible worlds – in London

Utopia can never exist, literally, since the word, which Sir Thomas More coined in his 1516 book of that name, comes from the Greek for ‘not’ and ‘place’. For the avoidance of doubt, More doubled down on the wordplay, naming the governor of his fictional island Ademos, meaning ‘no people’, and the river that runs through it Anyder, meaning ‘no water’. Interrupting your steak to recite from Leviticus isn’t everyone’s idea of fun Yet there’s more to it than this, because it turns out that one man’s idea of an ideal society is often very different from another’s. More’s vision was proto-communist. Houses in his Utopia are allocated by lot,

A universal language will always be an unattainable dream

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his stage persona as the dim-witted interviewer Ali G, once asked Noam Chomsky if a person could simply invent a new language from scratch. The renowned linguist gave him short shrift: ‘You can do it if you like and nobody would pay the slightest attention to you because it would just be a waste of time.’ Throughout history, however, a motley array of eccentrics has done just this, and received a fair bit of attention. Originally published in 1984 but only now translated into English, Marina Yaguello’s fascinating survey of constructed languages revisits the history of two distinct but interlinked – and equally fanciful

It is impossible to imagine Henrician England except through the eyes of Hans Holbein

‘Holbein redeemed a whole era for us from oblivion,’ remarks the author of a trilogy of novels set at Henry VIII’s court. ‘He has forced us to believe that his vision of it was the only feasible one.’ This is a bit of a tease. It’s not written by Hilary Mantel, as you might be expecting, but by Ford Madox Ford, who, a century before Wolf Hall, published a sequence of novels about Henry’s fifth queen, Katharine Howard. Nevertheless, Ford’s point is irrefutable. It is impossible to imagine the England of Henry VIII except through the eyes of ‘the King’s Painter’, Hans Holbein. Not just the king, portrayed as massive,