Austen Saunders

Discovering poetry: Marvell’s seductive voice

Luxurious Man, to bring his Vice in use, Did after him the World seduce: And from the fields the Flow’rs and Plants allure, Where Nature was most plain and pure. He first enclos’d within the Gardens square A dead and standing pool of Air: And a more luscious Earth for them did knead, Which stupifi’d

This seat of Mars

Warfare was the fact of life in Britain from the reign of Henry VII to that of George II. Nobody who lived on these islands could escape it. It is estimated that, between the battles of Bosworth Field in 1485 and Culloden in 1746, 1.2 million people died as a direct result of warfare in Britain

Discovering poetry: London, capital of the world

With new taxes and regulations being placed on London’s financial sector, come predictions of London’s demise as a global financial centre. But an important part of London’s mythology is of a city which is repeatedly destroyed, yet always rises again. The great fire of 1666 is one of the most famous of these episodes of

Discovering poetry: Milton’s blindness

When I consider how my light is spent Ere half my days in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide, Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, least he returning chide, Doth God exact day-labour, light

Being a man

Cambridge academics spend a lot of time worrying about how to persuade taxpayers to keep them in ivory towers. Perhaps it’s for that reason that, twice a year, Cambridge Wordfest invites the reading public into the lecture theatre to be reminded how pleasant it is to chat about books. David Baddiel was there this weekend

Right back to the start

This is the story of a book which argues that everything in the world is made of matter; that human flourishing should be the goal of any rational society; and that not only is divine intervention in nature or history a myth, but that all religion is a masochistic self-deception the powerful use to control

Reader’s review: Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller

Nicholas is a British lawyer working in Russia. It’s sometime around the start of the last decade. Putin is in the full pomp of his first presidential term and it’s the golden age of the Wild East (the days of ‘tits and Kalashnikovs’ as Nicholas puts it). After meeting two young Russian women on the

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Nothing in Stephen Kelman’s Booker-shortlisted novel suggests to me that he is a cynical man (quite the opposite in fact), so it seems churlish to marvel at the perfect timing of this summer’s riots for him and his book. For while Sky News has barely finished rolling the breaking story that we are an island

Fun Times

Shakespeare and Milton: unsurpassable in the English canon. Milton’s mature poetry stands for perfection, Shakespeare’s for a wholeness of vision verging on the truly religious. Their examples cannot be rivalled, only followed. Dickens chose to follow Shakespeare. And now D. J. Taylor trails Dickens. Derby Day is a story about—wait for it—the Derby. A spectacular

A run of the mill bloke

Piet Barol is young man contentedly conscious of the fact that he is ‘extremely attractive to most women and to many men’. Lucky Piet. His good looks do him no harm when he arrives in Amsterdam in 1907 to be interviewed for the position of tutor to a rich hotelier’s son. The job is his

A man of parts, who liked a party

Once upon a time there was a future. H.G. Wells had seen it. Apparently it was going to be naked. Well that’s certainly the impression one gets from the dollops of sex folded into David Lodge’s novel on Wells’ life, A Man of Parts. I call the book a novel because it’s called one on

The strange case of the unreadable bestseller

It is 82 years since the publication of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It was an unlikely commercial success.   After James Joyce’s Ulysses, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury might be the most famous unread novel in English. American schoolchildren are forced to plough through it (on the assumption that the

Aspirin for our spiritual hangover

Contemporary poetry (to misquote Blackadder), is a lot like sex. Tons of it about, but I just don’t get it. So I was a little nervous when I gave Apocrypha a go. But I’m happy to say I quite liked it (I seem to remember the same thing about sex, come to think of it).

Journey of a lifetime

Tessa Hadley’s The London Train will feel very much at home in the Paddington branch of W.H. Smith. For like almost all of Dickens’ novels, The London Train involves a series of journeys to and from London. Unlike Dickens, however, Tessa Hadley chooses to subject her characters to repeated trips to South Wales – a

Discovering poetry: for the love of life

Pointing you cheerfully in the direction of Thomas Nashe’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament might be a bit like suggesting you hold your toddler’s birthday party in a funeral parlour, but do please bear with me on this. Yes, Nashe’s verses are basically about the fact that we’re all going to die – and that

Prejudiced accounts<br />

Roger Scruton is a man who has found himself condemned for defending the right things in the wrong way. Love, home, happiness and justice are the overriding concerns of his work, but his arguments about how we can achieve them have been repeatedly damned as mad and dangerous by those kind enough to appoint themselves

Discovering poetry – Thomas Traherne, a real discovery

Until the start of the twentieth century, Thomas Traherne was completely unknown. Very little of his writing had ever been published, and even less had been widely read. Over the last one hundred years, however, several manuscripts of his works have been discovered, often in dramatic circumstances (one was pulled from off a fire and

Of art, beauty and life

If you are new to Ruskin, this volume from Penguin’s ‘Great Ideas’ series is the perfect place to begin. It contains two self-contained essays, ‘The Nature of Gothic’ (from The Stones of Venice) and ‘The Work of Iron’ (a lecture he delivered at Tunbridge Wells in 1858). The two essays are short enough to be

Friends in the North

If I were a contemporary novelist, each day I would pray in thanks for unhappy families. Where would new writing be without them? Bunderlin is another of those novels in which families’ secrets are slowly uncovered by those whose lives have been unwittingly shaped by their consequences. The Bunderlin of Bunderlin, is a rather eccentric

Discovering poetry: Marvell the politician

For two centuries after his death, Andrew Marvell was remembered chiefly as a politician (primarily as a defender of religious toleration). It was only in the 20th century that his reputation as poet grew to such an extent that his political career became a contextual foot-note for his literary creations. Now, however, Marvell the politician