Mark Bostridge

‘Struck with the dart of love’: portrait of a marriage

‘These bloody days have broken my heart.’ Thomas Wyatt’s words are an expression of his personal distress at the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and the woman for whom the king had defied the pope and proclaimed himself supreme head of the English Church. But they are also indicative of the shockwaves

Nursing grievances in the Crimean War

Most people know something about Florence Nightingale’s nursing expedition to Scutari and the Crimea during the Crimean War, and the ‘kingdom of horror’ that she and her nurses found there: unsanitary conditions in the hospitals, a broken-down supply system and British soldiers dropping like flies from disease rather than battle wounds. However, as Terry Tastard

Dark days for Britain: London, Burning, by Anthony Quinn, reviewed

Not long ago, a group of psychologists analysing data about national happiness discovered that the British were at their unhappiest in 1978. Reading Anthony Quinn’s enjoyable novel set in that year and early 1979, it’s not difficult to see why. In case you’ve forgotten, strikes were spreading like wildfire. The National Front were reaching a

The inside story of working for Carmen Callil

Forty-seven years ago, Virago paperbacks, with their stylish green spines and hint-of-the-transgressive colophons of a red apple with a bite out of it, revolutionised British publishing in a way that had not been seen since Allen Lane’s Penguins in the 1930s. It’s no exaggeration to say that the firm permanently altered a nation’s reading habits.

The loveliest girl in Vienna

It must be rare for a popular song to have such a lasting influence on a posthumous reputation. However, this is the case with Tom Lehrer’s deliciously satirical tribute, ‘Alma’. Reading Alma Mahler’s obituary in 1964 — the ‘juiciest, spiciest, raciest’ he’d ever come across — Lehrer was amazed by her matrimonial CV and proceeded

A brief period of rejoicing

Reflecting on the scenes of celebration, the ‘overpowering entrancements’, that he had witnessed in November 1918 on the first Armistice Day, Winston Churchill wrote that their memory was all too fleeting, and that the spirit of wild rejoicing that had erupted at the end of the first world war was in a sense irrecoverable. Throughout

Princesses of Parallelograms

It’s more than 160 years since the death of the computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage’s ‘enchantress of numbers’ and self-proclaimed ‘bride of science’. Not the least of Lovelace’s fascination is the way in which her reputation and the claims for her significance have fluctuated so wildly during that time. She’s been hailed for her

The great betrayal

They were at sea for more than two months in desperately cramped conditions. The battered ship, barely seaworthy, pitched violently in storms where the swell rose to 100 feet. One of the beams cracked and there was talk of returning to England before it was temporarily repaired with a house jack. With spray in their

Embarrassing Victorian bodies

The fetishisation of the Victorians shows no sign of abating. Over the past 16 years, since the centenary of the passing of the Victorian age, we have been treated to a never-ending stream of books about the monarch herself, the houses her subjects lived in, the railways they built and travelled on, their sexual peccadillos,

The people’s prince

In Pepys’s famous words, James, Duke of Monmouth was ‘the most skittish, leaping gallant that ever I saw, always in action, vaulting, or leaping or clambering’. Reading Anna Keay’s biography of the adored illegitimate son of Charles II, this image of his energy appears paramount — as Monmouth seems to live his life at speed

Charlotte Brontë: Cinderella or ugly sister?

Preparations for next year’s bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Charlotte Brontë haven’t exactly got off to a flying start. At Haworth Parsonage the Brontë Society is in disarray after Bonnie Greer, its resigning president, used one of her Jimmy Choo shoes as a gavel to try to bring the membership to order, and subsequently