Sarah Churchwell

Murder at the funeral

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most beloved American novels of all time. Famously, Lee never completed another book, once declaring she’d ‘said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again’. But a journalist who went to Lee’s home in Monroeville, Alabama in 2015 learned of another

The final frontier

In 1932, the Daily Plainsman of Huron, South Dakota, ran a feature about a local woman convalescing in hospital. Grace Dow had been visited by her sister, Carrie Swanzey, who read a children’s book to her. What made this mundane story newsworthy was that the book was called Little House in the Big Woods, and

What the secretary saw

What the secretary sawSarah Churchwell Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of the Jazz Age by Althea McDowell AltemusUniversity of Chicago Press, £10.50, pp. 220 In 1922, writing a facetious review of her husband’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, Zelda Fitzgerald made an ironic reference to the fact that Scott Fitzgerald had used sections

A rollicking satire on the way we live now

Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, comes with great expectations. Its author’s awareness of this fact is signalled by a series of lampoons of writers expected to produce ‘big books’, writers named Jonathan and an assortment of other self-referential gags, but also the fact that its eponymous heroine, Purity Tyler, is nicknamed Pip. This Pip’s expectations

Snow White or black beauty?

God Help the Child, Toni Morrison’s 11th novel, hearkens back to two of her earliest. Like The Bluest Eye, it is a story of internalised racism and paedophilia; like Tar Baby it is a fable about sexual and racial autonomy in the form of a love story between a beautiful, vain woman and a man

Eugene O’Neill: the dark genius of American theatre

George Bernard Shaw called him a ‘Yankee Shakespeare peopling his isle with Calibans’. He was dubbed ‘a fighting Tolstoy’ and ‘the great American blues man of the theatre’. Before he was 35, Eugene O’Neill had emerged as the first real titan of American theatre, a preeminence he has never lost. When Sinclair Lewis was awarded

The thrill of the chaste

Sarah Churchwell says the American craze for Amish romance novels — ‘bonnet-rippers’ — is just one part of a strange new fashion for conservatism and abstinence It has been 25 years since Peter Weir’s hit film Witness, in which Harrison Ford plays a policeman who falls in love with an Amish woman while investigating a

The supernatural is as British as fish and chips

We’re all accustomed to stories about credulous Americans; as an American living in Britain I am constantly asked to defend the 43 per cent of my compatriots who believe in creationism. We’re all accustomed to stories about credulous Americans; as an American living in Britain I am constantly asked to defend the 43 per cent

Sex and the City has nothing on screwball comedy

You can learn a great deal about a culture from its fantasies. If Sex and the City is anything to go by, ours are pretty impoverished. The first film version of the HBO series is going into production and will be released next year, guaranteed to offer its trademark view that femininity today is defined by