With rain threatening, Jane Bennet departs for Netherfield — with her mother’s approval. Illustration by Hugh Thomson for Pride and Prejudice (1894)

Rain, shine and the human imagination — from Adam and Eve to David Hockney

‘Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr Worthing,’ pleads Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest. ‘Whenever people…

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell

There’s something about Mary (Wollstonecraft and Shelley)

If Mary Wollstonecraft, as she once declared, ‘was not born to tred in the beaten track’, the same with even…

Tolstoy with his secretary at Yasnaya Polyana, 1906

The prophet Tolstoy and his dodgy vicar

One fine day in June 1896, a lone Russian nihilist visited Leo Tolstoy on his country estate. Come to hear…

Churchill reading in his library at Chartwell

Churchill was as mad as a badger. We should all be thankful

The egotistical Churchill may have viewed the second world war as pure theatre, but that was exactly what was needed at the time, says Sam Leith

Woman in black: Madeleine St John, due for revival. 
‘Her steadiest relationships were with a series of cats’

Breakdowns, suicide attempts — and four great novels

Among the clever young Australians who came over here in the 1960s to find themselves and make their mark, a…

Scarlett O’Hara runs through the streets of burning Atlanta

'Where are the happy fictional spinsters?'

This book arose from an argument. Lifelong bookworm Samantha Ellis and her best friend had gone to Brontë country and…

Top of the happiness scale: Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (English School, 15th century)

Look! Shakespeare! Wow! George Eliot! Criminy! Jane Austen!

Among the precursors to this breezy little book are, in form, the likes of The Story of Art, Our Island…

Group portrait of the Du Maurier sisters with their dog Brutus by Frederic Whiting (1918). From left to right: Daphne, Jeanne and Angela

In a Greene shade

One of the unanticipated benefits of British rule in India is the body of distinguished writing in the English language…


Hero of his own drama

Sam Leith is enthralled by the larger-than-life genius, August Strindberg — playwright, horticulturalist, painter, alchemist and father of modern literature

Abiding inspiration

In 1971 looking back over his life, Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) declared himself surprised at being referred to as a critic.…


Making sense of a cruel world

The actor-biographer Simon Callow has played Dickens, and has created Dickensian characters, in monologues and in a solo bravura rendition…


The truest man of letters

Geoffrey Wheatcroft continues to mourn his friend John Gross on the first anniversary of his death

S is for Speculative

Margaret Atwood has written 20 novels, of which three (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the…

England from above

A highbrow vision of our country


When the going got tough

The acute emotional pain caused by his first wife’s infidelity was of priceless service to Evelyn Waugh as a novelist, says Paul Johnson

A haze of artifice

Auden said: ‘The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow-poets.


A heart made to be broken

Very useful in modern conversation, Oscar Wilde.


Honour the most exalted poet

Philip Hensher rediscovers the rich complexities of The Divine Comedy


The Russian connection

It’s impossible not to warm to the author of this book, a perky Turkish-American woman with a fascination with Russian literature and an irresistible comic touch.


. . . or sensing impending doom

‘What am I? A completely ordinary person from the so-called higher reaches of society.


Cuckoo in the nest

Caradoc King, the well-known literary agent, was adopted in 1948 as a baby into a family of three girls, shortly joined by a fourth, presided over by a difficult, unhappy mother and her feebly adoring husband.


BOOKENDS: Hang the participle

An awful lot of books are being published these days about the English language. David Crystal has a new one out every few weeks, and John Sutherland probably has half a dozen on the go. The Language Wars: (John Murray, £17.99) is Henry Hitchings’s third and unlikely to be his last.


Nowhere becomes somewhere

There have been quite a few anthologies of British eccentricity. Usually they are roll-calls of the lunatic: a sought-after heiress so snobbish she finally gave her hand in marriage to a man who had managed to convince her he was the Emperor of China; a miser so mean he would sit on fish until he considered them cooked; a man so addicted to cobnuts he would, after any long coach journey, be up to his knees in their shells. Men who refused to get into a bath, others who refused to get out of one, or were so quarrelsome they could spot an insult at 100 yards, others who so loved animals they would bath owls (which died), or founded their own religions so they could copulate with the faithful on the high altar (though I gather this was an ambition of the novelist Graham Greene). All the crackpots. So it is a pity that this book has as its subtitle ‘A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics.’


Names to conjure with

Sebastian Faulks’s latest book, examining the great characters of British fiction, may be scorned by the literary establishment, but Sam Leith salutes its enthusiasm and humour