John Betjeman

Dearest Bun
June 23, 2011

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica Edited by Anthony Thwaite (Faber & Faber, 475 pp., $49.50) I. A good place to start on the protagonists of this curious correspondence—culled from some 1,400 letters discovered after the addressee’s death in 2001—is the wrap-around photograph that takes up most of both sides of the book’s dust jacket. The picture shows a grassy cliff-top on the island of Sark. It is, clearly, summer.

Dearest Bun
June 23, 2011

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica Edited by Anthony Thwaite (Faber & Faber, 475 pp., $49.50) I. A good place to start on the protagonists of this curious correspondence—culled from some 1,400 letters discovered after the addressee’s death in 2001—is the wrap-around photograph that takes up most of both sides of the book’s dust jacket. The picture shows a grassy cliff-top on the island of Sark. It is, clearly, summer.

The PICTURE: Charm School
May 26, 2010

Let’s hear it for charm, an underappreciated quality in the visual arts. If austerity is one of the modern artist’s essential tools, charm also has a distinctive power, although one that’s hardly welcomed by the curators, historians, and critics who shape opinion about modern and contemporary art. Artists risk being overlooked when they emphasize elegant wit, gentle seduction, or beguiling intelligence; they are dismissed as sentimentalists, without the sharp elbows needed to operate effectively in our world.

Unquiet Flows the Don
October 05, 2009

Maurice Bowra: A Life By Leslie Mitchell (Oxford University Press, 385 pp., $50) As warden of Wadham College in Oxford, president of the British Academy, the author of well-known books on ancient Greek literature, and a conversationalist of legendary brilliance, Maurice Bowra seemed, in the middle of the last century, the very embodiment of Oxford life. Enjoying a huge international reputation as a scholar, a wit, and an administrator, he was duly elected into prestigious academies and awarded honorary degrees in both Europe and America. George VI knighted him in 1951.