John Gilbey, Paul Greatrix, David Kennedy, Sharon Ruston and Peter J. Smith...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 28, 2013

John Gilbey, who lectures in IT service management at Aberystwyth University, is reading Carolyn Burke’s Lee Miller (Bloomsbury, 2005). “This biography traces Miller’s (often painful) journey from Vogue model and New York art student to her collaborations with the Surrealists of 1930s Paris before opening her own photographic studio. As Europe dissolved into chaos, her work moved from society and cultural themes to traumatic war documentary, and her devastating images of the death camps were widely published. Even today these photographs - which seem to have haunted her for the rest of her life - retain the power to shock.”

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (Vintage, 2012). “An outstanding tale of a dishonest financier who buys his way into a corrupt society whose members are all too keen to get rich quick and are seduced by investments offering extraordinary returns. The narrative has striking parallels with our most recent economic and political woes and is, sadly, still very much the way we live now. A big book in every sense and wholeheartedly recommended.”

David Kennedy, senior lecturer in English and creative writing at the University of Hull, is reading Kate Zambreno’s Heroines (Semiotext(e), 2012). “Zambreno stages an impassioned encounter between the medicalised lives of Jane Bowles, Vivienne Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald and other Modernist wives and mistresses and her own struggles as a young woman and a writer. The book sizzles with combative, confessional wit as she deconstructs the toxic strategies that Anglo-US culture uses to dismiss or erase ‘the girl writing’. Brilliant and groundbreaking.”

Sharon Ruston is chair in 19th-century literature and culture, University of Salford. “I am rereading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton [Penguin Classics, 1996] for a Victorian literature seminar. I had forgotten how devastatingly sad it is and how awful the living conditions were for the poor of Manchester in the ‘hungry forties’. The novel features several deaths that could have been avoided had there been proper sustenance, and we see workers grow increasingly suspicious of their well-fed masters.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Joan Wehlen Morrison’s Home Front Girl (Chicago Review Press, 2013). “Morrison’s teenage diaries provide an eyewitness account of Chicago during the Depression as well as America’s entry into the Second World War. They unveil a refreshingly enquiring mind, distinguished by an artistry that is both philosophically and poetically adroit: ‘Spring comes only once when you’re sixteen.’ Her reflections span the playfully ironic to the arrestingly self-aware. A profound book, lucidly edited by her daughter, Susan Signe Morrison.”

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