What are you reading? – 20 October 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 20, 2016
Person reading and drinking coffee
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A. W. Purdue, visiting professor of history, Northumbria University, is reading Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016). “The book begins with the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and an ill-fated romance between the daughter of an ambitious businessman and the son of an aristocratic family, who is killed in battle hours after the ball. She dies giving birth to a son, believed, wrongly, to be illegitimate. The consequences lead us, a quarter of a century later, to London’s West End, where new buildings are transforming the environment and social values are changing as new money disturbs the established order. The plot creaks a bit, but Fellowes’ knowledge of the period, his skill in recreating its atmosphere and mores, his ability to create fascinating characters and his acute eye for social relationships make the book well worth reading.”

Laura Scuriatti, junior professor of English and comparative literature, Bard College Berlin, is reading Nadia Fusini’s Vivere nella Tempesta (Einaudi, 2016). “This is a fascinating and refreshing journey through Shakespeare’s The Tempest, its contexts, sources and aesthetics, intertwined with Fusini’s autobiographical narrative of her life and study of Shakespeare’s corpus. Following The Tempest’s form, Fusini’s essay evokes numerous intertexts, fusing new historicism, philology, formalism and personal criticism, and it offers a mesmerising panorama and useful reassessment of the different modes of reading which The Tempest offers and demands. Repetition, metamorphosis and wonder are at the centre of Vivere nella Tempesta, as they are in the Shakespearian original, and Fusini argues that these highly complex and at times ambiguous concepts ultimately yield possible answers to the question, which she identifies as the fundamental one in The Tempest, of what it means to be not abstractly human, but humane human beings.”

Mark O’Thomas, dean of academic affairs, Newcastle University London, is reading Darren Henley’s The Arts Dividend: Why Investment in Culture Pays (Elliott & Thompson, 2016). “Part travelogue, part advocacy document, Darren Henley’s exploration of what culture delivers back to society makes for a cogently argued read. Henley, who is chief executive of the Arts Council, details a cornucopia of benefits that the arts actively return on their financial investment. Acting as a sound rebuttal to those seeking to cut back on the public funding of the arts, the book embraces the whole of England as the author travels around the country and experiences at first hand how tangible ‘dividends’ are realised from arts practice. I’m finding the book a source of great inspiration and it is particularly timely for academics, as the tangible impact universities have on the cultural and civic life of their communities is both detailed and celebrated.”

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