What are you reading? – 10 May 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 10, 2018
Guinea pig in glasses reading a book
Source: iStock

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor in history, Northumbria University, is reading Hilary Spurling’s Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time (Hamish Hamilton, 2017). “This fine biography of one of the greatest British novelists of the 20th century adds to our understanding of his series of novels, Dance to the Music of Time, inspired by Nicolas Poussin’s eponymous painting depicting dancers moving to a tune played by the bearded figure representing Time. Powell observed the many dancers who accompanied him through life with a detachment that reflected his position of never quite belonging. A member, like his friend George Orwell, of that select group, the poor (or relatively poor) Etonians, he had access to high society without being securely part of it, and he maintained an objective gaze as he joined the bohemian circles of Fitzrovia and the Second World War took him into the army. The result was a social history, not of Britain, but of the interaction of the upper class and creative and intellectual circles of British society.”

Annmarie Adams, chair of the department of social studies of medicine, McGill University, is reading Mary Hunter’s The Face of Medicine: Visualising Medical Masculinities in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris (Manchester University Press, 2016). “Written by my colleague Mary Hunter and structured around portraits from 1886-87 of famous Parisian medical men – the chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, the surgeon Jules-Émile Péan and the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot – The Face of Medicine articulates the significant role of visual culture in the making of medical identities. One of the book’s distinctions is its emphasis on masculinity, rather than on the female body, which has been the focus of many feminist scholars. Additionally, Hunter links the paintings to other forms of visual and material culture such as wax models, photographs, stained-glass windows and funerary monuments, showing how artists played a huge role in the making of scientific medicine. It’s an eye-opening argument that will for ever change how I look at medical portraits.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Gillian Darley’s Octavia Hill: A Life (Constable, 1990). “Well written, though at times overladen with detail, this is a fitting tribute to one of the great Victorian campaigners. Best known for her indefatigable efforts to improve housing for the poor in London, Hill’s influence stretched into many other fields such as the extension of professional opportunities for women and the preservation of open spaces. She was one of the founders of the National Trust. Although she was high‑principled and dogmatic at times to a fault, her unswerving belief in self-help rather than in state and local government intervention came to put her out of step with others who had concluded that national problems should be addressed by more than piecemeal local solutions. The introduction of old-age pensions, unemployment benefits and women’s suffrage occurred without her advocacy.”

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