What are you reading? – 19 March 2020

Our regular look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 19, 2020
PIle of books
Source: iStock

June Purvis, emeritus professor of women’s and gender history at the University of Portsmouth, is reading Clare Debenham’s Marie Stopes’ Sexual Revolution and the Birth Control Movement (Palgrave Pivot, 2018). “Marie Stopes (1880-1958), pioneer of birth control in interwar Britain, has attracted the attention of many scholars, and been the subject of biographies by Ruth Hall and June Rose. In this highly readable reassessment of her remarkable achievements, Debenham describes how her personal life led her to turn from the study of palaeobotany to writing the highly influential Married Love. First published in 1918, the book advocated female sexual pleasure and gave ignorant husbands instruction on how to bring this about. Debenham contends that the focus on Stopes’ work on sexual relations has overshadowed her scientific career and literary success. Her study whets the appetite to know more about one of the most important yet controversial women of the 20th century.”


Nigel Rodenhurst, specialist support tutor at Aberystwyth University, is reading Richard Powers’ Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (Atlantic, 2010). “This first novel by Richard Powers, whose postmodern fictions have been compared to those of Don DeLillo, William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon, promises so much more than it delivers. In an intriguing start, Peter Mays introduces the reader to the photograph by August Sander (1876-1964) alluded to in the title. We expect vivid connections between the rise of fascism and late 20th-century America, but what follows is a combination of high allusions, metafictional tricks (a third voice with a big hint that it is the author’s own) and mini-essays. Where it falls flat is in the woodenness of the characters and lack of any real suspense. Powers certainly dealt with this as his career progressed, but after reading Plowing the Dark and Gain this is a big comedown. Intriguing philosophical explorations to sustain the intellect, but nothing for the heart.”


R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Battle-Scarred: Mortality, Medical Care and Military Welfare in the British Civil Wars, edited by David J. Appleby and Andrew Hopper (Manchester University Press, 2018). “Military history, as these essays demonstrate, is currently widening its scope. Although outnumbered by the men, the three women contributors here offer telling chapters on medical and social welfare and on the first contemporary strivings to understand the mental traumas of war. They are aided in this agenda by essays from a former officer in the Royal Army Medical College and by a practising cell biologist. Rampant disease on campaign trails and in densely crowded garrison towns; the first military hospitals; surgical advances; and the relief of the wounded, war widows, orphans and prisoners all come under review. Much of this, surely, has continuing relevance in today’s world.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose (New York: Vintage Books, 2nd ed. rev. and abridged, 1979) [Originally published in 1943 by Jonathan Cape, London, and Macmillan, New York. Reprint of 1947 ed. published by Jonathan Cape, London.]

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