What are you reading? – 2 May 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 2, 2019
A woman reading in an armchair
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Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Adrian Woodhouse’s Shakespeare by McBean (Manchester University Press, 2018). “Photographer Angus McBean produced glorious portraits of Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, Margaret Lockwood, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and many other iconic actors. Mixing stylised romanticism with surrealism, he created imaginative, playful images where dramatic lighting merged with multiple exposure. Woodhouse’s gorgeous book brings together his photographs of every Shakespeare play – 160 productions in all, 90 of them at Stratford’s Memorial Theatre. It demonstrates how his training in mask making and fascination with the dismembered iconography of surrealism combined with careful sculpting with light and shade to offer a unique approach to photographic montage. The result is a study of illusion and poise, of changing modes of production and acting style, and of how our readings of the Bard are framed by those who have photographed his work into posterity.”

Martin Myers, lecturer in education at the University of Portsmouth, is reading Édouard Louis’ Who Killed My Father (translated by Lorin Stein; Harvill Secker, 2019). “Heart-breaking accounts of sons and fathers reconciling troubled relationships generally don’t pin the blame for their stormy pasts on politicians. Édouard Louis cracks this mould, naming and shaming a French ruling class composed of Macrons and Hollandes, Sarkozys and Chiracs, for the violence enacted by the state on his father’s body. This includes the physical violence of a debilitating workplace accident; the political violence of neoliberal policies that punish and humiliate people claiming benefits; and, overwhelmingly, the symbolic violence enacted generation after generation on working-class families. With great clarity, this short autobiography speaks of 21st-century working-class lives tarnished by shame and the erosion of hopes and ambitions. Louis and his father appear to recover from their personal losses of love and joy and family life; but it feels too late and at too great a cost.”

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading In Search of Victorian Values: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Thought and Society (edited by Eric M. Sigsworth; Manchester University Press, 1988). “This somewhat lightweight collection of essays was a counterblast to Margaret Thatcher’s notoriously unhistorical and nostalgic belief in Victorian values and their relevance to her own times. The much-vaunted work ethic, self-reliance, thrift, patriotism, neighbourliness and family solidarity are all here, and due attention is paid to Samuel Smiles’ best-selling text Self Help (1859). But the contributors unite in demonstrating the simplistic concept of the (in essence middle-class) Victorian values Mrs Thatcher naively applauded and instead underline the cross-currents and contradictions, deep divisions, double standards and harsh realities of the age. J.S. Mill was certainly not alone in criticising these values and W.S. Gilbert lost no opportunity to mock them.”

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