What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 3, 2011

Duncan Wu, professor of English at Georgetown University, is riveted by Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica (edited by Anthony Thwaite, Faber and Faber, 2010). "The letters are a revelation. This man who, in his maturity, took such pleasure in portraying himself as a dried-up prune, writes here with passionate intensity about, among other things, the novels of D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and W.B. Yeats, to the woman with whom at the end of his life he would eventually settle down. Unputdownable."

Timothy Mowl, professor of the history of architecture and designed landscapes, University of Bristol, is reading Richard Aitken's The Garden of Ideas: Four Centuries of Australian Style (Miegunyah Press, 2010). "Sorry, no platypus pools or wombat grottoes. Ignoring the world's wildest flora, early settlers took nostalgic refuge in the old country's Victorian gardens. Workers Guild emigrants introduced the Arts and Crafts style, followed by Aussie versions of Lutyens and Jekyll. Angular modernism in the 1940s finally asserted a native style of Opera House confidence."

Sally R. Munt, professor of cultural studies, University of Sussex, is reading Michael Pierse's Writing Ireland's Working Class: Dublin after O'Casey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). "Sometimes books cross your path in which love and scholarship come together. Pierse writes about the culture of the neglected Dublin urban working class with passion and timeliness. This subaltern makes a scalpel incision into the Celtic Tiger - as two characters in Roddy Doyle's play Brownbread comment:

John: You'd die for Ireland, wouldn't yeh?

Donkey: I would in me brown.

This sparkling book will change the scope of Irish studies."

Bill Purdue, visiting professor of modern history, University of Northumbria, is reading Thirty-Odd Feet Below Belgium: An Affair of Letters in the Great War, 1915-1916, edited by Arthur Stockwin (Parapress, 2005). "These letters tell the story of an 18-month romance between 17-year-old Edith and a young army officer, Geoffrey. They had only four days together before he left for the front. He became a 'tunneller' engaged in a desperate subterranean war, and he was killed a few days before they were to be reunited. Stockwin came across his mother Edith's letters when he was clearing his family home. A profoundly moving book."

Sharon Ruston is chair in 19th-century literature and culture, University of Salford. She is reading William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault (Penguin, 2002), "a moving and sad tale of a single incident that alters the lives of all involved irrevocably. The lyrical language of the novel voices the Irish intonation of its characters and evokes a world and time now gone."

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