A weekly look over the shoul­ders of our scholar-reviewers

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK -

Stephen Hal­l­i­day, se­nior mem­ber, Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, is read­ing Mark Pur­cell’s The Coun­try House Li­brary (Yale/Na­tional Trust, 2017). “The word ‘com­pre­hen­sive’ barely does jus­tice to this vol­ume. The au­thor was cu­ra­tor of Na­tional Trust Li­braries for 16 years and says that he spent ‘far too much time driv­ing and sit­ting on trains’ trav­el­ling be­tween his 160 charges, as well as vis­it­ing many oth­ers. The book of­fers a broadly chrono­log­i­cal ac­count of how th­ese fine col­lec­tions were as­sem­bled and of the build­ings that house them, many them­selves of ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­est. Pur­cell makes the point that the de­sign of the li­brary of­ten re­flects the char­ac­ter of the col­lec­tion. Thus at Tyn­tes­field, in Som­er­set, the Gothic re­vival ar­chi­tec­ture ex­presses the de­vo­tion of its own­ers, the Gibbs fam­ily, to the Trac­tar­i­ans, whose works by New­man, Ke­ble and oth­ers are promi­nent on its shelves. And with 150 mag­nif­i­cent colour plates is it re­ally only £45? Buy it quickly be­fore the pub­lish­ers no­tice their mis­take.”

Maria Del­gado, pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of re­search, Royal Cen­tral School of Speech and Drama, Univer­sity of Lon­don, is read­ing Vivien Leigh: Ac­tress and Icon (edited by Kate Dor­ney and Mag­gie B. Gale; Manch­ester Univer­sity Press, 2017). “The Vivien Leigh ar­chive, pur­chased by the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in 2013, pro­vides the spring­board for this fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of es­says re-eval­u­at­ing the iconic Bri­tish ac­tress and pro­ducer. In an im­por­tant work of fem­i­nist cul­tural his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, the es­says dis­place ear­lier ap­proaches to Leigh that see her work as sec­ondary to her per­sonal life and her hus­band Lau­rence Olivier’s sup­pos­edly su­pe­rior tal­ent. In­sight­ful chap­ters ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Leigh’s pub­lic and pri­vate per­sonas, her prepara­tory work, per­for­mances and col­lab­o­ra­tions with French di­rec­tors. Other es­says on her re­la­tion­ships with por­trait pho­tog­ra­phers and cos­tume de­sign­ers point to a form of self­fash­ion­ing also ex­plored in the ‘liv­ing sets’ of her home in­te­ri­ors, while the role of fan clubs in pro­mot­ing her le­gacy is duly recog­nised.”

Richard How­ells, pro­fes­sor of cul­tural so­ci­ol­ogy, King’s Col­lege Lon­don, is read­ing Philip Pull­man’s

La Belle Sau­vage (Pen­guin Ran­dom House Chil­dren’s and David Fick­ling Books, 2017). “As a great ad­mirer of Pull­man’s His Dark Ma­te­ri­als tril­ogy, it was in­evitable that I was go­ing to read this, his lat­est work, and ‘pre­quel’ to the pre­vi­ous saga of Lyra, Ox­ford, as­sorted witches and ar­moured bears. It’s a wel­come re­turn to his in­tox­i­cat­ing melange of the fa­mil­iar and the imag­i­nary, wo­ven around an epic strug­gle be­tween good and evil. Did this new in­stal­ment need to be writ­ten? Well, the back­story has echoes of Homer’s Odyssey – al­though the nar­ra­tive ten­sion is re­laxed by our al­ready know­ing that Lyra must sur­vive. And since it’s the first vol­ume of The Book of Dust se­ries, I would have liked to have read more about the ac­tual Dust. Still, there are two more vol­umes to come and, yes, of course: I will be read­ing them all.”

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