When I wrote that tenth birthday post for the blog, back in July 2021, I didn’t intend to take an immediate sabbatical – but life sometimes just happens that way. You may have assumed, based on my silence, that I was finally living up to my name and being idle. If only that were true! In fact, things have been a bit mad, in the best possible way. Since I last darkened your digital doorsteps, we’ve got married, sold our flat, rented another flat, and bought a house (not necessarily all in that order). That has involved the sheer, unutterable joy of moving twice in under a year – trust me, you never realise quite how many books you own until you have to cart them around Greater London in cardboard boxes. In fact, over half of them are still boxed up in my parents’ garage. And then, of course, there’s work, which has been extremely busy for reasons which I’ll get round to explaining at some point in the future.Continue reading
Ten years ago, I started writing a blog. I didn’t even know what I wanted the blog to be about: it just seemed to be the kind of thing one did. The earliest posts, if anyone has ever excavated that far back, are a confused mixture of posts on films, ‘lifestyle’, travel, and, of course, books. While the former categories still crop up now and again, I think we can all agree that this is now a book blog with occasional bursts of opera, art and theatre. But I’ve always tried to stop it being exclusively one way or the other. I want there to be space here for all sorts of wonderful things. Writing the blog has been a complete joy, and continues to be so. And much of that is to do with you lovely people out there. Some of you, amazingly, have been reading and commenting for almost as long as the blog has existed. Others are relative newcomers, but make a point of popping in occasionally to share your thoughts. It always makes my day.Continue reading
2020 is finally on the way out, like the nightmare house guest you thought would never leave. If only for that reason, this New Year’s Eve, more than any in recent memory, is surely worth toasting with something crisp and bubbly. I’ve decided that optimism has to be the rule here. I’ve written several drafts of this post and all the others degenerated into me grumbling about Christmas and lockdown, which is neither original nor helpful. In fact, it’s probably best not to look back at all, but to look resolutely forward, and to be hopeful, as far as possible. Things may not be back to normal next week or next month, but vaccination programmes are rolling out across the globe and, by the summer, we can reasonably hope to be able to visit family for a weekend, or go to a wedding, or even take a holiday abroad. There are other things I long for too: the chance to rummage around second-hand bookshops again; opera performances; pub lunches in the middle of long country walks; and days out at National Trust houses with cream teas in the cafés. Tell me: which things are you most looking forward to doing once the restrictions are lifted?Continue reading
In lieu of the traditional Christmas message, here’s a New Year’s post instead. We’re standing on the brink of a new decade, heaven help us, and though it’s tempting to look at the world around us and despair, I’ve decided one has to be optimistic. I’ve made the usual New Year’s resolutions, which naively assume that I will have woken up this morning as a more motivated, more dynamic and less susceptible version of myself (we’ll see!). But the unusual thing this year is that there’s real change in the air: I’ve lived alone for eleven years, but my other half is about to move in with me. I’m excited but also very nervous. For example, how many books is it acceptable to have piled on the floor at any given time?! Of course I’ll keep reading and writing, but there will be a period of adjustment as I figure out how to adapt my bachelor-girl lifestyle.
Time has done that thing again where it speeds up and, before you know it, another whole year has gone round. Today is this blog’s eighth birthday and, even though I haven’t been massively active in the last few months, it’s still very much a going concern, so don’t worry. It takes a special kind of determination, to browse through pictures of cake and candles when it’s so hot here in London that the thought of consuming anything heavier than iced water is almost unbearable… but I’ve taken one for the team, as you can see. So join me in a slice of virtual birthday cake and a glass of the beverage of your choice.
Christmas has crept up on me this year. As you’ll be able to tell from my recent silence, I’ve been very busy for the last few months and haven’t even been able to read that many books. My adventurous year finished in grand style with a trip to glorious (and very cold!) St Petersburg last week, during which I spent most of my time either exploring the Hermitage in starry-eyed fashion, scurrying around in -10°C temperatures, or tucking into really excellent Georgian food. Now I’m back in the country with my parents, gearing up for a nice quiet Christmas full of good food, games and festive TV. This is my chance, as usual, to thank you all for continuing to read the blog and a big Christmassy hug for those of you who comment, engage and recommend new things. So I wish you all a very happy holiday, however you choose to spend it, full of fun and relaxation, and a New Year full of health, happiness and success.
Yes, it’s 26 July again! Today is the seventh birthday of The Idle Woman, so light the candles, put on your party hats (preferably at a slightly rakish angle), and get in line for a slice of cake. It’s all been happening here over the last couple of months. We’re halfway through the Summer Without Men reading project, and I promise that we’ve got many more wonderful books lined up for August, including first encounters with Meg Wolitzer, Vita Sackville-West, Doris Lessing and (belatedly) Agatha Christie. We’ll be analysing the function of genes with Kat Arney, delving into the mysteries of the deep with the aptly-named Helen Scales, and exploring the ancient world with Jacquetta Hawkes. Beyond the books, there’ll be posts on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s epic duo of Imperium plays, Glyndebourne’s spectacular Giulio Cesare, and much more theatre coming up. More than ever, the sobriquet ‘idle’ feels a little ironic, but that’s the way I love it.
Christmas has appeared on my doorstep with almost unseemly haste this year. It’s been a frenetically busy autumn, so it’s with a sigh of relief that I sink into the sofa cushions, wriggle a little closer to the log fire, eye up the tree chocolates and raise my glass of sherry to all of you. The point of this post is to thank all of you for continuing to follow The Idle Woman, for reading, for commenting, and for making it such a joy to write. Wherever you are and however you’re spending the holidays, I wish you all happiness.
Today The Idle Woman is six years old! I was shocked this morning to realise that another year has whizzed by, but 2016 and 2017 have been so full of incident that it’s really no wonder. I’ve made a real effort to get books back to the top of the blog’s agenda and along the way I’ve read some fabulous things. Three examples which immediately come to mind are Hanya Yanahigara’s gut-wrenching eloquence in A Little Life; K.J. Parker’s Machiavellian fantasy in Devices and Desires; and Amor Towles’s refined, lovable Gentleman in Moscow, which is the most delightful book I’ve read all year.
I mentioned in my post on Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman that I’d been asked to give a lecture in my professional capacity about the Chevalier d’Eon. I’m pleased to say that it went very well and feedback suggests that the Chevalier’s story exerts just as much fascination today as it did back in the 18th century. Since there’s a lot of misleading information about the Chevalier online, and since this remarkable story deserves to be known more widely, I decided to turn my lecture into a blog post. What follows is, therefore, considerably longer than my usual posts but is amply illustrated. The British Museum has almost sixty prints and other documents relating to the Chevalier’s life in London, many of which I reproduce here. So let’s delve in to a tale of espionage, secrecy, swashbuckling and remarkable self-fashioning.