Hello and welcome to our Autumn edition, complete with an appropriate picture by Michael Lowe of Bircher Common in Herefordshire.
We begin with a guest article by John Francis of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and Albion Records (no relation!) to celebrate this year's 150th anniversary of RVW's birth. John had the idea of searching through newspaper archives to capture the young composer's critical reception in the Edwardian era, and the results are sometimes shocking and often funny. The essay is a useful reminder that genius is not accompanied by a guarantee of success (even On Wenlock Edge almost came a cropper), and that there will always be codgerish grumblers to contend with --in RVW's case a certain Ernest Newman.
This is followed by a feature on another, very different genius, the much loved and lamented Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, as remembered by his great friend Rodney Slater. In the process we clear up some historical inaccuracies, notably the story about the rabbit hutches, and delve into Stanshall's complex and ultimately tragic relationship with his father. Art contains Paul Flux's review of two important new books on John Craxton, a very important but often overlooked twentieth century artist whose studies of single figures in landscapes convey much about the psychology of wartime.
Readers will note that we have been thinking about Jerusalem. Mark Jones reviews the important new book by Jason Whittaker on the Parry/Blake hymn's genesis and appropriations (revealing, along the way, some surprisingly vigorous opposition to it from within the Women's Institute), and I have recovered sufficiently from the befuddling and almost out-of-body experience of seeing Sir Mark Rylance in the lead of Jez Butterworth's seminal play of the same name, in its recent Apollo Theatre revival, to collect my thoughts on paper. The play remains a frustratingly elusive work, and one that seems to take on new meanings with the march of time.
Another great piece of theatre, this time filmed live for TV, is the 1954 version of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, reviewed here by Neil Jackson. In his appraisal, which analyses the horror of Orwell's dystopian fable, Neil highlights a remarkable central performance by Peter Cushing --pre-Hammer phase-- that captures the psychological degradation of totalitarianism and shows that Cushing was, in fact, a highly gifted serious actor.
Mrs Gaskell's work has long been an undeserved lacuna in Albion, and Mary Thaler remedies the gap with her analysis of the culture clash which forms the central theme of North and South, a proto-feminist Victorian novel which sees the heroine gain in agency and determination following her move to the more egalitarian North. Also in books, Mark provides an in-depth appreciation of a moving new account of the troubled genius Charles Lamb and his devotion to his mentally ill sister, while Paul re-examines the first work of modern autobiography, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber by the eighteenth-century playwright and actor of the same name. A massive and definitive new work by James G. Clark on the dissolution of the monasteries has just appeared, and Paul, in his review, provides an overview of the movement's different stages and massive sociocultural impacts, still reverberating in the present.
Finally, Music contains James’s reviews of the new compilations from Babe Ruth and Roger Chapman, and Em enjoys new releases of Eric Coates, William Byrd, Vaughan Williams, amongst many others. We hope that you enjoy this edition, and look forward to seeing you in Spring 2023.--The Editor