Best of Brit Lit
A look at great reads from the editor of the Times Literary Supplement. This week: The semiotics of Lincoln’s image, a history of hidden horrors in 1930s Moscow, and a look back at feuding painters in Renaissance Venice.
In Britain this year, writers and museum curators have been marking the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII, our only king recognizable by his silhouette alone. This week the TLS considers the equal outpouring of nostalgia, scrutiny, and revision directed in the 200th anniversary year of Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president famously recognizable by his hat alone. Ari Kelman examines the Kunhardt family's unusual joint publishing effort, Looking for Lincoln, among other books about how Lincoln has inspired imitators—from left and right—at least since the moment of his assassination. From Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, the process of fixing Lincoln’s character and image, right down to that "iconic top hat," has been a many-sided story. What all the books show, writes Kelman, is the "futility of separating history and memory where Lincoln is concerned."
Forgotten Atrocities of 1937
Deliberate amnesia is the subject of the German historian Karl Schlögel’s latest book, Terror und Traum, a vivid panorama of the horrors of Stalinist rule. In the TLS Jane Yager shows how Schlögel’s detailed pictures of Moscow in 1937 expand gradually to show the whole terrible truth. “Harrowing ironies and concurrences” include the opening of the Moscow-Volga canal and the simultaneous execution of its architects.
Old Masters at War
The great Renaissance Venice painters—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese—were determined to be remembered in the best possible way, most importantly as each being better than his rivals. Theodore K. Rabb hails a remarkable exhibition of their works at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, running until August 16, stressing for once not just sublime artistic skill but ruthless competitiveness for the attention of the present and future.
Peter Stothard is editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He was editor of The Times of London from 1992-2002. He writes about ancient and modern literature and is the author of Thirty Days, a Downing Street diary of his time with British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the Iraq war.