Fiona Maccarthy is the author most recently of The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination. (July 2015)


A Tragic Heroine of the Reading Room

Eleanor Marx at the age of about sixteen, 1871

Eleanor Marx: A Life

by Rachel Holmes
On Thursday, March 31, 1898, a few weeks after her strenuous involvement as campaign manager and fund-raiser for a lengthy strike of British engineers, Eleanor Marx instructed her maid Gerty to unwrap her favorite white dress from the tissue wrapping in which it had been packed away for winter. The …

One of a Kind in Cumbria

The interior of St. Mary’s Church, Wreay, Cumbria, designed by Sarah Losh and built in 1842

The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine—Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary

by Jenny Uglow
In the county of Cumbria far to the north of England, a land of ancient feudings alongside the Scottish border, stands a small stone village church built in 1842. So remarkable is this building that it stops in their tracks almost everyone who sees it. The Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel …

A Hero of the Gothic

God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

by Rosemary Hill
In his brief lifespan as an architect and writer A.W.N. Pugin transformed the British landscape. By the time he died, insane, at the age of forty, he had given the great cities of London and Edinburgh two defining landmarks—“Big Ben,” the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, and the …

The First Feminist

Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Lyndall Gordon
Lyndall Gordon’s new book opens with a wonderful first paragraph describing Mary Wollstonecraft’s crossing of the Channel from England to Revolutionary France. In December 1792 Wollstonecraft was thirty-three. She was traveling alone and, characteristically contrary, she was making a journey in the opposite direction to most of her fellow countrymen …

Notes from Underground

The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

by Sarah Wise
On a dank foggy morning in London in December 1831 two men are brought out to be dispatched on the scaffold erected outside Newgate Prison. A crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000 people press forward, risking their own lives, to watch the gruesome culmination of what had become a notorious …

Skin Deep

Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery

by Sander L. Gilman

Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty

by Nancy Etcoff
This summer three British transsexuals who want to be women won their appeal against the local health authority which had refused them a sex-change operation. In a case widely publicized in the UK, the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court ruling that the authority had acted unlawfully, without …

The Green Pimpernel

Citizen Lord: The Life of Edward Fitzgerald, Irish Revolutionary

by Stella Tillyard
Insurrectionary spirits looked back with some nostalgia to the fiery clarities of the French Revolution and to the Irish rebellion of 1798 with which it was so tragically intertwined. Lord Byron, for example, was enchanted by “anecdotes of those times when I, alas! was an infant.” He added, “If I …


Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot

by Antonia Fraser
Around midnight on Monday, November 4, 1604, or possibly in the small hours of the next morning, a man in a cloak and dark hat was discovered in a cellar underneath the English House of Parliament in Westminster. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were stored there. The man, a Roman Catholic …