In this week’s TLS – a note from the History editor
Not too long ago, the cartoonist’s joke shown on this week’s front cover would have been a familiar one. Here is the “Concert of Europe”, making a filthy racket, as the Great European Powers attempt to find harmony in the political settlement that followed the Congress of Vienna. By the time the Italian artist was working in 1913, this balance had lasted, after a fashion, for almost 100 years, but was, of course, about to be shattered for ever. Niall Ferguson welcomes a book on Europe that reassesses such unfashionable matters as diplomatic history and the relations between great powers. Brendan Simms, he writes, is “challenging a set of assumptions about history that came to dominate the academic world in the generation after A. J. P. Taylor’s”, and he does so in pithy, controversial style that bears comparison with the master.
In a focus on the Performing Arts this week, our reviewers discuss two examples of wholesale reinterpretations of classics. Peter Brook has spent decades restaging Shakespeare, taking his inspiration from sources as diverse as Norse myth, Kabuki, the Chinese Circus, and painters such as Breugel, Bosch and Watteau. His Reflections on Shakespeare, John Stokes finds, show that at the age of eighty-eight, Brook is still thinking unconventionally about the Bard. At Glyndebourne, the modern operatic convention of bizarre staging is firmy adhered to, with Rameau’s stately measures being sung from the interior of a kitchen appliance. Guy Dammann takes this “designer-garish” setting in his stride, and finds it “faithful to the baroque spirit”.
In Arts, Frank Whitford discusses the “most popular painter in Britain” (apart from Rolf Harris), and argues that, contrary to received wisdom, L. S. Lowry was no amateur “Sunday painter” (he studied for two decades at Manchester and Salford) and he often strayed from his “home territory”. Nor was he “neglected”: he was an official war artist and artist at the Coronation, as well as a Royal Academician. He was also offered a knighthood. But was he any good?