Clare Bucknell

Clare Bucknell is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

To Hans Kepler, the Imperial Mathematician, trying to defend his mother by taking an analytical view of the situation, Leonberg is like a depressing morality play; its population a typical collection of sinners. ‘This one had always been envious; that one had always been willing to lie for personal gain. This one had denied his mother Communion. That one was known to be violent.’

At the National Gallery: Artemisia

Clare Bucknell, 4 March 2021

Light​ falls on the side of a woman’s upturned face, travels over her right shoulder and forearm and then down to her thigh and knee. The limbs are dense and opaque, the solid curve of the upper arm mirroring the heavy bent leg with its bluish shadows of muscle. The flesh is massive but yielding: the woman’s left breast bulges and puckers like real tissue as she grasps it between...


Clare Bucknell, 19 November 2020

In​ 1660, a Commonwealth warship called HMS Naseby sailed to the Dutch Republic to bring the new king-in-waiting home to England. During its journey the ship was renamed the Royal Charles in honour of the Restoration, but her figurehead – a vast carving of Cromwell on horseback, wearing laurels and ‘trampling six nations under foot’, as John Evelyn put it – remained...

At  Pizzeria  Vesuvio, somewhere in South London in 2003, the difference between being a chef and being a waitress isn’t just professional. Nia and Ava, who work front of house, are British and European, white or – in Nia’s case – white-looking; Shan, Guna and Rajan in the kitchen are Sri Lankan Tamils, refugees from the civil war working illegally...

At the National Gallery: Nicolaes Maes

Clare Bucknell, 18 June 2020

Howwould a child know that Jesus was a special kind of adult? In early modern depictions of Christ blessing little children, it’s conventional for even the smallest babies to be aware that there’s something different about this man, their faces turned trustfully towards his as they clutch apples or dolls or their parents’ hands. Nicolaes Maes’s version of the theme...


Clare Bucknell, 21 May 2020

AnInstagram post is a small square picture, roughly seven centimetres by seven on an average phone screen. If covered in text it has space for about 25 lines of poetry in a font size you can read without squinting. This is an Instagram poem by Rupi Kaur:

if you are not enough for yourselfyou will never be enoughfor someone else

Kaur is so famous that parodies of her verse trend on Twitter:...

You can’t prove I meant X

Clare Bucknell, 16 April 2020

William Godwin’s​ attack on aristocratic oppression in the Enquiry concerning Political Justice didn’t pull its punches. ‘Each man,’ he wrote, ‘should be wise enough to govern himself, without the intervention of any compulsory restraint; and, since government, even in its best state, is an evil, the object principally to be aimed at is, that we should have as...

Wanting Legs & Arms & Eyes: Surplus Sons

Clare Bucknell, 5 March 2020

Theprofessions open to younger sons of the aristocracy and gentry at the beginning of the 19th century could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In Sense and Sensibility Edward Ferrars, who has chosen to do nothing for a living and regrets it, reels off four possibilities:

I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the...

Fusion Fiction: ‘Girl, Woman, Other’

Clare Bucknell, 24 October 2019

It’s opening night​ at the National Theatre. The radical writer and director Amma Bonsu, snubbed for decades by the cultural establishment for her uncompromising work (FGM: The Musical; Cunning Stunts), is about to astonish audiences with a new play. The Last Amazon of Dahomey has sold out before the run begins; it features 18th-century lesbian West African warriors, ‘thunderous...

Colonel Cundum’s Domain: Nose, no nose

Clare Bucknell, 18 July 2019

‘When I came to Louisa’s, I felt myself stout and well, and most courageously did I plunge into the fount of love, and had vast pleasure,’ James Boswell wrote in his diary on a winter’s night in 1763, after an assignation with a beautiful Covent Garden actress. But the next day ‘came sorrow. Too, too plain was Signor Gonorrhoea.’ The arrival of the Signor was heralded by ‘damned twinges’, ‘scalding heat’ and the excrescence of ‘deep-tinged loathsome matter’.

Dreadful Apprehensions: Collier and Fielding

Clare Bucknell, 25 October 2018

Until​ the mid-20th century Jane Collier was known only for a clever satire on how best to irritate people, An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753). After her death in 1755 it was considered a shame that she hadn’t tried writing something less rebarbative. Her younger brother Arthur ‘often lamented’, the 1804 editor of the Essay recalled, ‘that a sister...

‘Never come​ till you have been called three or four times; for none but dogs will come at the first whistle,’ Swift instructs an imaginary audience of dull maids and lazy footmen in Directions to Servants. ‘Never submit to stir a finger in any business, but that for which you were particularly hired. For example, if the groom be drunk or absent, and the butler be ordered...

If you had been​ in St James’s Park on a fine February day in 1750, you might have seen a short, weary-looking man in his sixties tramping up and down the Mall, looking out for a plump lady of about 45 who was keeping an eye open for him. Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh had travelled to town for the winter from her country seat in Lancashire; the man she was trying to spot in the crowd was...

Oven-Ready Children: Jonathan Swift

Clare Bucknell, 19 January 2017

One​ of Jonathan Swift’s first published poems was a piece of 18 lines called ‘A Description of the Morning’. It was printed anonymously in an April 1709 edition of the Tatler, which in its original incarnation took an interest in literary criticism, history and philosophy as well as society gossip. Richard Steele, the magazine’s editor and a friend of Swift’s,...

From The Blog
14 May 2015

Leamington Tennis Court Club was established in 1846, which makes it the world’s oldest real tennis club: not the oldest real tennis court, which is at Falkland Palace in Fife (built in 1539, open-roofed, unplayable in rain), but the oldest private members’ tennis club. Women were admitted as members in 2008 and there are reminders everywhere of the club’s 160-odd years without them. There’s a large oil painting hanging in the lounge of an exhibition doubles match: every one of the four players and fifty or so spectators is in trousers and has an imposing moustache.

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