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Ian Britain

Ian Britain

Ian Britain is a historian, biographer and former editor of Meanjin. His latest book, The Making of Donald Friend: Life & Art was published in August this year by Yarra and Hunter Arts Press.  

Ian Britain reviews 'The Dictionary People: The unsung heroes who created the Oxford English Dictionary' by Sarah Ogilvie

November 2023, no. 459 27 October 2023
My edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1979) defines ‘dictionary’ in two ways: ‘1. A book dealing with the individual words of a language … so as to set forth their orthography, pronunciation, signification and use … arranged, in some stated order, now, in most languages, alphabetical …’; ‘2. By extension: A book of information or reference on any subject or branch of knowled ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Robert Helpmann: A Servant of Art' by Anna Bemrose

December 2008–January 2009, no. 307 01 December 2008
PANACHE. Both in its literal meaning (a plume of feathers) and its more familiar extended one, the term might have been invented for stage critic extraordinaire Kenneth Tynan as plausibly as for Robert Helpmann, one of last century’s most flamboyant and versatile stage practitioners. The illegitimate Tynan’s middle name was Peacock (the surname of his Birmingham father). Helpmann (born plain R ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'The Diaries of Donald Friend, Volume 3'

October 2005, no. 275 01 October 2005
With the greatest novels, you can plunge into them anywhere and still savour their greatness; it is recognisable on every page. You won’t need to have read the two earlier volumes of these edited diaries to recognise that same quality throughout the third – and I mean novelistic greatness, of which all the great diaries (from Samuel Pepys’s to James Lees-Milne’s) partake in important ways. ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Helena Rubinstein: The Australian Years' by Angus Trumble

September 2023, no. 457 25 August 2023
Angus Trumble, who died suddenly last October, was a towering figure with a slight sideways tilt to his head. In his famously dandyish attire he might have stepped out of a Max Beerbohm cartoon, and appropriately so given his expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art. Trumble’s latest, and last, subject also chimes with one of Beerbohm’s earliest literary ventures, ‘A Defence of Cosmetics’, ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Solid Ivory' by James Ivory

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
‘Call me Ismail,’ it could plausibly begin: a screenplay not of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick but of the real-life relationship between two filmmakers renowned for their adaptations of a string of other classic novels. Ismail Merchant first met James Ivory on the steps of the Indian consulate in Manhattan in 1961. ‘Call me by your name,’ the Ivory character might wittily retort in th ... (read more)

'Benediction': A bardic biopic on war poet Siegfried Sassoon

ABR Arts 29 November 2021
Cinema and poetry make for a less obvious coupling than cinema and theatre or cinema and painting, but once you start counting, the number of movies about poets and their world is surprisingly high. Granted, there’s more about scandal than scansion in most of them, but the list, just from those I remember seeing, is impressive: The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), The Bad Lord Byron (1949), St ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Arthur Boyd: A life' by Darleen Bungey

February 2008, no. 298 01 February 2008
‘More difficult to do a thing than to talk scintillating dialogue of 1890, ‘The Critic as Artist’. To hold to such a belief, Gilbert declares, is ‘a gross popular error. It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. In the sphere of actual life that is of course obvious. Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.’ ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Son of the Brush: A memoir' by Tim Olsen

January–February 2021, no. 428 16 December 2020
‘A voyage round my father’, to quote the title of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play of 1963, has been a popular form of personal memoir in Britain from Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907) to Michael Parkinson’s just-published Like Father, Like Son. The same form produced some of the best Australian writing in the twentieth century, with two assured classics in the case of Germaine G ... (read more)

La Trobe University Essay | 'The Talented Mr Conrad' by Ian Britain

April 2001, no. 229 01 April 2001
As mouths go, it must be one of the most fabled of the century past. The lips, as widely parted as they could be, suggest the contours of a distended heart. There is an upper gallery of teeth, slightly imperfect, and glazed by spittle mingling with the crystal darts and droplets of a powerful jet of water issuing relentlessly from above the face. A mottled tongue is barricaded in by the lower gall ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Fairweather' by Murray Bail

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
‘A large part of the beauty of a picture,’ Matisse famously decreed, ‘arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.’ Struggle is the dominant motif in Murray Bail’s study of Scottish-born painter Ian Fairweather, first essayed in 1981, now refashioned, updated, and handsomely repackaged. In the chapter on Fairweather’s work of the late 1950s and early 1960s ... (read more)
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